The other day, as I was rushing to send an e-mail to a client, Outlook suddenly refused to allow me to type normally. Already feeling anxious as I lacked time to troubleshoot this, things compounded when I was informed of some bullying on a project team that I’m indirectly connected to. It was unclear whether or how to tactfully intervene, and with a Zoom meeting starting in minutes, everything got set aside momentarily. After the meeting I started to circle back, but it was already inching past 6pm and family and dinner decisions loomed.
I’m sure you have an even larger barrage of decisions and issues to deal with each day, and, like me, have grown adept at juggling the chaos. But how do you feel as you move through your day?
I used to get increasingly frustrated as one issue after another derailed what I had hoped would be an efficient, streamlined and productive flow of work. These aggravations seemed so beneath me, so annoying, and such a waste of time, that I set a goal to eliminate them. I wanted my days to operate like clockwork, and I resented each and every annoyance that got in the way.
The problem is, I had no control over the vast majority of the issues and having a goal like this did nothing more than increase my own agitation and impatience. As a result, these feelings showed up in my tone of voice and often prevented me from seeing the bigger picture.
One day, as I was puzzling over how frustrating interruptions and issues were for me, it occurred to me that if I couldn’t control the issues themselves, maybe I could reframe my response to them. I thought to myself:
What if, when anything bad happens, instead of fighting against it, I use it as a learning experience?
I’m a bit of a self-improvement junkie, so this idea really appealed to me. If I could practice things that would make me a better person, then the time I spent dealing with derailers would become productive. Technology issues build my troubleshooting skills, navigating political issues helps me improve my tact in high-stakes conversations, and waiting on hold for customer service allows me to practice patience or even do a few minutes of mindful meditation.
There’s never a good time for a car accident, but the process can help me learn to stand up for myself without getting defensive, navigate insurance companies, or even stop procrastinating on a new car purchase. Health issues are never happy, but going through them with others can bring us closer, and they tend to remind us of our mortality, increasing both gratitude and humility.
I’ve been practicing with this perspective shift for years now, and it has had a huge impact on my calm, focus and happiness every day. Recently, I realized that I am not alone in recognizing the benefit of shifting my relationship with “bad” experiences. In our Mental Fitness Bootcamp, based on the book Positive Intelligence, by Shirzad Chamine, one of the key components is “The Sage Perspective: that everything can be turned into a gift or opportunity”. In the program we practice noticing our negative reactions to triggering events during the day, grounding ourselves with a few deep breaths, recognizing yet not buying into our negative self-talk, and deliberately shifting to the Sage Perspective.
This practice not only increases our own happiness and effectiveness, but the shift in our energy infects everyone around us and reduces their stress as well!
I think this is such an incredibly simple, yet powerful practice, and I would love to hear if you do something similar or if you have other comments and feedback. You can reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 714-931-2133.