Arrived at Baltimore airport for my flight to L.A. this morning, only to discover that it wasn’t a nonstop. I was briefly annoyed and then, realizing there was nothing I could do about it, dropped the annoyance and started writing this entry. As it turns out, the stop was in Nashville, and I was reminded that my old college fraternity brother & his girlfriend (now wife) live there. During the one hour layover I called them and we reconnected after not having spoken for 5 years. I hung up feeling wonderful.
I could have made other choices upon learning of the unplanned stop: I could have beaten myself up for not being more careful when I booked, or I could have lamented that I would now be stuck on the plane for 2 hours longer than I’d planned.
I encountered a more challenging situation a few years ago when one evening, during the time my house was being remodeled. I inadvertently locked myself – naked – in the small guest bathroom. After 15 minutes of trying everything I could think of to escape I resigned myself to spending the night there. Although it was freezing cold (it was summertime and there was an air conditioning vent in the 7 x 5 foot room) and I was famished, I reminded myself that I could make of the experience exactly what I chose to, dwelling on my stupidity and carelessness OR making a different choice, using the situation as an opportunity for emotional growth I decided to do the latter.
What choices will you make when confronted by an annoying or adverse situation? Ask yourself if you have any control over it. Examples: Stuck in traffic? Late for work? In bed with the flu? Football game you had tickets for rained out? When you’re in a situation you can’t influence, stewing about it is like banging your head against the wall. Choose to focus on something else. Many of my clients initially claim that they “can’t control” their thoughts. This may be true in “fight or flight” situations where the “reptilian brain” response is so fast that our cognitive powers are essentially useless. But in the vast majority of situations, what you think about is entirely up to you.
To start exercising your mental focusing “muscles”, try this exercise: next time you are on a long, slow-moving line (for example in a supermarket, or waiting to clear security at an airport), make the choice to focus on a thought unrelated to the situation you find yourself in at that moment, a thought that’s peaceful and soothing. You might, for example, envision yourself waiting in line to board a cruise ship that will take you to an exotic destination.
A more intensive focusing “workout” is a form of meditation in which you focus on your breathing and notice the thoughts that pop into your head seemingly from nowhere. Acknowledge them and then gently bring your attention back to your breathing. Doing this for 5 or 10 minutes a day will help train your mind to go where you want it to go, rather than having it be captured by a thought that’s negative and unnecessary.