How do I react when disasters occur? What is my response to adversity?
WBAL news reports flooding in the Baltimore area, July 2018.
When nature doesn’t seem so natural, when events confound me, when a roadblock is placed in my way, do I panic and flounder about, or do I go forward by choosing a different route?
So many events, even daily occurrences, do not go the way I expect them to go. Surprises can create joy or terror. By their nature, surprises are… unexpected. We do not foresee them, changes in routine disrupt comfortable patterns of action, and we can become amused, befuddled, or even crippled. Some reactions are beyond control; the aha moment upon seeing fireworks and the pain of a broken bone force themselves upon us equally, though not equally desirable.
Surprises follow a spectrum. Good or bad. Big or small. Delightful or horrid. For some reason, we mostly focus on the small, bad, everyday experiences. These events captivate us and take over our thoughts. Our emotions cascade in response to the little things, and they build on each other. Predictably, some of these “bad” things may be somewhat within my control. I think that’s why they are so annoying.
Roadblocks. Most of my “bad days” start with small roadblocks: I forget that the coffee supply needs to be replenished, so I may be unready to face the day. Like many people, my morning coffee—the anticipation of inhaling that sharp aroma and sipping the warm liquid—can propel me into the world some days. When I don’t get what I anticipate and desire, my 3-year-old self may emerge. All due to a small, unpleasant surprise. The jar was empty. Someone (i.e. me) did not put it on the shopping list.
And if I let it, the bad day can continue. I get drenched in a rainstorm walking from the parking lot to my business. I could have checked the weather report but missing my coffee threw me off, so I didn’t have the foresight to carry an umbrella. By the time I got to work, the heavens opened and the deluge splashed around me. Naturally, I wore sandals, so my feet got soaked, too. Then once in the office, while drying off, I missed the call saying the 11 o’clock meeting was being moved up to 10. At 10:15 I notice the department sounds quiet and nobody is around. Glancing at my online calendar, I see a flashing notice asking me where I am. Yikes!
Affirmations for positive thinking.
Late for the meeting, the boss glares at me when I slide into my seat. I fail to pay attention to the presentation and missed the project update. After the meeting I realize I left my lunch in the refrigerator at home. I nibble on some crackers I keep in my bottom drawer but they don’t appease my hunger. Then my computer reboots in the middle of a calculation and I hadn’t saved the file. It’s all lost! Worse and worse. I’m in a brown mood the rest of the day after that. I just cannot get caught up. Everything snowballs into a big mess. By the end of the day, an acid ball roils in the pit of my stomach and I can’t wait to go to bed. It’s still raining when I leave the office and my feet get wet again. Say goodbye to that lousy day. But wait! I forgot to stop by the market and buy more coffee!
I can rewrite the scenario above, change my outlook, with the following directions: stay calm, be peaceful, get centered. I can control my reactions to today’s challenges.
Catastrophizing the lack of coffee, beating myself up for having forgotten to purchase it, started my descent into a “bad day.” How could I turn that around? Isn’t it inevitable that would trigger the events of the day? Any one of those little adverse events could confront me on a given day. On a catastrophic “I didn’t have my coffee” day, they become mountains to scale, larding my mood with the foulest of weightiness. Drawn down further and further, I see only the bottom of the hole. That thinking certainly is not compatible with serenity.
Happiness is my choice. Lighten up. It’s coffee, not surgery. We take everything so seriously so that when a stumbling block appears, we trip.
Here’s what I would do to change that day: There’s no coffee. I’d reach for a pen and scribble it on the shopping list mounted on the refrigerator door. Or more recently, I speak aloud, saying, “OK Google. Add coffee to Shopping List.” After listening for the confirmation, I would reach for some tea. Sipping it, I would notice the sky looks gray, or listen to the weather report. Changing out of sandals and grabbing an umbrella, I would leave the house for work. And so on.
Not quite what I wanted, but it will suffice. It will suffice. The world will not stop spinning because I don’t have coffee. It’s not the end of the world. I can get coffee later. I can go to a drive through, or stop in for a cup somewhere if I need it so badly. Living with life’s little disappointments—living life on life’s terms—makes my day manageable, pleasant even. Fewer worries. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
Roadblocks are blockages, not necessarily solid barriers. We find alternate routes, travel different byways, employ substitutions, and there’s no need for panic or dismay. Putting things into perspective allows us to cope, weather the storms, and live a more comfortable, pleasant existence. Happily.