We have a trash can in our garage, just outside the entry door to the house. I don’t know who placed it there originally, but it sure does come in handy. Trouble is, I miss it about 50% of the time. This happens even when I’m just a couple of feet away. The trash sticks to my finger. A breeze blows through the garage. I overshoot. I undershoot. I’ve even watched whatever I was tossing land right in the center of the can and then bounce out because it ricocheted off something else. This doesn’t happen with any other trash can. Just this one.
Have you faced a dilemma like this? It doesn’t have to be a trash can. Maybe it’s the co-worker with the demanding manner. Perhaps it’s the traffic signal that always turns yellow just as you approach it. Maybe it’s the boss who never arrives on time for meetings he calls. Have these challenges become self-fulfilling prophesies over time? Have you let them consume your thinking? Do you waste time trying to resolve them, even though there’s no solution?
One morning, after I had missed the can four times in a row, I started concentrating on why this could be happening. I thought about moving the can. I thought about a larger can. I thought about slowing down and really taking aim. I even considered eliminating the trash can itself.
Then I thought, “Why am I wasting energy on this?” In reality, it’s a brain game. The brain is always seeking resolution. That’s why we feel uncomfortable during times of uncertainty. We don’t know what’s going to happen. The same is true with completion. The brain is looking for closure. If the trash hits the floor instead of the can, my brain will remind me endlessly to pick it up until I do.
These same kinds of triggers occur with the demanding co-worker, the irritating traffic signal or the consistently tardy boss. But we have a choice. We can allow these irritants to consume our focus or we can reframe them. How? Here are a few ideas.
First, look for the humor – From the outside, this entire trash can thing is absurd. So why not laugh at it. Yes, the traffic signal is annoying, so why not imagine the dimwit that should know better than to program it to stop you every time?
Second, distract yourself with a mantra – My favorite mantra is, “Life’s too short,” because it is. We can’t control most of what happens to us. But we can control how we respond. “Life’s too short” alters our perspective.
Third, change the circumstance – Can you alter your route to avoid that traffic light? Can you time your arrival to coincide with your consistently tardy boss? Can you reduce your contact with the demanding co-worker? One small change can make all the difference.
Will this take a bit of time? Probably, but only as long it takes for you to replace this irritation with some other thinking. So, how have I managed my trash can dilemma? Every time it happens, I laugh. Then I say, “Life’s too short,” and I move on to issues to deserve my focus. How about you?