I’m sitting in the park on a gorgeous day, and I see a young mother trying to restrain her 1-year old son from making his way toward the grass. He’s happy and excited, and the mother is getting increasingly upset.
“Wait. Wait. WAIT. Wait. You’re not following directions!! Sit! Wait. Wait.”
The boy simply saw the grass and wanted to go there. But the mother couldn't accept that.
It was a laughable scene, until I realized I was doing the same thing every day throughout the day.
“Make a right on Warren.”
We’re coming down West Street and we’re almost home. My wife makes a simple suggestion: “Make a right on Warren.” It’s a block ahead of where I normally turn.
I’m instantly annoyed, and I show it. We’ve had this conversation before. She thinks she can optimize the route based on the lights and save us a few seconds. Why does she care where I turn? Why is she always optimizing everything? She should think about something else!
It’s such a small thing, and yet I can feel my body tense up as I express my irritation. I immediately regret my reaction, but it’s too late. It seems like I'm wired to respond that way.
Loving What Is
Well, after 51 years, I may have discovered a remedy. I found it in a book recommended by my good friend Eve (note to self: always read what Eve recommends).
Loving What Is, by Byron Katie, “enables you to see what’s troubling you in an entirely different light” by having you ask yourself “four questions that can change your life.”
It sounds ambitious, but it’s quite simple, and the many dialogs between the author and a wide range of individuals helps you see how to apply it.
The main premise is that suffering tends to come not from what happens but from what we think about what happens and what we think should happen. My wife’s suggestion about where to turn was simple and harmless, but it triggered a set of thoughts that made me upset.
What if I could train myself to think differently?
Doing The Work
Byron Katie refers to applying the ideas in her book as “The Work.” The first step is to complete a worksheet with judgments you’re making about someone. Here's a common example.
My boss should appreciate me more.
I want him to give me more recognition and praise for my work.
He should be more caring.
I need him to see the big picture and not focus on small things.
I don’t want to get any more urgent emails from him about things that aren’t important.
Then, armed with four questions, you practice inquiry to dive into those judgments:
- Is it true?
- Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
- How do you react when you think that thought?
- Who would you be without the thought?
Then you turn the statements around in various ways to examine them more deeply. For example:
I should appreciate me more.
I should appreciate my boss more.
The triggers for me tend to be when I apply “should” and “need” to other people. They tend to pit me against reality and, as Byron Katie says, “you lose, but only 100% of the time.”
I've been practicing doing The Work for a few weeks now, and I'm noticeably calmer. My wife’s suggestion is just a suggestion. An email from the boss is just an email. I can’t know their thinking or their story. It’s my thinking and judgements that are the problem. If I embrace what is, then I change my thinking and I feel happier.
Next time, I’ll make the right turn on Warren. And I’ll smile.