There are many grooves worn into my brain, yours too; the repetition of mundane tasks creates low-level grooves with low impact on our day-to-day well-being. However there are others types of grooves worn so deep that when trying to think or behave logically we either trip over them or worse, we fall right into them, derailing whatever task or thought we were trying to complete.
There are the positive grooves, and there are the negative grooves? And there are simple steps you can take to change your groove(s).
When we repeatedly tell the same stories, we forge a neural pathway in our brain that causes us to feel a certain way about the people in our stories, the nature of the events, or the general topic at hand. These stories can warp our view of the world and the people around us for better or worse.
Conversely, if we can let go of the negative experiences we encounter throughout the course of our day, and embrace a bit of sunny optimism, then we just might have a positive impact on our productivity and that of others around us.
Case in point: one night I woke up at 4:45am – an hour and 15 minutes earlier than my standard wakeup time – to ensure I was in the office and prepared for someone’s important call … only to receive email just minutes before the scheduled time cancelling. They were sorry, but they’d completely forgotten about the call.
My first reaction was kneejerk, it was complete annoyance. I wanted to send an email to the person explaining the lengths I’d gone to in order to accommodate their phone call. Y’know, tell them all about my first-world problems. But why? Who would I be doing that for? While it’s okay to feel annoyed, it’s important to quickly get past the negativity. The reality is that I truly do not know what else is going on in that person’s life and I ought to give them the benefit of the doubt, at least once anyways.
But here is the real question: Why am I retelling this story?
Within a few minutes of the initial reaction I calmed down, sent an email saying something along the lines of ‘no problem, I can fill this hour easily. Have a great day’ and I let it go and moved on. No hour, or day, spent ruminating, no time lost in a negative space, and no opinions formed about people.
As soon as the call was cancelled I instantly deleted it from my calendar, replacing that time-block with a new task and got busy making quality use of my ‘extra’ time.
I also didn’t bother sharing the story with anyone else. I didn’t mention it to anyone who arrived in the office to find me there early, nor did I talk about it with my family when I returned home and they asked about my day.
I chose to ignore all of the standard chances to complain about the call not happening as scheduled in order to purge the memory from my brain.
At this point I’ve forgotten the specific person’s name. I could run into them tomorrow and not even recall it was them linked to the event. Therefor I harbor zero negative feelings about the person or the event. In fact I’d not have remembered this story at all, except for a moment a few weeks later in a Starbucks parking lot.
The morning light, the sour taste of the Starbucks new and ‘improved’ matcha tea (a taste so bad it effectively broke a $200.00 per month habit within about three weeks), combined for a moment a recollection of that missed call – but still not the specific person.
After realizing that I had no negative feelings about this experience, I decided I’d try to get something else positive out of it by sharing this story with you. Perhaps the next time you have a negative experiences or emotion these steps will work for you:
Step 1: Immediately forgive… sincerely. (You have no idea what is really going on in their life)
Step 2: Immediately reschedule a task that you know needs to be addressed. (You know you have a long to-do list.)
Step 3: Maximize your newfound time no matter where you are or how much time it is by being as productive as possible. Focus on getting positive things done. Don’t waste your time by wasting someone else’s time by calling them to complain.
Step 4: Don’t tell the story to anyone. Ever. Forget it and move on.
Telling the story won’t make you feel better. In fact, it stands to make you feel worse; it will be like reliving the experience over and over again. That, in turn, will decrease your productivity. Move forward into new positive stories and create a future of action. There is little to be gained dwelling on the past.
Again, it’s crucial to step outside your own world for a moment in order to realize that virtually everyone around you is personally going through some sort of mid- to high-level trauma or has a friend or family member directly connected to them going through some sort of mid- to high level trauma – people are all under pressure, not just you.
Fight the urge to complain. Fight it by doing. Doing what you can to make other people’s lives easier and thus your own life that much more wonderful and productive.