Last week, I had one of those “series of unfortunate events” days. I won’t bore you with the details, but I was trying to run a few quick errands before going into work and one minor frustration after another added up until I was running 10 minutes late for a client. I really don’t like running late, especially for clients. I did some deep breathing to calm myself, which helped, and I also tried not to judge the situation as so negative. I knew this particular client would be very understanding, and I still had room in my schedule to give the client a full session.
As I tried to keep my cool, I began thinking about my previous post on stubbornness: Stubborn Is As Stubborn Does. In that post, I discussed how when we start to view another person as stubborn, we should instead ask ourselves why we are being so stubborn. Stubborn inherently means there are two forces, or wills, in opposition to one another. The tension that arises from such a conflict can manifest as anger, frustration, resentment, and so on.
As these thoughts rolled around in my mind, I started to view my current situation (i.e., these unfortunate events that caused me to run late) and my resulting ire as a form of stubbornness on my part. The reality at the time was that I was running late. My ire or resentment of this fact wasn’t going to change anything. In effect, I was being stubborn. I wanted MY way – for things to go smoothly so I was on time for my client. There’s nothing wrong with wanting that! However, I was resistant to accepting the reality that this wasn’t happening. Thus, my stubborn need to hang on to what I wanted was creating a conflict (what I wanted vs. what is). In a way, I think it was this conflict that resulted in me experiencing frustration and distress.
A way out of negative emotions that arise from a stubborn refusal to accept reality is to just accept what is. Now, this isn’t the same thing as liking what is. Many people conflate acceptance with liking. We don’t have to like spilling coffee on our shirt. However, we do not possess the power to undo such things. Once it happens, our power lies in our choice to accept that coffee is on our shirt and we must find a way to clean or change it (or, I suppose, ahem, just to leave the stain there). This is the essence of the saying, “There’s no use crying over spilt milk.”
When things don’t go the way that we’d like, it is also important, in addition to accepting the reality of the situation, is to accept the emotions that we have at the time. If we are upset because we spilt coffee on our shirt, it is helpful to recognize and accept these feelings. I’ve heard neuroscientist Dr. Dan Siegel use the expression that we must “name it, to tame it.” Hey, if we are upset, let’s just admit it to ourselves! When we do so, it helps us to move on from these feelings.
So, when you are having one of those days in which you are becoming frustrated because things aren’t going the way you would like, try the practice of acceptance of what is in place of resistance to what is (a form of stubbornness). Also, recognize and accept the feelings that you experiencing at that time. With practice, you will likely notice that you can more readily tame your emotions and move on with your day.