Another traffic jam! I am already a little bit late, and I am in my 5th hold up, the journey that should have taken me 35 minutes has already taken an hour, and I still have 15 minutes left to go.
I took a deep breath. There is nothing I can do about this. Beating myself up for not leaving earlier is pointless, so I will just turn the music up and enjoy the extra time I have to sing to myself.
I arrive at my networking meeting late, but smiling, calm and ready to connect to others. The meeting is fun, I enjoy talking to some familiar faces, and meeting some new people. I drive home a couple of hours later on virtually empty roads.
A little later that day, I suddenly realised how different my experience of the morning had been than when I was driving to work, always late, always stressed.
Traffic on the road was there purely to annoy, upset and inconvenience me.
Speed limits would be completely ignored, and I was probably a complete liability on the road.
I would rant and shout at other drivers, blaming them in very colourful language for the fact that I was going to be late for work again. (the fact that I left the house late was always overlooked in my desperate bid to make it be anyone else’s fault but my own.
I would always arrive at work agitated, with a bank of excuses and lists of blame to justify my late arrival. I don’t think I once said “I am really sorry, I stayed up too late, and couldn’t get up, so was late leaving the house”.
Much had changed between those times in my life.
On the morning of the networking meeting, I was late leaving the house, and I knew that I was at fault in doing this. I had checked the time I needed to leave, but had misjudged what I was doing. I took full ownership of my mistake right from the start.
When I hit traffic, I simply reflected that this was what happens during rush hour, and experienced a moment of gratitude that I don’t have to do that every day.
I took deep breaths, calming my nervous system before my stress levels were allowed to rise.
These breaths gave me space to think about how to respond to the traffic, and I was able to accept that it was nothing to do with me, and I could do nothing to change the situation. All I could change was how I dealt with it. I could choose to be angry and resentful, or I could choose to make the most of it. I got ot listen to more Neil Young than I would have had my journey only taken 35 minutes, so I chose to focus on that.
There *may* have been some dancing and very loud singing in my seat.
I chose not to beat myself up over the mistake, and to refuse to allow the ‘If only…’ thoughts to creep in. Yes, had I left earlier, I may have missed the traffic, but for all I knew, I may have hit more. I was where I was at that moment, trying to second guess how different choices might have panned out was futile.
When I arrived at the networking meeting, I apologised to the host, explaining that I had left a little late and got stuck in traffic, and got on with the meeting.
So how can you apply the lessons I learned to your own life?
When stress threatens, take some deep breaths. Fill your lungs, take slow deep breaths, and pause before response. This will calm your nervous system, allow your logical brain to take control of the situation, and prevent you reacting from an emotional perspective. Negative emotions rarely produce positive results!
Accept the ways things are
Don’t waste your time on ‘what if’s. They are pointless. Critically evaluate where you are now, and work out what is the next best step.
Forgive and admit
If you have made a mistake, own it. Trying to hide it will, most likely, come to bite you eventually, and it will be worse because of the lie and deception. Forgive yourself for mistakes and seek to make amends. If someone else has made a mistake, try not to hang on to blame, accept that they are human and fallible, just as you are, and look for solutions with them.
Look for the positives
Don’t ignore the negatives, but don’t focus on them. Look for the positives in a situation, if you look hard enough, most situations will have them. They may come in the form of lessons to learn, or unexpected gifts (for example, missing the right train might lead you to meet the love of your life on the next train). Be open to the fact that positives are there. Be grateful for the good things that are in your life in and despite the negative.
We keep ourselves suffering when we hold on to negativity. In my previous stress-head existence, a bad start to the day would stay with me all day. I would complain about things as much as I could, I would relive mistakes and problems endlessly, and allow them to infuse themselves into my entire being. Letting go of the negativity, of the stress, is a powerful way to move forward and allow things to improve.
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