Two Worlds, Existing Side-by-Side, Always In Conflict
Someone opened my eyes (again) to a funny scenario that happens in Seattle when the sun comes out. Suddenly, the gloomy, cold weather goes away and the gloomy, cold attitude follows suit. Everyone has something to talk about: the sun and how mysterious it is. More bikes are out, more walking is happening, and people are smiling.
I’m guessing this is the case everywhere but I have never seen it so pronounced as I have in Seattle. It’s like there are two completely different groups of people that live in this city and only one group or another appears depending on the weather. It’s a fun thing to watch and, if you’re introspective enough, you’ll catch yourself playing right along without even realizing you’re doing it.
What you start to realize is that there are, in fact, two very different worlds that exist at the same time all around you and it’s completely within your power to switch back and forth between them. One is an always-sunny, always-friendly paradise where people have great days everyday and everyone around you is a gift. The other is a long string of unfortunate occurances populated with inconsiderate assholes and filled with obstacles and frustrations fine-tuned to keep you angry and distracted.
We’ve all seen these two worlds at different points in time but never, ever at the *same* time. In fact, typically these worlds are, at best, hours apart. It’s easy to feel like these two world have control over us, as though they take turns enveloping us at different times without our consent, much like weather comes and goes at will.
This, I believe, is false.
I have created a career for myself where I am surrounded by technology breaking and misbehaving, people using what I make in ways I never imagined causing things to happen I never planned for, and problems that don’t appear to have a cause or solution but will suck up hours of my time to remedy. I find an enormous amount of satisfaction in what I do and find that this constant problem-solving is something that keeps me thinking about life in a way that I would not have had otherwise.
That said, working in technology can be maddening. Sometimes, alone in my office, I will yell and cuss at a block of code, knowing full well it’s only me and my neighbors that can hear me. I get irritable when I get too many emails in a day, even though this means more business, more problems to solve, and more satisfaction at the end of the day. If I have to drive that day, 5 under the speed limit in the left lane can cause me to imagine creative ways to help them remove themselves from this world permanently. Even worse? An arrogant BMW driver forcing himself into my lane.
If I take a step back on those occasions and think about what’s going on, it’s usually easy to talk myself down from the ledge and see everything in perspective. Broken code is usually a simple fix and the anger typically comes from my perceived stupidity for not finding the cause sooner and that the cause was, most likely, me. Too many emails just means that I’m spending too much time in my inbox. Answering emails in batches means that 20 emails feels like 5 emails; answering them as they come in has exactly the opposite effect. And the driving? There are terrible drivers and there are jackasses and the two will always be there to get in your way. See, reframing works?
But there’s something that works much, much better than that and requires no real rational thought. Make a commitment, each day, to never getting mad, irritable, frustrated, depressed, or negative, no matter what.
It sounds too simple but, like any commitment, it requires you to be … committed. On Friday night, I was tossing and turning, trying to get to sleep. I was wound up because I had taken most of the day off and was facing a good amount of work over the weekend. I had agreed to an urgent project and had a few other client tasks that needed to be taken care of. Suddenly, the weather scenario popped into my head, which then morphed into this idea that a positive mindset was always there, waiting for you to adopt it. I had committed to being more positive and not taking my life for granted many times before but, for whatever reason, it just never stuck because it felt like all the other annoying “commitments” you make like working out and eating better. “Yes … sigh … I should probably be more positive.”
This time, in bed, the idea felt different. Getting to the gym when you don’t want to and avoiding food that sounds so delicious is, for a lot of people, difficult to do. Simply changing gears when you feel irritation rise up is not hard at all, especially if you’re self-aware enough to know when it is happening and you’ve made a promise to circumvent whatever thinking happens to cause this irritation.
Saturday morning, I woke up and, for once, remembered the bed-time commitment I made to myself. It was a day I had to drive to the Eastside, the perfect test. The weather was nice, I put a podcast on, and let everyone do their own thing. I was cut off a few times and, each time, I was in a hurry and running late but each time, took a breath, literally smiled, and just slowed down to let them in. I felt the usualy irritation rise several times during the day but, each time, I heard myself immediately say “nope” and everything reset back to normal.
The most eye-opening part of this was just how many times I had to redirect my thinking. I avoided being irritated over 10 times on both days this last weekend. 10 times I would have had my blood pressure elevated, 10 times I would have positive thoughts ran out of my mind, and 10 chances to have a crappy rest of the day. Instead I had 2 good days in a row, got quite a bit done, spent some very enjoyable time alone and with my wife, and just lived a slightly better life.
Taking this one step further, imagine the impact that this has on every single person that comes in contact with me. I had very pleasent interactions with everyone, from family members, to friends, to people I didn’t even know. Maybe I helped someone else reframe a moment, maybe I helped someone else find positivity in that moment, maybe I just helped someone avoid a negative place in their day.
The thing is, I have positive, happy, great days like this most of the time, probably 9 days out of 10, so this kind of interaction isn’t foreign to me, nor am I a perpetually grumpy bastard. But I want to regain that 10th day and I don’t want parts of my good days to be eaten up with negativity, especially now that it’s clear I have complete control over the whole thing.
Maybe this won’t work with everyone, maybe you already do this in your life, maybe I’m just growing up a little too late but I feel like this now-obvious perspective change has had such a positive impact on my life over the last ~ 2 days that it’s hard to over-state how glad I am to have found it. Not only does it help to guarantee a much better mindset throughout the day, it helps me reframe negative thoughts from years ago that keep resurfacing. If you’ve decided not to let that in the door no matter what, you’re left with just forgetting about the bad and only thinking about the good.