About a month ago, I went out to my car to drive downtown for a talk I was giving. My car was parked on the street and as it came into view I noticed that a large portion of my front bumper was missing. The passenger door was caved in and there were long red streaks down the rest of the side toward the trunk. On the ground beside my rear wheel was a chunk of someone’s else’s front bumper. There were no other cars around. I never heard a crash and no one came to our door to let us know this had happened. The police came out and filed a report. The insurance agent did an estimate. A tow truck took the car to the shop. All of these things happened while I retained a good mood and did not experience a wash of anxiety.
Was this because I hated that car and wanted it gone? Nope. In fact I was really hoping I could get another five years out of it.
Was it because I am an improv evangelist and I “yes, anded” my way into a blissful state? Nope. Though yes anding things definitely helps in certain situations, it was not even necessary this go round.
The answer to my mood and acceptance of the situation is that I was primed for it. Just a few weeks prior to this experience with my car, our other car also had a problem. This time however there were lots of different emotions running amuck.
We were all in the car driving my wife and my mother in law to the airport on the south side of Atlanta. About an hour and a half drive with moderate traffic. We had given ourselves plenty of time and decided to stop and get something to snack on. As we were about to drive away from the drive thru window the engine cut out. The line for the drive thru was so long that it wrapped around the entire building. I tried to start it again but to no avail. My five year old started to scream about something from the back seat. I tried the ignition again but it wouldn’t crank. I decided to put it into neutral and push it. It wouldn’t go into neutral.
People behind me were starting to get upset. Everyone’s food was getting cold. The drive thru workers were attempting to run food and debit cards back and forth past my window. We finally figured out how to get someone near enough to our car to jump it off. We thanked them and headed off down the street looking for an auto parts store. Unfortunately, a mile down the road, it happened again. This time we were on the side of the road and fast cars were flying by. The clock was ticking. Our window of opportunity to get my family to the airport was closing. If they didn’t make the flight then they wouldn’t get to the start of their tour in Scotland. I felt a wash of anxiety and started to work on calming myself down. The next step was easy. We picked up the phone and called for both a tow truck and our relatives who live nearby.
An hour and forty five minutes later, everything was back in balance. My wife and mother in law were nearing the airport and would make it on time. I was back at home with my son getting our other car ready for our day of adventure. It was all ok. Everything worked out.
This was when I started to process my reactions to the situation. Why had I gotten so upset about dealing with our broken down vehicle? My first thought was “Well I would be fine if it were just an inconvenience, but there was so much pressure to get out of the way at the drive thru and to get everyone to their flight on time.” This didn’t hold up long under scrutiny however when my brain returned “All of those things are inconveniences. No one was in real danger. No one was in pain. Everyone was healthy. This was just one big inconvenience.”
So primed with this experience and the following mental processing I was able to look at my wrecked front end and think “well this is inconvenient. Glad no one was hurt here. I hope the driver of the other car was ok.”
I now hope that this new way of thinking will last. When things are going wrong I would like to be able to find perspective and think “Well this is inconvenient, but everyone is safe. It will all work out.”