Okay, so an interesting thing just happened. I had a whole day planned; it involved taking my car to the dealer for an oil change and lunch with a friend who was going to come to my office in Hollywood from the West side (if you live in LA, you understand that his agreeing to do that, while not as selfless as agreeing to make such a trip during rush hour, is medal-worthy). He’s a friend who said he wanted to talk to me about something specific and also doesn’t hate traffic as much as I do so I didn’t even think about the sacrifice he was making to agree to come all the way to me.
Then I was running late for the appointment at the car dealer and when I called to let them know, I casually asked how long the oil change would take. “Four hours,” the guy said, “including the complimentary wash and inspection.”
“Screw the extras,” I said. “Just change the oil.”
“It will still take four hours because we’re backed up,” he responded.
I knew then that even though I was by then in front of the car dealer (it had been a 20-minute drive because of traffic and we’ve already established how much I hate traffic), I couldn’t get the oil changed and meet my friend for lunch. [BY NOW YOU SHOULD ABSOLUTELY BE JUDGING ME FOR THE TINY THINGS I CONSIDER A PROBLEM BUT EVEN MORE SO WHEN I TELL YOU…] I felt outraged—triggered, one could say. Because of the podcast, I’m now used to analyzing (or anna-lyzing) when my reactions are outlandish and so I was able to immediately understand that what was happening reminded me of non-sensical rules my dad would establish that weren’t just inconvenient but often emotionally damaging.
Still, I realized I’d have to come back to the dealer another day if I wanted to make my lunch so I turned around to drive the 20 minutes back to work only to have my friend text me and say his schedule had changed so if I still wanted to have lunch, I’d have to meet him halfway (something I don’t have time to do).
I was again outraged and was about to call another friend to vent about the HORROR that had descended on me this morning. Then I remembered that my frustration was over the silliest thing in the world and that I’m incredibly lucky not only that I have a job that allows me the freedom to take my car in when I want but also friends who want to have lunch with me, not to mention to have a car at all.
The whole thing reminded me of how a former friend and I used to bond: we started every conversation with the question, “Can I vent?” And then one or the other of us would go off on someone or something and the other would co-sign how right the one venting was and I would hang up always thinking I felt better. But I wasn’t feeling better because it made me hold onto utterly innocuous things that I’d chosen to make a big deal about and that version of feeling worse accumulated over time and not in the moment.
Jill Bolte Taylor explains in My Stroke of Insight that a feeling lasts in the body for 90 seconds and after that we’re making a choice if we’re hanging onto it. Today I remembered this and so, instead of calling a friend to vent, I stopped at an oil change place I was passing and made an appointment for the next day and then called the friend I was supposed to be meeting for lunch. He explained that it would take 40 minutes to get to me and he only had an hour because of something that had come up with his kids and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the feeling of gratitude that he’d ever been willing to make that drive for me and we made a plan for next week to meet halfway and I hung up the phone feeling incredibly grateful not only for my friend but also for the guy at the dealer who’d told me my car would take four hours to be ready so I wouldn’t have had to discover that hours into my wait there, the other car place I’d stopped at that told me they’d be able to take take care of my car the next day in a half hour and the fact that I’d made the choice I had.
I don’t mean to sound Polyanna-ish and I die a little inside when I use the phrase “attitude of gratitude” but it’s amazing to me that small acts like this can change everything. I now feel entirely different. And if you’re as prone to outrage over small things as I am (you’re probably not—I can really win awards for that), you can be as amazed as I am over how the tiniest alteration in your reaction can change everything.