“Again!? Seriously, why do they bother publishing a bus schedule if the drivers can’t stick to it?! If I can make it out here on time, they should be able to keep to the schedule too. How annoying!”
This was often the conversation occurring in my head when my WMATA chariot didn't come when I expected it to, when they said it would, despite my familiarity with DC area traffic. Frankly, traffic is one of the reasons I choose not to drive myself to work. Yet still, I find myself reacting like this and those negative thoughts lead to feelings of frustration and anxiety which can easily have a negative effect on my morning and even, my day.
But, I have learned a very important skill which can be used like a Swiss Army knife to serve me in so many ways at critical moments to mentally MacGyver myself into a more positive and productive space. The two keys to this skill are 1) identifying which personal values might be challenged in moments when conflict occurs – with myself or someone else – and 2) looking at the situation differently to provide greater clarity around my reaction.
“Values” have a number of definitions but in this context, I would define them as principles that guide our decisions and the standards to which we hold ourselves as we live our daily lives. I wasn't sure I could clearly identify my values so I Googled a list of them. I picked out 10 that really resonated with me and prioritized them from most to least important. When I looked at them and what they meant with respect to how I live my life, I was able to feel myself getting uncomfortable at the thought of any of them being challenged by someone or something. When I evaluated my frustration around the late bus, I was able to recognize that my frustration had to do with the fact that I place a high value on timeliness (ranked 4 on my list of 10) and the late bus was just a trigger for my desire to get to work on time.
When looking at it this way, I was able to acknowledge that timeliness is a great value that generally serves me well but being frustrated over something I can’t control doesn't serve me well at all. So when in this situation moving forward, I have altered the conversation in my head and it goes more like this, “Ok so the bus is late. It’s a great thing that I like to be on time but I have no control over this situation and anyways, what’s the worst that will happen if I’m a little late today? I’ll just use this extra time to look at my calendar and see how to prepare myself for the day.”
It’s easy to see how thinking this way can set me up for a more positive and productive day than the thoughts I had previously. If you are curious how this type of values assessment can help you avoid reactions that fuel negative thoughts which can impact your day and even your relationships, try this exercise. In time and with some practice, see how you are able to better manage your thoughts to drive more positive and productive thoughts, feelings and behaviors.
1. Take one week to log instances where you encounter conflict or frustration – either with yourself or with another person. Jot down a few words about the situation so you can later reference it and recall what the trigger for the conflict or frustration might have been.
2. At the end of the week, Google “personal values”.
3. Choose 7 to 10 values from a list of at least 60 that really speak to you.
4. Rank order them from most (1) to least (10) important.
5. Refer to your conflict/frustration log and write one or more of your chosen values next to each item in your log that caused conflict or frustration.
6. Moving forward, think about how you might be able to alter your thought process around a similar situation should it occur again and make a note of those ideas next to that item in the log.
7. Practice changing your thoughts around frustrating situations based on this exercise and consider how this impacts your mood and productivity.
Consciously recognizing which of our values are challenged in certain situations can help us think and act more proactively, positively and productively. Our values are key drivers in decision making and many of our gut instincts are derived from them. Identifying them can help us more clearly define why and how we react in certain situations to bring clarity to them and create increased self-awareness.
So although we can't avoid uncomfortable or challenging circumstances, understanding why we react to them based on what we know about ourselves can help us live more balanced and happy lives. If you would like to further explore how your values can work for you and learn what else you can tackle in life as a result, contact me!