Today’s blog post is a “how to.” Something happened to me recently that would have upset most people. It didn’t upset me. And I am going to show you how to keep similar “upsetting” situations from upsetting you in the future.
The beginning of the story
My wife Shelly and I were on our way to the bi-annual meeting of the Transformational Leadership Council in St. Maarten last week. The flight involved a change to planes in San Juan and we had only 30 minutes from the time we landed there until the connecting flight left.
As we were waiting for the first flight to board an announcement came over the loudspeaker saying that our flight was going to be delayed. A retainer clip in the galley was broken and they were waiting for a new one to be delivered.
Given that we only had 30 minutes between flights, even a 10-15 minute delay could result in us missing our connecting flight. I knew Shelly had been looking forward to the opening ceremonies so I thought she might be concerned. So I said to her: “Nothing has happened yet. We haven’t missed the connection. We don’t know anything for sure about whether or not we will make our connection.” Shelly nodded her understanding and any concern she had evaporated immediately.
Although I wasn’t at all upset or even concerned, I realized there was a possibility we could miss our connection. I talked to the gate agent about getting another flight to St. Maarten if we missed our connecting flight. She said that our airline had no other flights out later that day. So I got on my phone and started looking for other airlines that could get us to where we wanted to go in case we left so late that we missed our connection.
Meaning and emotion is not required to take action
What I want to emphasize is that I didn’t need to assume we would miss our flight and get upset in order for me to act. In fact, not being upset enabled me to think more clearly about alternatives and take immediate action.
About 15 minutes later as I was calling other airlines we heard another announcement saying our plane would be delayed at least 30 minutes and we would get another update shortly. I reminded Shelly that we still didn’t know for sure what would happen in the future. The fact we were going to be at least 30 minutes late did not necessarily mean we were going to miss our connection.
When I told Shelly that we were going to take off at least 30 minutes late and that I hadn’t been able to find another airline to get to the meeting that evening, Shelly smiled at me and said: “That doesn’t have any inherent meaning either.” Nothing that we had been told meant for sure that we would miss the start of the meaning.
We were finally ready to leave
A few minutes later another announcement came over the loudspeaker: The replacement part had arrived and had been installed. As we walked on the plane the gate agent told me that we would be leaving about an hour late, but the flight time had been reduced by 30 minutes, so we would be arriving just about the time the connecting flight was scheduled to take off.
The gate agent also said she had contacted the airline’s control center in New York about holding the connecting flight because there were eight people on our flight who held reservations for our flight to St. Maarten. But we wouldn’t find out if the control center had approved our connecting flight’s delay until the plane had already taken off. Can you get that this news also had no meaning?
After everyone was on board and just before we took off, the agent announced that the control center said that they would hold the connecting flight if it didn’t have to wait more than 10 minutes. If we were later than that, the plane would leave without us. Even this latest news had no meaning. I still didn’t know for sure whether or not we would miss the connecting flight.
Information can never be upsetting
Notice that nothing we had been told from the start of the incident to that moment allowed us to know anything for sure about our ability to make the connecting flight. The information we received wasn’t upsetting; the only thing that could be upsetting would be giving that information the meaning that we would miss our connection and the start of the meeting. As long as we realized that the events had no meaning, there could be no upset.
We landed and got off the plane three minutes before the connecting flight was supposed to take off. It took the eight of us over 10 minutes to walk to the departing plane’s gate. The plane was waiting. We boarded and had an uneventful flight to St. Maarten.
How would you have handled this situation?
Would you have gotten upset upon hearing the first announcement? Or when you heard the second? Or while you were sitting on the plane wondering if the connecting flight would still be there when you arrived?
You have the power to stop your suffering
Can you get that events, no matter what they are, have no inherent meaning and therefore can’t cause emotions? Only the meaning we give events can cause emotions. By making a clear distinction between events and the meaning you give them, you can always be clear that the event itself is meaningless. And when you are able to do that, you are able to prevent yourself from experiencing anxiety, upset, and suffering.
I’ve gotten to the point where I am able to do that pretty much automatically now and Shelly is finding it easier every day. Sometimes all she needs is a quick reminder and she is able to make that distinction.
Suffering is not necessary. Really. The next time you find yourself upset about anything ask yourself what is upsetting you. You will attribute your upset to something that is a combination of an event and a meaning, but which seems to you only like an event. The meaning will seem to be inherent in the event. All you need to do is recognize that you have not made a clear distinction between the event and the meaning, and then make that distinbction. Once the meaning has been made separate in your mind from the event, the feeling that had been caused by the meaning just dissolves.
Try it. Practice it. Make it a part of your life. Don’t listen to the people who tell you that suffering is a necessary part of the human condition. It isn’t.
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Use this information to improve your life
This week’s exercise is contained in the blog post itself. Try dissolving the meaning that is causing your upset. It really works.