Pay Attention

How often do we go through the day huffing and puffing about the way people do things? “Didn’t they even read this e-mail before they sent it? There’s a spelling mistake.” “Who parks their car like that? What a moron.” “Why can’t my kids just put away their laundry? They’re so lazy!”  These all seem to be external factors that put us in a foul mood.  In reality, though, these are just situations that are triggering something inside of us.  This trigger, in turn, causes us to be upset.  If we want to know what's actually bothering us, we have to REALLY pay attention to ourselves.

A while ago I got food poisoning and my stomach was all torn up. When I finally mustered the energy to get up in the morning to declare my sick day, I decided to eat. Normally when my stomach hurts I just want to leave it alone. In this situation, I had two important facts that let me know that consuming some dry cereal was the right choice. 1.) I’m always freakishly hungry in the mornings, and 2.) I know what my stomach feels and sounds like when I’m starving, and it was exhibiting those signs.  The only way I knew that I should eat even when I really didn’t feel like it was by paying very close attention to my body.  Not just how it felt at that time, but how it has felt in the past in different situations.  Noticing when my stomach gets upset and what it has felt like throughout my life has shown a pattern to how I feel when I’m very hungry.

While that was a physical example, the same thing holds true for our emotions.  When reading the examples in the first paragraph, you may have thought of a time when you said one of those same things and remembered how the situation bothered you.  It's unlikely you got upset solely because your kids didn’t put their clothes away.  You probably got mad because you felt disrespected or ignored since your kids didn’t act on what you requested.  If respect is one of your values and is very important to you, you may have been offended if you thought your children didn’t uphold that value.

When you find yourself in a situation that causes you to be upset, pay attention to figure out what’s really going on.  It’s likely one of your values aren’t being honored, you’re misinterpreting the situation, and/or one of your deep fears is coming out.  Thinking back to previous circumstances where something distressed you may provide important clues to what’s really causing you to become upset.  Once you know your triggers, you can work to address them to lead a happier, less stressful life.