The sun wasn’t yet up as I left my hotel in Poughkeepsie with a very tall cup of coffee in hand. I was looking forward to the drive home. The GPS clocked my ETA home at 9:02 a.m.
I knew exactly where I’d make a pit stop (essential information for a rural drive) and was excited to see quaint New York towns, sleepy in the morning light but all dressed-up in their holiday finery.
I had finished a client engagement the night before, and had a really busy day, week and December month ahead. But everything was beautifully scheduled.
I turned out of the parking lot and onto a road covered in snow and shrouded by heavy fog. Just 20 minutes into the drive I saw three traffic circles.
Wait, I don\’t remember these on the way here. Maybe I just didn’t notice them . . .
Suddenly I was driving up a very steep and sharply curving road.
This was definitely not familiar.
A slice of morning light illuminated a mountain range straight ahead. I felt like I was in Appalachia, but weren’t those the Catskill Mountains? I was out of range and kept driving, expecting to find a spot where I could get back on the grid.
Where am I? And this was supposed to be a relaxing drive home! More importantly, where is my pit stop? My GPS was blank and directionless, and I was surprisingly agitated and annoyed. This is not what I planned!
Have you noticed that when something throws you off your schedule, you tense up and overreact—even catastrophize—the simplest things?
When the Moment Begs for Flexibility
I am a pretty flexible person. In fact, I can be prone to more starts than finishes.
But when I get anxious, my willingness and tendency to adjust my emotions, thoughts and behaviors to changing situations and conditions, to adapt—to take in new data and change my mind or approach (a definition of the EQ skill of flexibility) — I freeze in one frame of reference.
I should have been on the right road.
I felt my teeth clenching. I was digging into the Shoulds-Ofs big time, and then remembered about what the actress Ellen Burstyn said about the need for should-less days:
“I have wiring in my brain that calls me lazy, if I’m not doing something. I haven’t been able to get rid of it. But what I can do is I can put in another wiring, I can put in should-less days, so when that voice goes off and says you’re being lazy, I turn to the other wiring in my brain that says, no, this is a should-less day, and I’m doing what I want.”
Letting Go of Expectations
Maybe, I thought, I could reframe things and have a should-less drive home. (Change the emotion and the behavior will follow, I said to my anxious self.)
The road kept winding up and down—25 to 35 mph—mostly in the fog. There wasn’t anything to look at and I felt like I was driving in an endless ball of cotton. GPS now said I’d arrive at 9:25 am. Groan.
A should-less drive, Deene. It’s not as you planned, or hoped, but what would happen if you let go of your expectations?
I drove by a beautiful old red barn and saw a sign for an organic farm. I came to a teenie town and passed a barn by the river wreathed by sparkling holiday lights. There was a furniture maker inside.
Every so often a shaft of sunshine broke through the fog and lit up a snowy field. I was pleasantly distracted. I breathed in, I breathed out; I savored the beauty of the unexpected.
Then I saw a sign for a one-lane-covered bridge up ahead. The whole bridge was as wide as my Subaru Forester, and it was hard to see if someone was coming from the opposite direction.
Really? I’m supposed to just get-on-my-mark and ready-set-go across the bridge and hope I don’t smash into an oncoming pickup truck?
Where the hell am I?
I crossed the bridge unscathed and spotted a cascading waterfall to the left, perhaps the remains of a mill. I smiled. Twenty miles later I came to a stop sign and recognized the town. I was nowhere near where I wanted to be—I had drifted way off course—but it sure was beautiful.
Should-Less Shifted My Mood
I had another hour of driving before I’d arrive home, but by then my mood had shifted. I would be behind schedule for the entire day, but I was also confident I’d work it out.
And I found myself in an unexpectedly good mood. With a little bit of intention, I was able to shift my anxious, disappointed feelings to one of contentment and joy as I took in the beautiful scenery.
I wish you the flexibility to see other options, to notice where the light shines in, and to sink into the beauty of the moment.
Flexibility Definition Source: EQ-i Workbook, Rutledge