The Weather Channel indicates the frigid temps are on their way out of the region. And not a moment too soon. Everyone I’ve run into for the past couple of weeks has had something to say about the weather. Not chirpy little comments, either. No, this arctic spell has us pretty much worn slick. Annoyed. Downright irritated.
When my husband asked me what tonight’s topic was and I said irritations, he just laughed and said I had plenty to write about. Apparently the topic was fascinating enough for a couple of science writers to author a book about the who, what, when, why, and how of things that annoy us (Annoying, Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman, 2011). I don’t know how they conducted their research, but they could have saved a little time and expense and just asked me. I’d have been more than happy to tell them how it works.
I like to think of annoyances in categories. First off, you’ve got your unexpected mishaps, like paper cuts or stubbing your toe, which can escalate on the aggravation scale to things like stepping in dog poo or finding a flat tire on your car. Then you’ve got situations that could have been avoided but you just weren’t focused: like washing dark colored pants with a Kleenex in the pocket, burning your toast, or letting the toilet paper roll run out.
Then you move to the things that other people do, like reading over your shoulder, or talking loudly on their cell phones. There are upgrades in this category too: like neighbors’ loud music and people not picking up after their dog. (We won’t even mention mouth-related offenses such as mumbling, chewing with mouths open, or coughing and sneezing in public without covering the mouth.)
Then there are those irritations that didn’t even exist a generation ago, a whole category resulting from our technological “advances”: hard drive crashes, spam email, automated phone systems, and butt dialing. (People stepping into the street in front of my moving vehicle with their faces buried in their phones might be annoying if it weren’t so mind-boggling.)
You’ve got the whole entertainment category: singers who mime, the obsession with Z-list celebs, and reality TV; the traffic/travel category: driving slow in the fast lane, tailgaters, and delays at the airport; and miscellany: leaving the drive-through and realizing they didn’t put any napkins in the sack, plastic packaging on small devices and appliances that requires a chain saw to open, and a cricket in your bedroom.
Quite an array, I’d say. And any one of these irritations is poised to jump us at any moment. Which begs the question: if one defines the “good life” as being relatively free of such negative stimuli, how can a person ever achieve this ideal while being bombarded with such pervasive annoyances? (The question is purely rhetorical, since I intend to speak to it in the next paragraph.)
Here’s one of my favorite tips, from the well-known author and motivational speaker, Zig Ziglar. I gleaned it from one of his audio recordings my sister shared with me nearly twenty years ago. His advice is as practical today as it was then. I tried to find the exact quote, but had no success. (Or maybe I just got annoyed by how long the search was taking and quit — just kidding!) My paraphrase:
“When life throws you a curve, rather than get upset, turn your frustration into fascination.”
That means when you walk out to your car for the umpteenth day in a row, and find there’s ice under all the snow and you will have to brush and scrape it off — yet again — you can either get irritated and start the day in a bad mood (as if the negativity will actually change the fact that the ice and snow needs to be removed, regardless), or you can choose to be fascinated by the weather we’ve been having. You could wonder if it is anything close to the weather they have in Antarctica (no, in fact, it is not! * ), or you could observe the properties of the ice and snow you’re removing, or you could just be thankful that you have a scraper to work with or even a vehicle (I know quite a few people who would be more than happy to have a car, even if it meant clearing it off repeatedly).
I’m not saying that doing this is easy, but it is simple. And I promise you that if you actually say the words, “Wow, I’m just fascinated by…. (let’s just say, by just how quickly the toilet paper went) …it will reduces the irritation because you’ve just told your brain to put it in a new category. Granted, you will have to work with it and allow the fascination to kick in. But being fascinated can detach you from the emotional component of the situation and orient you to a more neutral and objective frame of mind. And along with that, lower blood pressure, less constricted arteries, and perhaps fewer headaches, backaches or upset stomachs. I invariably feel better when I let fascination take center stage.
I’ve shared this tactic with quite a few people when they bring up the topic of avoiding irritation, and I have no idea who actually dared to put it to the test and who just blew it off. But I challenge you to
[* Okay, are you ready? Here’s a peek at some seriously serious weather at the South Pole…]