10 March 2014

Now Is My Time #10: Steadying My Boat

One of the big lessons I've been learning and learning over the past year or so is not to let other people's moods or behavior affect the steadiness of my own boat. It's so easy to allow exposure to someone else's bad mood or rude behavior put us in a bad mood which then spreads to others. Worse yet, is how easy it is to allow another's bad behavior to bring out bad behavior in ourselves. It's like a poison and unfortunately sometimes it totally feels justified when we allow ourselves to indignantly snap back at them.

You know what I'm talking about. You have an unpleasant interaction with someone else and your heart starts pounding, your jaw starts tensing up, your breathing becomes rapid and in your head you are quickly coming up with comment after comment you could spew back. Everything else in life fades away in this moment of crisis and it feels impossible to escape.

I am constantly feeling challenged to take the high ground in my life and to remain true to the person I want to be. I think this is part of the reason and meaning for our lives, to train and challenge ourselves to remain steady when the waves hit us whether that be other people's behavior or other hard times. I was on the beautiful Newport harbor this past weekend (I have stories to tell and will soon). There were boats of every size and variety and it got me thinking about being a steady person in the wake of waves. When one is paddling a kayak or canoe or driving a motorboat there are maneuvers that have to be made to ensure that waves do not capsize your vessel. The way you approach oncoming waves determines whether you'll be sunk by the waves or just lightly and momentarily tossed.

A skilled captain will turn the boat so that the waves have minimal impact rather than allowing the waves to swamp the vessel. I find many opportunities to do this in life too. Part of my Now Is My Time plan has been to focus in on managing myself in challenging situations. When negativity or ugly waves come my way, I want to turn my boat so that I break through the waves effectively and with grace rather than having the waves break over me and soak me. Much easier to deal with some overspray and a couple of bumps than to spend hours bailing out a boat or to find oneself sunk in the middle of a large body of water.

I am learning and getting a little bit better at not letting challenges and challenging people swamp my boat for an hour, a day, a week or more. It's easy to let that happen. But what a waste of our pretty time and life energy. When I experience such a negative energy, I have a few coping strategies I use. Sometimes I just get real about what I can and can't do in the situation. Then I do what I can do and let it go. It's can be tricky to be realistic and self-caring in a situation where others may attempt to guilt us into doing more than we should or need to do. Sometimes we just aren't able to help or we have to find a clear cut definition of what we can do without marginalizing ourselves and our own lives.

Sometimes I meditate and do breathing exercises to calm myself down. I try to address what I can do to assist, where I do or do not belong in the situation and then communicate that clearly and definitively. Other times it may be necessary to remove myself from the situation for a few minutes or even permanently.
I am learning that even when I can't physically remove myself from the situation I can remove myself mentally and emotionally. That might be by reading or doing some other relaxing activity for a few minutes in order to replace the negative energy with something positive. There is just no need to sit in ugliness one moment more than necessary.

The other GREAT challenge in this, at least for me, is to manage my own reactions. Keeping a civil tongue, being patient but straightforward, and maintaining one's own dignity are not always easy, especially when someone else is in your face doing just the opposite. But once we let ourselves down by giving up our own dignity, things can quickly dissolve into far worse interactions. Then we feel bad about ourselves and the situation and the other people involved. But boy, does it take a lot of restraint not to go for the easy strike, the unkind word, or the snarky tone when one is already getting it from another. I think this might be the equivalent of having an abdominal six-pack in the world of self-discipline fitness.

But it's worth it. I am in charge of my own boat, we all are, whether we want to be or not. How we allow others to rock that boat is up to us too. Steadying my boat and my emotional and physical reactions to stressful people or situations is totally under my control but takes a lot of fitness work to get there. I'm working on it now, but of course like all humans have my up and down moments.

What do you do when situations start to bring out your lesser self? Do you have strategies that work for you?

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