We mostly think that our minds are our best weapon to deal with situations in our lives, about our jobs, with our families or in the community. But do we always know how to optimize the ways in which we operate our minds, and do we sometimes let our minds get in the way of achieving the better result?
In most parts of the northern hemisphere, the month of August brings with it heat waves.
We sometimes wish for it to be winter, back when we cozied up under the blankets, trying to rid our bones of lingering chills. We dread the heat and can’t seem to get away from it. With added humidity, it only gets worse. Our clothes cling to our bodies, displaying patches of sweat and making us uncomfortable and self-conscious. Each breath we take seems like it comes out of a steam inhaler. We suffer sunburns and the sand or pavement at the beach or pool scorch the skin at the bottom of our feet, and we hop awkwardly to safety.
And we are parched!
No matter how we cut it, we can’t shake the discomfort. We can’t even think straight… it’s too hot.
But the heat isn’t the only thing contributing to our discomfort; our minds play their part in it as well.
It’s hot and our pores and veins dilate. We sweat profusely, feel damp, and moisture builds up in the most uncomfortable places. Our deodorants lost their fragrance and the shower-fresh pine, lavender or piña-colada scents of our body-wash vaporized hours ago…, and we may reek—or fear we do. We can’t wait to get back inside an air-conditioned space to dry and cool off. Our heads feel hot too and we fight our condition. Little by little we put up resistance to the idea of heat and we resent that the hot weather is getting the better of us.
Yet it shouldn’t.
Roger Federer is known for regularly training in Dubai, U.A.E., where temperatures rise to 110-115 degrees on an average July afternoon, with hardly any breeze of which to speak. Imagine for a moment if his focus were trained on resisting the heat, cooling off or returning to an air-conditioned space, or if he got upset because sweat drips into his eyes, he feels his racket slipping in his hand, believes the playing conditions aren’t optimal and that he can’t give it his best, or that he might be dehydrating, could suffer a heat stroke or will begin cramping after hitting balls at 100 mph for three straight hours in these burning temperatures. Well, these things could likely manifest by the sheer consequence of Roger’s mind becoming blinded by those things that challenge him in hitting his power shots with high degrees of accuracy, not to mention that these mind-distractions would divert his focus from the concentration he needs to make his accurate power-shots, which would further annoy him and exacerbate his frustration…, all because of the heat. They could…, yet they don’t.
- “The heat is a mental thing. If you can’t deal with it, you throw in the towel,” says Roger Federer.
I have played many two-to-three-hour tennis games under the Southern Florida’s sweltering August-sun in the middle of the day and have observed both my opponents’ and my own reactions to it over the years: the heat is never a real problem until we mind it (short of deficiencies in our medical and fitness conditions, or the lack of hydration and protective measures against sun exposure). The simple mental observation that the heat is bothersome instantaneously transforms it into another opponent that we now must battle. But we battle this opponent with our mind, which now is suddenly less available to focus to our technique and strategy, as it is to pay attention to the offensive or defensive moves by our “real” opponent.
The reality is this: that opponent only exists in our minds. Note, nonetheless, that the heat is real, but our attitude toward it turns it into a fierce and invincible opponent. That opponent consumes our energy, motivation and drive, otherwise needed to apply ourselves to what we intend to achieve in that moment—and that intent does not consist of changing the weather.
In life, we often find ourselves in situations where we invite an invincible opponent that turns whatever we do into something harder to accomplish. Indiscriminately, these opponents have one characteristic in common: we can’t control the way they behave—make them go away or make them yield their power over the ways they affect us and interfere with what we do. Yet, instead of ignoring them (accepting them for what they are), we invite them to be seated front-and-center in our heads and we let them rob us of the focus and attention our principal activity require from us.
We get upset with traffic; crazy or slow drivers and congestion. We are annoyed when we have to fill out paperwork before being admitted at a hospital ER unit. We are frustrated when there are long lines at the bank or post office, especially when five out of seven windows are closed, yet other bank or postal employees are gathered in another area, talking around the water cooler. We cringe when at the end of a long boring meeting someone asks the moderator a complicated question we believe doesn’t concern us, but requires an elaborate answer. We hate it when we believe we finally settle in our jobs and are then told that a re-organization will be announced next week and new procedures will be implemented. We steam when someone interrupts us from doing something very important—about a trivial matter or just because they’re clueless—and even more so when it is always the same person doing this to us. And we are appalled and get angry when others show us disrespect, flick us the finger or insult us.
It is nonetheless quite simple. You can’t control what other drivers do; however, you can choose to drive at a different time, take a different route or opt for public transportation, or you can also accept to go with the flow of traffic and remain calm and alert about the perils of the road. Hospitals come with paperwork and hassles about insurance—they don’t operate a charity and this isn’t Canada; sorry that you are in need of medical assistance, but remaining polite and cooperative with the staff is your best chance at receiving the help you need. Your urge to tell them how inefficient and, perhaps, inhumane the service is will not get you better or faster service—quite the contrary. I really don’t know why four bank employees are standing around the water cooler, but you can write a letter to the bank president or change banks if this occurs too often and you are dissatisfied by it—it is not your job to manage the bank’s resources and work ethic. However, being rude or showing signs of impatience will be noticed by the two employees serving customers and, as a result, they may not give you their respect and undivided attention when it’s your turn at the window. Any comments you feel compelled to share with them about the service will be unwelcome and further put the people helping you in an uncomfortable and defensive position. Perhaps they are just as infuriated about being the only ones doing work there. Smile—you’re almost out of here—and don’t forget to say “thank you.”
As we can see, there are always alternative actions that allow us to do better, given the situations we deal with, than by reacting of the sort to things we can’t change.
When it comes to dealing with, or witnessing people who are rude and insulting, you must know that what they say or think about you doesn’t make it so, and that how they behave is a reflection on them, not on you. Sure, it’s never pleasant to be called a ‘butt-wipe’ or a ‘doormat’ (or more colorful expressions of their choosing), but what is your issue with this, anyway? Is it just that they are not polite, or is it that they may be right? If it is the latter, you should be thankful, as now you learned something about yourself and you have a choice to do something about this. If it is the former, then it is clearly their issue to address—not yours; you are not their mother—and you are left with options to steer the interaction in a direction that will provide you with the best and most expeditious outcome, which could simply be to ignore the rudeness and insults as you proceed with your business, or to just walk away and find someone more helpful to your purpose. Seize those opportunities! If you don’t, expect more complications and emotional turmoil to ensue and recognize that you may never get to accomplish your objective.
How other people behave or, sadly enough, seem to act irrationally at times, is something we want to be aware of—just as we need to be aware that when we are outside in the doggone days of August it is likely going to be a scorcher. But adverse circumstances we cannot do anything about is not something we need to concern ourselves with—even if they are painful to watch at times—as we focus on doing the things we are supposed to do. Why the world seems discombobulated and how we should address it is outside of this discussion and should not absorb our mental bandwidth when we need to focus on our task.
Mind you, these mental exercises to which we fall prey are none other than our egos gaining the upper hand. But our missions don’t require our egos to feel at peace, they require our rational thought processes to operate at their best. Furthermore, how we deal with our ego’s displeasure is again entirely a choice that we must make.
We can prepare ourselves to deal with any adverse circumstance, sometimes way ahead of when it will occur, as Roger does when he trains in Dubai, mostly to get accustomed to extreme playing conditions. And when unexpected circumstances appear during times that we are in the middle of something important, we can choose to focus on those incidences—and how much we dislike their occurrence—or we can ignore that they happened and keep our minds focused on our tasks, just as a tennis player would recoup from a slip, a fall, tripping over shoelaces, get blinded by the sun, be surprised by a weird bounce off the tape or if a distraction were caused within the audience.
Getting angry or focusing on, and reacting to extraneous circumstances in a negative manner will never help us advance with our objectives. Using excuses and justifying things after the fact may help us feel better (as in, us=our ego), but it will never help us retain and maximize our focus on the task at hand, and assist us to be, in that moment, the best that we can be.
Today, August is but a memory. But warm days are still ahead in our futures, and I encourage you to bear this in mind for next year. In the interim, I challenge you to become mindful of how you control your reactions to ensure that your mind is always keen and prepared to handle the situations that really matter to you.
Wishing you and yours much Success and Happiness ahead. For more ideas and strategies on awareness, your potential, your success and happiness, please consult Our X Factor, available everywhere and at http://www.ourxfactor.com/.
Happy Labor Day, 2014, everyone!
Xavier Van de Lanotte, Author of Our X Factor: The Power to Achieve—Every Day—Success and Happiness.
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