My Failure of Mindset

by Paul Sherman

I aspire to consistently practice the What Matters?! mindsets of curiosity, humor, self-honesty, gratitude, and kindness. Not because I want to be perceived as up there with Mother Teresa or the Dalai Lama (though that would be nice), but because I just plain feel a greater sense of well-being when I do.  What’s more, the research of Dr. Martin Seligman, Dr. David R. Hamilton, Dr. Robert Emmons and a host of other behavioral scientists reports a similar set of positive effects for anyone who adopts these ways of being in the world.

So, in a perverse way, it’s actually selfish to express gratitude, kindness and the other What Matters?! mindsets.  Selfish because we feel better when we do.  And, oh, by the way, a fortunate byproduct of acting in these ways brings a little bit of humanity to others, helping them to feel good as well.  Pretty cool, huh?  A two-fer.  You feel better and so do the recipients of your demeanor.

Thing is, it's not always easy to walk this talk.  In fact we inadvertently do the exact opposite! Today, my What Matters?! acumen was put to the test…and I failed miserably!!! So, here's what happened…

I was scheduled on the 5:30 pm ferry from Boston to Cape Cod.  Using my What Matters?! “Plan” practice, I called the cab company an hour or so before I would need my cab and asked how long it would take for one to come to my house. The dispatcher informed me that my wait would be between 10 and 20 minutes. I told him that I'd call back later.

When I phoned a half hour later and ordered the cab, I was once again told that it would be a 10-20 minute wait. After 25 minutes of waiting, I called the dispatcher who assured me that my driver was “just around the corner” and would be no more than 3-4 minutes. I impatiently stared at my watch, visions of missing my ferry dancing in my head. 5 minutes. 6 minutes. 7 minutes. Where was my cab!!!!!

Doing my best to embody the What Matters?! mindsets of kindness, curiosity and humor I once again called the dispatcher. “I hate to be an asshole,” I gritted into the phone, “but I have a ferry to catch.” Once again, I was assured that my cab was “right around the corner.” I felt my face turning red. My jaw clench. I closed my eyes and thought of kindness, humor, curiosity.  Whereas consciously summoning these ways of being usually have the calming effect on me of bathing in warm tub, all I could feel was rage!!!! Where the *@!# was my cab?  Just when I was about to throw in the towel the cab showed up, 40 minutes from the time I first called (you'll remember that I was intially promised a 10-20 minute wait).

As I entered the cab, I tried to muster the What Matters?! mindset of gratitude; thankful that I  would likely make my ferry after all.  Just as my adrenaline and cortisol levels began to subside, I was once again hijacked…the cab driver had turned a simple 2 mile drive into a circuitous mess. “Where are you going?” I screamed! His reply, “to the tunnel.” “#$@&,” I felt myself involuntarily spewing. “What do you mean “'#$@&?'”, he questioned innocently. “Take A Street!” a shot back, my feelings of blame and contempt seeping through my every pore. With that, he turned the cab around and doubled back.  

As I continued to obsess over my watch, I conjured mental images of not giving him a tip. Trying to counteract my most base instincts, I kept saying to myself, “he's a human being…he's doing his best.” Still…nothing. My anger and stress level were through the roof. As we neared the ferry terminal he motioned to a block in the opposite direction, “We are going there, right?” “No,” I gritted, “it's over there!” Was this really happening???  Finally, I arrived…15 minutes prior to departure. Plenty of time. Nonetheless, I couldn't get out of that cab fast enough. And no, I did not tip him!

As I stood on the pier waiting to board the boat, I decided to make lemons into lemonade and contemplated turning this experience into a blog post. I've now been writing this for close to 90 minutes, grateful that I've had a place to focus on a very rough ferry ride.

So, what are my lessons from this incident?

First of all, the only one responsible for my stress in this situation was me.  If I "Stop and Ask" and take a step back, this was, in fact, not a very big deal.  If the cab had not come in five minutes, a neighbor had already offered to drive me to the ferry.   So chances are I would not have missed the boat regardless.   Alternatively, what if, heaven forbid, I had in fact missed the ferry?  Well, I would have spent another night in Boston.  While I wouldn’t have been thrilled, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world either. Talk about a first world problem!  Jeepers, Paul, chill out.  Which leaves me to another lesson learned...

I’m human!  One of the things that David and I talk about in relation to our work is that we are perfectly imperfect.   In other words, it’s not always possible for us to summon the What Matters?! tools when we need them.  As a recovering perfectionist, that's a tough pill for me to swallow.  How can I possibly espouse this work to others when I haven't mastered it myself?  What a fraud!  Oh, no, here I am stressed out again! 

As I talk myself off this ledge (using "kindness" toward myself---a What Matters?! mindset), I realize that the key is that I just need to keep practicing.  The components of the What Matters?! framework are muscles that need to be developed.  The more toned they are, the more likely they are to work under pressure.  I just need to continue to visit the What Matters?! gym everyday.

The last lesson (yes, I know there are probably many more) and perhaps the most important one. Having verbally attacked the taxi driver, I realized the kind of venom that I had spewed into the world.  I can just imagine the potential domino effect...I yell at cab driver, cab driver gets upset, cab driver takes it out on his family over dinner, cab driver's family takes it out on their friends, and so on...My original seemingly justified outburst in the cab is actually creating the exact kind of world that I don't want to live in!

So, where does all this lead?  As my father was fond of saying, "it's very simple and uncomplicated." When I demonstrate the What Matters?! mindsets, I feel good and so does the world around me.  When I defy these mindsets (even when I'm feeling completely justified in doing so), I get stressed and create stress in the world around me. It's not always easy to demonstrate these behaviors, they must be practiced.  And, practice makes progress, never perfection.

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