On my way into work the other day, I was waiting to make a left at a busy intersection. Oncoming traffic always cuts into my green arrow. I was at the head of the line watching a huge bus turn left on red in front of me, anticipating the exact moment I could initiate the turn of the string of left-turning cars, when the car behind me honked. I was in the process of accelerating forward, but the honk caused me to slow and look around to see what danger I had missed. When I realized it was a honk of rude impatience from the woman behind me, I felt the strongest urge to stop my car, get out, and explain to her how her honk, far from making anything at that intersection happen faster, had just slowed the whole process down.
Instead of generously enlightening her, I made my left turn and fumed silently with one part of my brain while another part observed my behavior and the two held a conversation. I hope she gets in an accident. Wow, I cannot believe you thought that. Fine, I hope she’s late for work. What good does it do you to wish her harm? She’s never going to give you a second thought in her life, but you are stewing over her. Are you going to ruin your day over this?
Yeah, you’re right. It’s just that it’s Monday and it’s early and I don’t want to go to work and I don’t feel great and my future is uncertain and what if it all doesn’t work out and I end up homeless and I can’t take care of Abby? I want to go back home. I want to hide under the covers and not deal with the world because people all suck, life is unfair, and nothing ever works out for me.
Really? Wow, and all that triggered by just a horn blast.
Going off the deep end over something simple is a sure sign you are lost in one of the distorted thinking traps discussed in Ten Days to Self-Esteem. Perhaps Overgeneralization, where “you view a negative event as a never-ending pattern of defeat.”
The truth is I took the horn-honking as a personal indictment of myself as an incompetent left-turner. I felt that it was unjust of this stranger to blast her condemnation to everyone at the intersection, falsely accusing and embarrassing me. I felt entitled to better treatment and put out by her foisting her impatience on me. In retaliation, I wanted to lash out and see her punished.
Since I chose public decorum instead, I felt demoralized and began to project this feeling into other areas of my life. Because I was already feeling tired and maybe a bit immune compromised, it was all the easier to see this as a defeat and extrapolate further defeat onto anything else I might think about or attempt. Indeed, that could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy if I’d gone on to tackle life in this disconsolate frame of mind.
Fortunately, I’d been reading about distorted thinking and was able to catch myself in the act and give myself a gentle nudge away from the brink. Remember, you get to decide what kind of day you’re going to have. I reminded myself that I have the power to change my thinking. I switched from global condemnation everything to thinking of specific things I’m grateful for, that have gone well, and that provide evidence that my life is filled with many successes and affirmations.
I’m also trying to be patient with other incompetent left-turners.