“What happens with you when you begin to feel uneasy, unsettled, queasy? Notice the panic; notice when you instantly grab for something.” — Pema Chodron, Buddhist nun
Someone pisses you off. You get the wrong milk in your Starbucks’ latte. Your boss berates you during a meeting. A jerk cuts the queue when you’re already late. It rains on your new hot pink suede shoes (I’ve been there, and feel your pain).
Everyday you experience irritations that move you away from your best possible self. The anger bubbles up and you instantly grab for a reaction, an expletive. You boomerang back that annoyance – to the one who flicked your switch, or to the Universe at large.
The bigger picture challenge is thinking before acting. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. When we’re triggered, most of us react first, think later.
My 6 year old kid said, ‘Oh shit’ after dropping her toast on the floor, peanut butter side down.
Me: “What did you just say?”
Her: “Isn’t that what you say when something goes wrong, mummy?”
I didn’t even need to ask where she’d learned that. Note to self.
Cue: messy situation.
My reaction: cussing.
This sticky epiphany made me consider grasping at something more profound than an expletive in such a situation. Lets face it, life is full of peanut butter moments.
Starbucks has an extensive training programme that teaches its employees how to handle tough scenarios – like an angry customer shouting, “I asked for soya milk, you moron!” Situations like these are called inflection points, cues that under normal circumstances, can make a barista lose the plot. But even when the pressure is on – and it usually is at Starbucks – our latte wizards have a plan to keep it together.
Here’s the skinny: employees are taught to identify common inflection points and to create pre-considered responses. By choosing a behaviour ahead of time, the barista has a plan in place when a customer gets frothed up. In short, when she gets shouted at, she’s not left to her own devices to respond. Because, really, how considered is our knee-jerk response to, well, a jerk? How mindful are we before firing those verbal cannon balls of retaliation? It doesn’t have to be just words. We all know the eerie power of the wither and die look – not good for the customer experience.
The baristas have created a more positive alternative to default, non-mindful behaviours. They pre-select the behaviour they want to display, even when the heat is on. Then they rehearse it. And rehearse it again. Then they do it some more, day after day. So when the cue arrives (and it will), the new reaction is firmly in place.
So what do you notice about yourself when the heat is on? What mindless reactions sap your Presence at the inflection points that you experience frequently?
Maybe it’s reverting to, ‘Whatever’ (with matching head toss and eye rolls) during a row with your partner.
Or maybe it’s getting all wigged out over deadlines, or when you’re receiving ‘constructive criticism’ at work.
Or perhaps it’s simply using, ‘oh shit,’ as an all-purpose phrase for life’s little peanut butter bungie jumps (whether your audience should be hearing it or not…).
On the back of Pema Chodron’s idea to notice the panic, and to notice what we grab for, we can take a leaf from the Starbucks’ manual. We can pre-choose a better behaviour, aligned with how we’d like to be.
So, ‘whatever,’ hurled at your beloved, could morph to, ‘I’m struggling with this conversation. I care about you and about us, but I need to regroup so I can express myself more clearly.’ That doesn’t exactly roll of the tongue, granted, but rehearse what works for you. Then when the trigger comes, roll it out.
Getting wiggy and headless over deadlines or constructive feedback might require a simple mantra. Like, ‘Breathe.’ Nice, easy to remember and it’s silently chant-able. You know what to do.
And plan for a substitute for those myriad ‘oh shit’ scenarios. Mine is a well-rehearsed trio: Breathe; Notice; Act. (Also silently chant-able and uncannily applicable to most situations.).
So far, so great and my kids aren’t learning any unwanted vocabulary.
I got an e-card from a friend that read: Some people need a high-five. In the face. With a chair.
While this made me laugh, I’d like to think we can be more evolved with our chosen behaviours.
So I was thinking, if Pema Chodron and I met up at Starbucks, she might jot down this simple equation on the back of a napkin:
Noticing + Pre-choosing a mindful behaviour = Better Presence.
That’s worth lifting your latte for.