David Pollay has advice for anyone in need of rescue from a situation that is so distracting or irritating that you can’t think of anything else. Try this, and see if it works…
The plane was full. My seat was 22C. To my surprise there was no one beside me and no one behind me. I felt like I had won the lottery of seating charts. You know the feeling. You can spread out. You can recline without bothering anyone. You can even use two tray tables!
I was flying to Chicago to run a workshop. I needed to concentrate on editing my presentation. The peace and quiet would be great. The flight attendants were getting ready to close the doors when I started working. And then it happened.
I heard a flight attendant say, “You’re in 23C.” And just as I looked up I heard the increasingly loud sound of a baby crying. An upset baby girl and her mother were coming my way. Right behind me was the seat 23C.
Five minutes later the baby’s cry turned into a wail and her little legs were kicking my seat. I couldn’t work with such distraction.
There were no answers to my questions: “Why does the little girl have to kick my seat? Isn’t there a way to stop the baby from crying? And why of all places on the plane do they have to sit right behind me!?” I started searching for what I could say, or what I should do. There was nowhere for me to go.
When Your Road Turns Negative Create a Fork in the Path
Then I smiled. I realized I actually had a choice. I could either see the situation as a dead-end negative, or I could see the situation in another way. I could find another road out and take it. And I did. In that moment I found another way to look at the situation.
I now call it “my fork.”
I thought of my own children. I started laughing thinking that Eliana, 4, and Ariela, 3, had done their share of crying and seat kicking in airplanes, as hard as we tried to stop it! So I turned the baby’s crying and seat-kicking into a reminder that I have two wonderful little girls of my own. Each time the little girl cried or kicked my seat, I felt grateful for my two girls.
Sure I would have preferred the flight to be quieter, but guess what? I was able to work because I became quieter inside. I replaced the negative emotion I was feeling with gratitude for my own children.
Psychologist Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina observed how inducing positive emotions in people following a negative experience loosens the vice grip that the negative event holds psychologically. She also found that people bounced back faster physiologically — their cardiovascular activity slowed.
When we landed in Chicago I stood up and turned to look at the mother and her child. She smiled a little nervously at me and started to apologize for her daughter’s crying. I stopped her. I pulled my wallet out of my pocket, opened it, and handed it to her. I pointed to the picture of my two little red-headed daughters. I said, “These are my little girls. They’re wonderful. And they cry too. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations.” She smiled and said thank you. I smiled and left the plane feeling good (something I wouldn’t have thought possible after the crying began).
So the next time a situation seems to be a frustrating dead-end, ask yourself, “What’s my fork?” There’s almost always another road you can take.