MD-80 cabinDavid 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.


David J. Pollay is an internationally sought-after speaker and teacher, a syndicated columnist, and is the founder and president of The Momentum Project. Mr. Pollay holds a Master’s Degree in Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and an Economics Degree from Yale University. E-mail him your thoughts and stories at [email protected].


  1. Hi Isis,

    Thanks for your warm review; I appreciate it! Iâ??d love to hear how my suggestion works for you. Itâ??s been a great help to me and others who have tried it out.

    Best to you!


  2. Great article! We all hear how we need to change our attitudes, especially about things we cannot change. This was a great demonstration of that in action. Very useful for everyday life and inspiring. Keep up the good work.

  3. Hi Shirley,

    Thanks for your post! Iâ??m glad the article connected with you. I have found that creating â??my forkâ? in challenging situations can actually end up being fun.

    Thanks again for writing!

    Best to you,


  4. I like this! Been doing similar things. Reminds me to keep it up and how useful it is. Thanks so much! It seems a new take / form of CBT, as in excellent books like the “Good Mood Therapy”. Your mood is made you and your thoughts! There is no “set way” to feel about a situation, we can see meaning and understanding in it. I have noticed how reminding yourself of other reasons of understanding allows you to “accept” “bad” situations as they are, and not be so angered by them. It’s can be work at first, but it does become easier. In the end it automatically changes how you feel – so you don’t need to do all of that thinking. So in the end, on a plane, or anywhere, will feel less annoyed by others, in fact warm and appreciative towards them. And isn’t it just amazing how a simple chat with someone makes the journey go by so much faster? So many people sit there blank faced, yet it is no different to being in a pub etc. – just use it that way. You can also move around in a train and meet different people.

  5. Here’s one I often use… A driver on a fast highway cuts close to you zooming recklessly ahead … I sometimes tell myself he’s got an injured family member lying on the back seat. It’s definitely possible. We sped down that very road signalling for people to get the heck out of the way when I was pregnant and advancing in labor with the hospital still 30 miles away!

  6. Nice one Geri. That’s a great belief to adopt. Sure, he could be a madman, but by choosing to think that it could also be someone in a rush, you have calmed yourself, making yourself and others safer. If you had done the opposite and just assumed it had to be a crazy driver – you would only get annoyed and what could that achieve? You might have been annoyed about it the whole rest of your journey. It usually pays in most areas to assume the best in people until we see otherwise, and even then, look for understanding. It’s a great point for understanding – thinking back to when we did things. It helps us to be less stressed by others. I’m thankful I read your news!

  7. Thanks Andrew for the post! You hit it; all this takes practice. But, over time it becomes an almost automatic response to trying situations.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comments!

    Enjoy the ride! : )


  8. Hi Geri,

    Great point! And please tell us the rest of the story! Wow!

    To add to your idea Geri, I make it a point not to look at the people who momentarily frustrate me on the road. I find it helps me to let go of the incident, and not make it personal. It allows me to stay focused on whatâ??s important to me.

    And I second Andrewâ??s last comment. I too am glad we have the Good News Network to read each day!


  9. Hi David.
    I really like the story you shared. It reminds me of the way I train myself to think. Whenever I feel like a situation tests my patience, I remind myself of stories of goodwill to regain a focus. I also find if I distract myself from a situation I initially find annoying, then it tends to go away or disappear when I’m not channeling any energy or attention toward it. Why not think of perceived frustrations as hungry monsters? If you don’t feed them, they’ll shrink and you won’t even notice them anymore.

  10. David,

    What a fantastic and useful message. I like the idea of working to find a positive trigger in the midst of a challenging and seemingly negative experience.

    I had a “What’s Your Fork” experience once that I remember well. I was making the first phone call to someone who had expressed an enthusiastic interest in entering into a business relationship with me. I was offering my services, and left a nice voicemail. After no contact for two days I called again, leaving another message. A few days later I had still heard nothing back. The negative self talk started. “She’s changed her mind, she doesn’t want to hire you. If you call again you’ll just be bugging her” Etc. I lost my enthusiasm for pursuing the opportunity, and almost didn’t call back.

    Then I decided to make up a story about why she wasn’t calling back. I told myself that she was really busy, and hadn’t had the opportunity. Or maybe she had lost my phone number. I told myself this story right before I made my 3rd call to her. This time she picked up, and immediately said, “Thanks so much for calling! Twice I wrote your number down and deleted your voicemail only to then lose your number.”

    If I had listened to that negative self talk instead of finding my fork I wouldn’t have had the been able to cash in on what became a fantastic opportunity!

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