In a perfect world everyone would always be happy, content, and never have a bad hair day. Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world (and I’m not sure I’ve ever had a good hair day). We live in a world where things happen. Your tire goes flat. Your child fails a class. They run out of your favorite flavor at Ben and Jerry’s. How we choose to respond to the things that happen to or around us is the real test. I used the word “choose” in the last sentence deliberately. If you’ve ever read the “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” you’ve heard about “living in the gap.” What that means is that there is a gap between something happening and how we chose to respond to it. If we “live in the gap” we take a couple moments to think about how to react, not just have a knee jerk reaction. I’d venture to guess that if the Dalai Lama, Tom Cruise and I each got cut off by some jerk on the highway we’d have completely different responses. I for one would likely swear, call the other driver bad names (although not so they could read my lips), and then sit there stewing in a new found bad mood. The Dalai Lama would probably smile, say a prayer for the other driver’s safety and continue on as calm and content as usual. I’m afraid to think what Tom Cruise might do. I’ll let you use your imagination. I’m thinking something along the lines of jumping up and down on the hood.
I’ve had several experiences with people who’s “gap” is about a millisecond long and their response is always stress and negativity. On a stress scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being lying on your favorite beach and 10 being the death of a loved one, a person shouldn’t always be living at level 9. It’s just not healthy. The thing is, the reason the Dalai Lama, Tom Cruise and I all respond differently isn’t a matter of biology, it’s a matter of training.
One of the things that stresses me out is my To Do list. It never ends and only gets longer. It’s my own fault. I’ll start new projects, sign up for activities, and generally fill my schedule to the breaking point. In order to “live in the gap” when I start to get bogged down and freaked out by all the things I need to get done and the lack of time to do them, I’ve started looking at my list and thinking, which of these things cannot wait until tomorrow? Turns out, very few things I think I have to do actually have a must do now deadline. In fact, when I started looking at my list objectively I realized that half the things I think I need to do NEVER need to be done. Much to my chagrin, the world will not end if I don’t write a blog post every day. Or if I don’t respond to every email within seconds of receiving it. Or I don’t move all my pictures over to Snapfish. Or I don’t get in 5 workouts this week. And yet I spend way more mental energy than necessary trying to figure out when I’m going to find the time. It also makes me not able to relax during down time. Instead of enjoying the moment, I’m constantly thinking how I “really should be doing something.” Sound familiar?
I think I had a “Living in the Gap” breakthrough today. I spent 2 hours just sitting by the pool at the gym. I could have been “working out” or doing some sort of paperwork but instead I slowed down, took a few deep breaths and had a remarkably relaxing afternoon. I even made some new friends in the process. If that’s not more important than whatever else I could have been doing I don’t know what is.