Thursday, May 5, 2011

Facts vs Stories - How to Not Be Pissed off (part 1 of a series)

Facts vs. stories is one of my favorite mechanisms to stop myself from getting pissed off too easily. Granted, sometimes it’s unavoidable – or my mood just won’t cooperate; but for the most part I use this technique almost daily. People around me (friends, family, even strangers at times) ask me “How are you NOT pissed off at ”? If I have time, I give them a little synopsis of this technique, if I don’t have time, I usually smile and say “it’s not worth the negative energy”… although sometimes that statement REALLY pisses people off.

Before I start: the “cover my ass” statements. This technique works for about 80% of events that can piss off a person – it doesn’t work for everything. And, as effective as the technique is, it doesn’t always work. Hopefully if you apply it correctly, you’ll find yourself less stressed out about ‘life in general’.

Let’s talk about the word “event” for a second. In this case, I’m talking about the small and medium events that happen over which we end up getting pissed off. Things like someone cutting us off in traffic, a server being down and us not being able to pay a bill, a boss in a really pissy mood. Even things like having your car stolen or your house broken into. This does not count towards the huge life changing events like a horrible health diagnosis, a sudden (or any) death, etc. And when I say things like “every” … it applies to about 80% of the situations – so don’t hold me literally word for word? OK? Cool…let’s get this thing started.

Every event has two main elements – the facts of the event and the corresponding story. The facts, when stated correctly and honestly are indisputable – that’s why they are called FACTS. The story is what you state about the event that is either your opinion (read: what you’ve made up about the event) or your view. In most events, we don’t know the full story behind the event – or even part of the actual story at all. It’s usually our “story” about the event that gets us all riled up and pissed off. Not always, sometimes it’s the event itself – but most of the time, it’s what we say caused the event that pisses us off.

So, let’s get into an example, shall we? You’re driving into work on a rather rainy morning. Traffic is quite a bit slower than usual, but you’ve got your music going, you’re enjoying a little bit of alone time and responding to a text from your sweetie (hey traffic is slow, so it’s ‘safe’ to text, eh?). Suddenly, from out of nowhere, someone is a huge SUV comes down the shoulder of the highway, slices in front of you and slows down to stop from hitting the car that is suddenly in front of them. This, in turn, forces you to slam on your breaks and your bag goes spilling out of your front seat and onto the floor. Nobody hits anyone and all is well. Do you get pissed off and call the driver of the SUV all sorts of names?

This is where facts vs. story comes into play. Facts: SUV driver cut you off on the highway while it was raining, you slammed on your brakes and your bag fell onto the floor. That’s it...those are the ONLY facts of the situation that apply directly to the event. Not the fact that SUV driver is an idiot, or that he doesn’t know how to drive, or that he’s an and should go back to his own country. Those are all part of the “story” that you made up … because honestly you have no idea who SUV driver is or why he cut you off.

There could be a multitude of reasons why he cut you off, and most likely you will never know exactly the reason. Maybe he’s trying to get to the hospital before his child, who was just in a serious accident, goes into surgery. Maybe there was a death in the family and he was on the phone with a loved one trying to console them, didn’t realize his lane merged and was now trying to get back into traffic (and maybe that cut off wasn’t nearly as close as you thought since you were texting at the time?). Maybe he’s a really bad driver with no respect for others? But seriously – you don’t really know what the right story is. So you’ve made up your mind that this guy is a jerk for cutting you off, and all your anger (and the adrenaline associated with the near miss) is directed towards him. The facts are he cut you off, you’re not hurt, and life is continuing as if nothing happened. Choose not to be pissed off at him. (Chose Your Battles is later in this series).

Now, I know what you’re thinking. “I can just as easily come up with stories for this SUV Driver that make him into a horrible person. He hates my little eco-friendly green car, and decided to show me who’s boss, etc.” True, but it that really going to get you to a place where you’re NOT pissed off at him? If you want to be pissed off for no reason and be in a bad mood all day – that’s your choice.. but if you want to NOT be pissy – realize that you don’t know his reasoning, and I’m sure since you don’t know who he is he didn’t have some personal vendetta against you.

I could go into a hundred or so other examples from a boss who is suddenly in a bad mood, to a deranged person on the morning train. The process is the same – tell yourself that you do not know the complete story behind the event and that since there’s really nothing that can be done to change what happened; being pissed off about it doesn’t really help. Keep in mind that this doesn’t just work from a ‘pissed off’ perspective, but from a general stress perspective as well – and we could all use less stress!!

Be at peace with yourself and you’ll be at peace with the world.


Shari said...

good sound wisdom, right here.

Trinity said...

Thanks, Shari <3

Bonnielynn said...

wow... i feel like you have been in my car... I am duly chastised. I am ashamed. :(