A friend of mine recently told me about Chuck, her favorite college math professor. A short, rotund man, who routinely stopped to greet students while walking across campus, coffee in hand. Chuck seemed incapable of being in anything but a good mood. Early one spring morning a thunderstorm broke. Having forgotten his umbrella, Chuck made his usual walk to class. Soaked to the bone, he remained happy as ever while annoyed students peeled off their layers of wet gear, complaining about the unexpected downpour. “Hey Chuck, aren’t you at all bothered by the rain?” my friend asked. Smiling, the professor replied, “Sure, but I benefit from my lack of height—it takes longer for the rain to reach me.”
No one had control over the weather that day—and many felt victimized by it. They allowed the dark clouds, unexpected moisture, and temperature drop to negatively affect them. But Chuck made a different choice. Rather than react to the weather, he carried his own weather. He chose how to think, feel and act based on what he valued rather than on external circumstances. He loved teaching math and creating a positive learning environment for his students. What was a little rain compared to that?
If you believe that external things (like other people or situations) are the source of your unhappiness or happiness, life will always happen to you. You’ll feel powerless, like a victim—finding reasons to blame others or justify your knee-jerk reactions. In time, “martyr”, negative, or “difficult” becomes your brand. Your ability to influence plummets.
When we’re triggered emotionally, we can temporarily forget that we have a choice as to how we will respond. But as the late Dr. Stephen R. Covey says, “Between stimulus [what happens to us] and response [how we react to what happens to us] there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose.” If you want to have more influence in your life, or if your emotions are getting in your way, you can choose to carry your own weather. Practice the freedom in this space with the following exercise:
- Think of a person or situation that irritates you and triggers your reactivity.
- Imagine the next time you encounter that person or situation, and choose how you will handle it—using the ideas below to guide you:
- Take a deep breath, count to ten, or tell the person you need a little time to reflect before you respond. In that “space” connect to what you value and the long-term outcome you want.
- Write an email, to the person who has triggered you, with the intention of not sending it. Get out all of your negative feelings and reactive words. Let it sit overnight, then read it again and see if it accurately reflects what you value and how you feel the next day.
- Construct a do-over. Imagine responding in a better, more effective way next time, and answer this question: What would the outcome be if you responded in this new way? How might it affect the quality of the relationship, your feelings, and your ability to influence in the future?
Carrying your weather can be as simple keeping a pleasant or professional disposition or as challenging as consistently living by what you deeply value. At the heart of it, however, is always a choice, and that power can never be surrendered unless we allow it.
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