Dealing with Triggers in a Stressful World

Just last week I wrote about how distractions are the number one cause of unhappiness, according to an article by a veteran happiness researcher. In response, I started a personal campaign to increase my focus, smugly successful until this morning when I was ambushed by a Facebook post. One glance at dangerous misinformation posted by an amateur epidemiologist had my fingers flying furiously, composing a withering rebuttal. Just before I hit the button to post my masterpiece, my gaze landed on my living legacy board, a visual representation of my highest level of well-being. Nowhere on it did I see “Facebook rabbit holes.”

I looked at the clock. My heart sank with the realization that I had just wasted 15 minutes of my precious time and energy crafting a response to a person interested in my approval, not my opinion. There is no winning this kind of two-dimensional war of words. I felt a twinge of frustration. I had committed to staying away from social media and, without thought, tripped into the rabbit hole again. How did that happen so quickly?

I remembered a comment made by psychologist Rick Hanson, “Our brains have evolved to be like Velcro for the bad but like Teflon for the good. It is not enough to have a positive thought. You have to install it in your brain.”

I hadn’t failed. I just hadn’t installed a new positive thought yet. But I had stopped myself from posting words that would have escalated into an argument, led to more wasted time and energy, and likely resulted in two opposing, entrenched sides, each bolstered with the myriad opinions of others. This is the kind of fruitless distraction I want to avoid. It underlined the reality for me that all distractions are ultimately internal. I can choose to focus on the disruption or focus on my priority.

I had a call in 20 minutes. What could I do to refocus and work on installing that positive thought? I remembered the effective techniques researchers have discovered to recover from distraction:

  • Meditation
  • Several deep belly breaths
  • Taking a walk
  • Speaking to a good friend
  • Listening to music

None of those seemed satisfying at that moment. What else could I do to get back on track? Pouring my energy into things that give meaning and purpose in my life makes me happy, so I decided to focus my attention for 20 minutes on a task that would move me closer to my living legacy. I sat down to write a draft of this article.

Success! Draft written in time for my call. I celebrated with a small piece of Lily’s chocolate, letting it slowly melt on my tongue. In doing so, I discovered an ingenious hack for myself: chocolate as a reward for installing a good habit! Every time I successfully refocus, a piece of Lily’s awaits me, reminding me of the sweetness and richness I want in my life, and wiping the bitterness of wasted time from my tongue.

 

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