In the gym the other day, someone left a pair of shoes and socks in front of my locker.
They were just cast aside by their owner as he undressed to go to the shower after his workout.
How rude, I thought, He could have put them into his locker or set them aside, But I guess he felt he needed to leave them in the middle of the floor as if he owned the whole place.
The feeling of indignation welled up inside me. This guy is dissing me, I felt, so I kicked them to the side to get to my locker.
I kicked them harder than I needed to. I felt really mad.
I spent some time thinking about how I would handle the situation when the owner of the shoes came back from the shower. I ran through scenarios in my head of the upcoming confrontation. He would ask, ‘Why did I kick his shoes?’ and I would emphatically say how rude he was. etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. I had these circular, in-depth conversations with an imaginary person over an imaginary situation.
Finally, the owner of the forsaken shoes came over to his locker. He was one of the old men that shuffle into the gym later in the morning, go upstairs to the workout area and spend as much time chatting with each other as they slowly spin on the stationary bikes or press on the weight machines.
His locker was right next to mine. In front of where his shoes used to be.
The man said nothing to me and quickly dressed and left without saying a word to him.
On the drive home, I started thinking more about the shoes that had taken up so much of my attention. I especially thought about my reaction – overreaction was more like it.
I remembered that nothing happens to me. Everything I experience is a reflection of my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. I’m the one that creates the situation and attracts the people to me. And most importantly, I get to choose how I react to each of the experiences.
If I see the shoes as an affront to me personally, then I will react as I did. If I see them as the accidental carelessness of a kind old man that sometimes has trouble bending over to put his shoes away, I could just step over them and move on.
It wasn’t personal to the old man. He didn’t know I was going to be in the locker next to his. He doesn’t even know me. I’m the one that chose to make it about me.
And that’s what’s special: I get to choose. The shoes in front of my locker don’t mean anything until I assign them meaning. It’s not about me unless I make it about me.
The meaning I assign is based on my thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
I know I have thoughts and beliefs about needing to be defensive and sure enough, it was reflected back to me. I saw the shoes as a threat and reacted accordingly.
How about you? Do you find yourself getting caught up in the moment? Do you find you react automatically?
Those habits are based on your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. You’ve built them up over the years to the point where you don’t even think about what you are doing. You just do it. Automatically.
I’m learning to take a breath when I find myself in situations where I have a powerful feeling. I realize I have a choice on how I’m going to react. I can stay in auto-pilot or purposefully choose how I want to react. I like having the choice.