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Finding people or situations frustrating? You’ve three choices…

Nov 06, 2023

Sting in the tale

Have you ever come across The Scorpion and The Frog story? If you have but can’t remember, I shall refresh your memory and, if you’ve never heard of the story, allow me to educate you:

One day, a frog was sitting by a stream. A scorpion came by and said: “Mr Frog, I would like to cross the stream, but I am a scorpion and cannot swim. Would you be so kind as to swim across with me on your back?” The frog said: “But you are a scorpion and scorpions sting frogs!”  The scorpion replied: “Why would I sting you? I want to get to the other side.”  “OK,” said the frog, “Climb on my back and I will take you”. They were just about halfway across the stream when the scorpion stung the frog. Writhing in agony and with his last breath the frog said: “Why did you do that? Now we will both drown!” The scorpion said: “Because I am a scorpion and scorpions sting frogs.”

The moral to that story? People are people and will behave as they behave. You have no control over them- you might hope they will behave how you hope they will, or how you want them to, but, ultimately, you have no influence over other people, nor situations.

In fact, there isn’t much in life we can control, except for how we choose to manage our mindset.

A serene approach

There are always going to be instances in our life, or indeed, prolonged periods, when we might find someone’s words and actions frustrating, disappointing, upsetting or irritating; likewise, we might feel the same way about certain situations, either in work or our personal life.

We have our own Mental Map according to our unique set of values and what they mean to us individually, our beliefs, experiences and expectations and individual paradigms; with almost 8 billion people living on this spinning orb, not everyone is going to behave how we would like them to behave. Situations are not always going to pan out how we would like them to. That’s why it’s so important to identify your thoughts around this and what you can do about it.

It’s amazing how people will wind themselves up, and in my opinion, spend a disproportionate amount of time, getting frustrated and complaining about things they haven’t given much thought to doing anything about. It’s a misuse of energy that could be redirected for a much more positive benefit elsewhere.

Very often, we say there’s nothing we can do about a situation but if we really wanted to, we would find a way. There are very few things which are genuine lighthouses in life– those situations we can do absolutely nothing about such as the weather, the passing of time and your age. For your own sanity, know the difference, something which the Serenity Prayer puts so well. If you can do something about a situation that you’re not happy about, do it; if you can’t be bothered, get over yourself; and if it’s not within the realms of possibility, change the way you’re thinking about it to intelligently navigate around the problem. The trouble is, far too many people spend much of their time thinking the problem is a lighthouse, and so do nothing to change the situation; or, if it is a genuine lighthouse, they continue to bang their head against the rocks rather than work out a way around it.

A little less conversation…

This is best illustrated below, by a model developed by Stephen Covey:

Our Circle of Influence is where we care enough to want to make a difference about issues which are important to us– we’re willing to do something to make a change, to kickstart progress. Maybe you work in HR or Leadership and Development and feel appraisals are not getting the best out of everyone– perhaps you feel coaching and mentoring is the way forward. You can help to implement this change by speaking to the senior leadership team. Maybe your child is being bullied at school and you’re not happy about the situation so make an appointment to see their form teacher to see what can be done to help them.

The Circle of Concern is where we’ll comment on things, nay have a good old moan but don’t actually step up to the plate and do anything about it. If we want to do something enough, we will widen our Circle of Influence. Greta Thunberg, who certainly has her critics, is a great example of someone who challenged how wide her Circle of Influence was. So concerned was she about stronger action being taken on climate change, that aged just 15 years old, she started to sit outside the Swedish parliament holding up a sign reading ‘Skolstrejk för klimatet’ (School strike for the climate). How much influence do you think a teenager could possibly have, to effect positive change and create a campaign that thousands and thousands of people feel moved to support? Probably not much. This was a one-person protest which has led to a global movement. Now that’s widening your Circle of Influence…

Put up or shut up

Along with the Circles of Influence and Concern, there’s a little whinge gap because well, we all love a little moan sometimes, don’t we? We have a bit of a moan and then we move on. It’s clearly not something we’re too bothered about because otherwise it would be within our Circle of Influence. So, we decide we’re not going to get a bee in our bonnet, nor elevate it to something we perpetually whinge about.

Which area do you think people spend most of their time though? It’s the Circle of Concern– you’ll hear things like: ‘Isn’t it dreadful the amount of homeless people on the street?’ ‘Isn’t it terrible how the local MP is doing nothing about the mess they’re making of the new inner ring road,’ ‘It’s awful how little nurses get paid,’ etc etc. If they care enough about something, they’d widen their Circle of Influence, as opposed to just incessantly talking about it, without taking any action. Maybe they could take a take a placard and stand outside Parliament…

People with high self-respect and self-esteem send emails, contact their local MP, form a pressure group or start a charity to make a change. Greta Thunberg wanted change enough, so did Malala. Jamie Oliver was appalled at the state of school dinners so used his profile to raise awareness. Marcus Rashford led a campaign to end child food poverty; Bob Geldof began Live Aid. They cared enough to do something about the situation they weren’t happy with.

Put up or shut up – do something about it or stop whingeing, if it’s that important to you, you’ll effect positive change.

Could it be true that some people have got a small Circle of Influence because they can’t be bothered to do anything?  Do we have a lot more influence than we exercise sometimes?  We may need to expand the Circle of Influence to meet the Circle of Concern.  The question to ask yourself is: What am I doing to change this? 

To do or not to do, that is the question…

When there is a situation we are not happy with- maybe there is a colleague you don’t get on with, or a process at work you think is a waste of time and doesn’t get the best out of everyone, or perhaps a member of your family you find incredibly frustrating, what can you do about this?

You have three choices of action:

  1. Change the process or the situation.
  2. Change the nature of your thoughts.
  3. Carry on complaining.

If you cannot change the process or the situation, or don’t fancy the consequences if you do, then change the way you are thinking about it. Often there are hidden options that we are unable to access when we are feeling negatively about a situation- we might feel trapped or overwhelmed; once we realise there are choices, and change the nature of our thoughts, we can be much more solution-oriented, we can be resourceful and resilient.

If you decide to do nothing, to continue to perpetuate the same thoughts and thus unhelpful feelings, you’re that boat crashing against the rocks around the lighthouse and long-term, what does that do for your mental wellbeing. Not much.

You cannot do something about everything that you are concerned about or not happy with, and therefore, it’s consciously choosing to put it in the background. It’s about choosing consciously where you want to put your time, energy and resources.

Be a conscious thinker. Know what bothers you enough that you’ll do something about it and park the stuff which you find frustrating or disappointing but which you know you’re either not going to act on, or you cannot effect any change– we go back to the Scorpion and the Frog story.

When you think consciously about the way you think about what you are thinking about, your self-respect and sanity remain in-tact.

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