All of a sudden we’re a pair of Londoners who own a car. It’s been a while since I was behind the wheel so I’ve been a little nervous. Partly because this is London and people here aren’t exactly known for their patience, and partly because I’m in my thirties now and a lot more aware of the vast array of things that could kill me than I was when I was younger.
But I read something this week that’s helping me build my confidence – in the car and elsewhere.
My brother bought me Derren Brown’s book ‘Happy’ for Christmas. (That I have been to see DB several times and am a huge fan of his always comes as a surprise to people, so SURPRISE, I love a good mind game). The book’s about how we can reframe the way we think in order to feel happier. I’m already pretty content, but I also spend a disproportionate amount of time worrying about what people think and the range of ways in which I’m failing, so I’ll take any help I can get.
It was this part that made me stop in my tracks and which I’ve found myself referring to ever since. Two lists – the things we can control, and the things we can’t:
It’s obvious when you see it written down, and yet so easy to forget when you’re busy or stressed or running low on self-esteem. He also suggests saying to yourself “It’s fine” when somebody does something that you don’t like but can’t change, to stop you from dwelling on the wrong things. (This obviously doesn’t apply in the face of crime/injustice; it’s for more small-scale, day to day irritations.)
When you realise what’s within your control, life becomes easier to handle. You can control what you say, but you can’t control how people respond. You can tell what you believe to be the funniest joke you’ve ever come up with, but you can’t control whether anybody will laugh at it, or if doing so will make them like you (heartbreaking, I know). You can be a super polite person who says please and thank you and excuse me may I sit down on that chair currently occupied by your bag? But you can’t stop people sighing like their possessions are more deserving of a seat than you are. You can only ever be you.
The more you adopt this way of thinking, the more you find yourself at each moment of the day spotting the things that you can and can’t do anything about. A bus driver flashed his lights to let me pull out of my driveway today, but when I was about to set off I saw that the bus was still moving so I stopped. The driver mouthed “GO ON THEN” and did a little angry-looking wave. I felt like a dickhead for a second until I remembered – I made a decision based on what I thought. How he responded was up to him. Previously I’d have gone over and over this but now I feel better equipped to prioritise what I should worry about. Make all the facial expressions you like, my friend, my judgment is all I’ve got.
You also can’t control the state that you find somebody in in any given situation – nor can you be expected to somehow know everything about them in advance. Their past, their fears, whether they’re hungry or tired or sad, if they’ve got a cold or a headache or a nasty itch on their back that just won’t go away. All you can do is try to be nice and fair and perhaps guide them to the nearest tree to use as a scratching device. Every time I remember that the way people behave ALWAYS has a billion times more to do with them than it does me, I feel a lot calmer.
When you’re reading a book you think you’ll remember every part forever, but then you move on to the next one and the next one and the memory starts to fade. So I’ve written this down to make sure I don’t forget, and because sharing bits of advice I’ve picked up about how to feel more confident has become a big part of what this blog is about, and I like that.
I hope you find this useful, but, of course, how you respond is very much up to you.