Reframing obstacles with self-coaching - by Charlotte Murray


Almost every day there’s at least one thing that I get annoyed about. It can be something like being stuck in traffic, losing battery on my smart phone, a slow internet connection, or not finding a key ingredient for a recipe (like bamboo shoots) in the local store. Ring a bell?

These are the small things or an accumulation of things that end up making a day seem stressful, possibly because when things come up that are different from what I was planning, I feel like I lose focus on what I was aiming to achieve. I would call these annoyances or obstacles that pop up and take up time and energy. Over time, I have worked on becoming more self-aware of when such occurrences trigger an ‘annoyed’ reaction in me. It usually starts with my stomach tightening. I have found that there are three stories that keep coming up in my mind when faced with daily obstacles, and now I see them as strategies that I use to reframe situations that could otherwise diverge my focus.

I am sharing these stories in the order that I learned them myself as opposed to placing a hierarchy on them:

1)      In the book ‘the Tao of Pooh’ by Benjamin Hoff, life is described as a river. The flow of the river is life, and rocks of different shapes and sizes that come up in the river are used as the metaphor for obstacles that come in the way. When these rocks show up in the river (the flow of life), you can choose what happens to that flow; i) you can let that rock stop your flow, and pressure builds up (stress) until the water flow explodes. ii)  you can flow around that rock iii) you can flow over the rock, or iv) sometimes the rock will move all by itself.

Thinking about this story, I remind myself that I can choose how I respond to annoyances that arise.. Do I choose to let it stop or bother me? Do I find an alternate route around the rock? Does the rock change the course? More often than not, I find that my mindset changes when I think of this story, and whatever the rock may be it suddenly feels less annoying or stressful than it might have done before. In essence, you can choose how you respond to obstacles, and with that choice, you can replace negative emotions like annoyance or stress with positive/productive ones.

2)      There is a Swedish comedy show called ‘Hipp Hipp’. Although it is in the southern Swedish accent (Skånska), which is usually more difficult to follow for foreign-speakers, I can follow most of it. And it is a great show. There is one skit called ‘dagens i-lands problem’, which translates to ‘today’s developed world problem’. In these series of skits, you might see someone swearing at post-it notes that won’t stick to their computer monitor, or another skit of someone cursing at the TV while trying to find the right remote amongst umpteen different ones on the table that are all intended to control different devices. The end line is always ‘today’s developed world problem’.

I think of this, when I’m faced with annoyances, like one that happened the other day. I love cooking and had planned on making a Thai curry. Bamboo sprouts are key for the recipe. So when I discovered the local store didn’t have any, I felt my stomach slowly tightening, and thoughts such as: I can’t find bamboo shoots at the local store? How is this possible? This is a key ingredient in making Thai curry! This is the moment where I took a deep breath and said to myself ‘today’s developed world problem’. Because, in the end, it’s just that. In the end, I can live without bamboo shoots, or I can go somewhere else to find them. It’s not a big deal and not a life/death issue. There are so many other problems in the world that are worth focusing my energy on than the lack of bamboo sprouts.

3)      I saw a Canadian comedy show in London, England several years ago. I don’t remember what it was called, but it was very funny, and very Canadian. One of the skits involved an exaggerated ‘home shopping type tv-host’ who could solve all your problems with the secret of three simple words. The hilarious banter with the tv-host and actors embedded amongst  the audience was that his jingle was made up of four words combined to make three. To keep things polite, I will not repeat the whole jingle here, but the essence of it was ‘*** get over it’.  

This is another story I think of when I get annoyed. Sometimes I just need to ‘*** get over it’. Usually by the time I think of this third story, I’ve usually already gotten over it, but it helps to get over whatever the issue is once and for all.

To summarize the essence of the stories that I use to reframe annoyances in life:

  • I can choose how I deal with the rocks (obstacles/annoyances) that arise in life
  • Today’s developed world problem?
  •  ‘*** get over it’

What strategies do you use?