Relaxing with Rob

Distinguish Problems from Inconveniences

May 24, 2020 Rob Sepich Season 1 Episode 49
Relaxing with Rob
Distinguish Problems from Inconveniences
Show Notes Transcript

You might be less anxious if you recalibrate your stress meter and consider some problems as simply “inconveniences.”  

Here’s a non-affiliate link to Robert Fulghum’s book that inspired today’s topic. I also encourage you to support local booksellers and borrow from your public library.

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[music] Hi, this is Rob Sepich, and welcome to Relaxing with Rob. In March of 2020, a tweet that was featured on Need2Know went like this: "somethin kinda neat i found out . . . if you ignore a problem for long enough, it either goes away or ruins your life. so 50/50. pretty good odds." Well personally, denial is one of my best defense mechanisms, so I've had experience with ignoring problems--sometimes to my peril. But I've gotten better at navigating a sort of middle away: facing problems but not losing much sleep over them, and specifically distinguishing problems from inconveniences. I learned this a long time ago from a book by a Unitarian minister and author Robert Fulghum. He wrote the bestseller, "All I Really Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten." But his book that contains the essay about today's topic is called, "Uh-Oh: Some Observations From Both Sides of the Refrigerator Door." For your convenience, I'll place a non-affiliate link to it in the show notes. So if you buy a copy, I don't receive anything. But before I share the back story, let me ask: do you feel that most of your struggles in life are problems or huge deals? Now, I bet some of them are. But today I'd like to see if you can re-characterize most of them as "inconveniences." You might use another noun, but you get the idea. This is not ignoring them and playing your 50/50 odds. It's still facing them, but keeping them in their proper place. And the result, I hope, will be you feeling more able to do something about them. In an earlier episode, I mentioned that when I had prostate cancer, the email folder I created for research on the topic was called, "A Bump in the Road." And I did that to think of my diagnosis in less severe terms, and it helped me keep a fairly positive outlook. When I later had a malignant melanoma, I did the same with research, naming that folder, "A Bump in the Arm." And when I was going through physical therapy for nerve damage where I progressed from a wheelchair and walker to crutches and a cane, I titled that folder, "Learning to Walk." Because I didn't want to constantly see in my own words, "Cancer" or "Nerve Damage." I knew I couldn't control the titles of articles or the diagnoses I received, but I could control how I made sense of them. Okay, back to Robert Fulghum. When he was 22 and had just finished college, he got a job at a California resort. And he made friends with Sigmund Wollman, an older employee. And one day as Fulghum was complaining to his friend about his many problems, like the lousy food he thought was being served to staff and how the cost of these meals was unfairly deducted from their wages. Mr. Wollman, who had incidentally survived three years in Auschwitz, responded with something like, "You don't seem to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem." His friend continued, "If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire--then you've got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience." Fulghum writes that, "Seldom in my life have I been hit between the eyes with truth so hard." And since that day, he thinks of this distinction as the "Wollman Test of Reality." Personally, his lesson really affected my work with students as well as my parenting style. Well, about ten years later, I met the author and told him how much that story had helped me. And he asked, "Would you like to have an update?" Sure! He told me that after that book was published, the widow of his wise friend contacted him and said something like, "That was my husband in your book! He would have been so happy to know that his talk helped you, and that you were able to pass it on to others." So by extension, now I'm very happy to share it with you. Here's one of the ways I applied this lesson. When our daughter was in elementary school and was really hungry, we would gently correct her when she'd say something like, "I'm starving; what's for dinner?" And we tried not to induce guilt trips, but we'd say something like, "You know, unfortunately, there are people who are starving, but you're not one of them. You're just hungry, and we'll take care of it." Because I think when we say things like, "I'm starving," this not only diminishes the experience of those who really are, but it also creates and maintains a state of crisis when we're not actually in one. And all types of things happen--from inflammatory responses in our white blood cells acting as if they're responding to a bacterial infection, up throughout our body where there's muscle tension everywhere. In other words, a fight-or-flight response becomes the new normal. And as I've said before, we're not equipped to handle that level of stress for very long. So my recommendation is: save some room in your life for real, actual problems whenever you can. You might think of this as recalibrating your stress meter. And then when problems arise, you'll still have some energy to face them. And when you can use the "Wollman Test of Reality" to downgrade a problem to an inconvenience, you'll focus more easily on solutions, when action is called for. And finally, when action isn't immediately called for, who knows? Ignoring it might hold pretty good odds after all! Thank you for listening, and we'll talk again soon. [ music ]