I annoyed my wife once by complaining about my shoes. We had just gone out of our way by 45 minutes to find a good running shoe store, go through a lengthy fitting process, and dropped a not inconsiderable sum of money. It just seemed to be a lot of bother to go through in order to come home with a pair of shoes that raised dime-sized blisters on the inside of my heels. And that night, sitting on the edge of the bed and poking at the pustules on my feet, I let loose a mournful lament. I wondered aloud why nothing ever seemed to go right the first time.
Now, we were both very tired at that point. The pair of very young children who live in our house have been conspiring lately to deprive us of our sleep. And it’s safe to say that our actions and reactions were exaggerated because of this fact. But I found myself wondering about the exchange, wondering why I felt the way that I felt, and why I said what I said.
And after some ponderation, I came up with some explanations, and actually determined that by being aware of this, I might be able to use the knowledge to my advantage. Or at least to understand myself better.
As I thought about the situation, I noted a couple of things. I already knew that it wasn’t that nothing ever worked out the first time. I knew that even before I made the actual statement. So why did I say it? It was an exaggeration of the truth. But it’s also true that things don’t workout the first time. And it seems that those times are the only ones that seem to stick around in your memory.
But it was just a pair of shoes. And because they came with a 30-day return policy, I knew that I could return them. So what was my problem? If I knew that I could return the shoes and get my money back or a new pair that didn’t rub the very skin from my feet, why was I having such a problem? The “pain-in-the-ass” factor. It wouldn’t cost me any money to get a new pair of shoes, but it would cost me time and energy, two tightly budgeted resources.
I realized I had spent many mental cycles that day processing a problem: *Is a new pair of shoes or a refund worth the cost in terms of time and effort? * And, at the end of the day, after chewing on this issue, I had built up what I’m going to call mental “steam”. I was frustrated because there was no easy answer to the problem. I either get blisters or I have to spend an hour or more trekking to Burnsville, two children in tow, to return the shoes. The steam generated from this relatively difficult problem had been building and building, and it was finally vented in the form of a bombastic complaint. “Why doesn’t anything ever go right for me?”
After the steam was vented, I felt better, less frustrated, and I quickly came to what, in retrospect, was the only realistic solution: returning the shoes.
And now, with this bit of new self-awareness, how can I either change this tendency or make lemons with the lemonade?