I want to tell you about something that happened to me earlier this week. I’m sharing it with you because I think it can help you not just deal with daily stress, but get through your next life storm with a bit more resilience. Because those life storms come whether we like them or not.
After spending a long day recording book trailer and other videos with my publisher, I was eager to fly home to Boston to see my family and catch my breath. As we took off from Denver, the cabin started to shake in an odd way I hadn’t experienced before. After a few minutes the pilot made an announcement none of us wanted to hear:
“It looks like we blew out a tire on one of the wheels,” he said, calmly. “We’re going to fly by the tower so they can confirm and then figure out a plan to land back in Denver safely.”
Here’s the crazy thing: I didn’t feel worried. I felt annoyed. I am so tired and just want to get home and now it’s not even clear when we’ll get to Boston and this is really frustrating! The voice in my head went into overdrive.
“The tower has confirmed that we blew a tire and they see debris on the runway. We need to circle for a while to burn off fuel for a safer landing and I’ll let you know the plan in a bit,” the pilot announced after a few minutes.
I was about to enter a whole new level of annoyance — my flight home was not going how I thought it should have been! But then I paused myself. Getting more annoyed wasn’t going to help. Instead, I decided to practice what I teach and do the Imagine Life Without This exercise.
Imagine life without airplanes. Without experienced pilots who know how to handle emergencies. Without snacks and water in my bag. Without a publisher who is publishing my book that means so much to me — for which I flew out to Denver in the first place. Imagine life without my husband keeping me calm on the other end of the phone as I texted him updates. Without a hotel room that I can go to if I need to stay overnight in Denver. Without having the resources to pay for the hotel room.
Imagine Life Without This.
This has recently become one of my favorite ways to practice gratitude as an antidote to annoyance or stress. I literally think about what my life would be like without the thing or situation that’s causing me to be annoyed. It’s amazing how quickly I shift from feeling frustrated and stressed out to feeling so freaking grateful for all the resources, conveniences, and people in my life.
We circled above Denver for a few hours, during which I chatted with my really nice row-mates, a couple coming back from their vacation. I told them that I was doing my Imagine Life Without This practice to help with feeling frustrated and we talked about the power of gratitude and acceptance. When the flight attendants told us to brace for impact and put our heads on top of our hands on the seat in front of us, I actually caught myself smiling. Yes, this was dangerous, but I felt a sense of connection with the people next to me and a deep degree of gratitude for the experienced pilots and crew.
We landed with a lot of shaking, but safely. Surrounded by fire trucks, the plane eventually came to a stop and the cabin erupted into the loudest of applause. Everyone was glowing and being extra kind to each other, asking everyone if they were okay, just celebrating this moment together. I thought about how
crises often bring out the best of us and what we can do to remember to keep that best going when everything is okay.
But mostly, I thought about the amazing power of gratitude to help us through even the most difficult and tense situations. As I got on the red-eye flight to go home, I was exhausted — of course I wished that I hadn’t just spent four hours circling Denver instead of flying home! But I was grateful for being safe, for Southwest Airlines, who got us a replacement plane so quickly, for the stand-by crew that came in to fly us home, for nice new neighbors in my row who were all trying to make each other laugh because they knew how tired everyone was.
** Gratitude doesn’t ask that we delight in every moment of our lives. It doesn’t require us to make everything okay or to turn negative into positive. It doesn’t make us deny our feelings of stress or frustration.
Gratitude simply asks that while we allow ourselves to feel what we feel we also don’t take for granted the many miracles that make our daily experience possible, that we zoom in on what we appreciate within what might be going wrong.
I wish you less stress, more gratitude, and as few crises as possible. But if you find yourself in one, big or small, I hope you’ll give Imagine Life Without This a try. It will fill you with a bit more strength and resilience to help you through the turbulence in your life.