Choosing To Not Get Upset

By thinking through your options, you can sometimes choose a better response.

“That made me angry.” “Of course, I got mad.” “I just reacted to the situation.” We often assume that our emotionalangry_man responses are dictated by the situation. We believe that we have no choice, but to get upset, when we experience an upsetting event. Any other response seems unnatural, or even impossible. But it is?

We can, at least sometimes, choose to not get upset by a situation that would have usually upset us. To do so, we must think through the situation, recognize that we have a choice, consider the consequences of our response, and then be deliberate about our reaction.

Several years ago, I had an interesting experience that illustrates the ability to choose. I was flying from Charlotte to Bangkok, Thailand to participate in a counseling clinic for American missionaries serving in China. My flight went from Charlotte to Minneapolis, to Tokyo, and finally to Bangkok. After a layover in Minneapolis, I had boarded the plane for the thirteen hour trip to Tokyo. The plane filled and the attendant closed the cabin door. Seated in my “coach” seat, I got out a book to pass the time.

With the plane still at the gate, the pilot came over the intercom, saying, “I’m sorry ladies and gentlemen, but we have a little problem with the plane. One of the computers isn’t working and we have called in technicians, so we should be under way in about twenty minutes.” I didn’t think this would be a problem because I had a four-hour layover in Tokyo.

About twenty minutes later, the pilot announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sorry but the problem is a bit more extensive than we thought. We have found that the part we need to fix this computer is not in-stock here at the airport, and we have had to send the technician into the city to purchase the part. We will get under way as soon as he returns and gets the computer fixed, and this is a computer you want to be working when we fly across the Pacific. Unfortunately, because this is an international flight, we can’t allow you to de-board the plane, because of customs laws. Once the cabin door is closed, you are officially no longer in the US. We’ll turn on the air conditioning to make you as comfortable as possible.”

Four hours later, we were still sitting there, and people were not happy. Most were standing in the aisles complaining. I was still sitting in my seat, reading my book. I had noticed that three ladies were standing in the aisle beside me, fussing about the situation. I then noticed that one of the women was speaking to me. She challenged, “And you, why are you not upset? You’re just sitting there reading like this isn’t bothering you!” I responded, “I didn’t know that it would help to get upset.” She wasn’t please with my response and stomped toward the front of the plane.

This woman didn’t know that I had considered the situation fully. I reasoned that, if the pilot says we need that computer to fly across the Pacific, I’ll believe him. My getting upset won’t get the computer fixed any faster. My only choice was to get upset while waiting, or to read my book.

As it turned out, we got under way soon after that, I made my Tokyo to Bangkok flight, and after a complaint letter, I received some free airline miles for my trouble. Oh, and I was also somewhat pleased with my response to the angry woman.

Consider the possibility that you can choose to not get upset. Ask yourself if getting upset will help the situation, or if will just make you miserable. You won’t be able to control your reaction in every situation, but might be able to do so sometimes.

“I know why you did that.”

Our assumptions about other's behaviors are often wrong.


We do it all the time. We all do. We observe someone’s behavior and immediately assume we know why they did Young Woman Biting Her Finger Nailwhat they did. We do it so often, that we don’t even notice it.

Someone doesn’t return a phone call or a text. A co-worker leaves a meeting early. An acquaintance walks by us without speaking. A friend doesn’t voice agreement when we state an opinion. A spouse avoids talking about a recent disagreement. A loved one hasn’t called in a while.

The list could go on. We observe an endless number of behaviors from other people every day, and we assume what those behaviors mean about the person’s feelings, opinions, intentions or attitudes. Our assumptions are often wrong, but we feel quite certain that we are right.

We misread other’s behaviors because we tend to believe that other people think the same way we do. We look at their behaviors and ask ourselves what it would mean if we did the same behavior in the same situation. “If I did that in this situation, it would mean that I was feeling…” We then assume that the other person must be feeling the same way.

We also assume that we know all the information we need to know to interpret the person’s behaviors. This assumption is often wrong. The late Dr. Steven Covey shared a particularly moving example in his book, “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”

Dr. Covey was riding on a subway car in New York City. It was a pleasant Sunday morning ride, with most passengers quietly reading their newspapers. A man and his three children get on the train. As the car was fairly full, they had to sit in different places. The man just sat looking down at the floor. The kids, however, were hyper and argumentative. Their behaviors worsened as the train progressed. Other passengers were watching these unruly kids and waiting on the father to correct them, but he just sat there staring at the floor. As the misbehavior worsened, Covey spoke to the man and asked him if he couldn’t say something to his kids, as they were being a disruption to the other passengers. The man looked up, as if in a daze. He responded that he guessed he should say something to them. He went on to say that they just came from the hospital and that their mother just died. He said that he didn’t know how to deal with it and guessed they didn’t either.

With the new information, Dr. Covey’s attitude toward the man and the children suddenly changed. He had assumed that this was an uncaring father, and that these were obnoxious children. He now saw the father and the children as hurting and confused. He asked the father if he could help him with the children until he came to his stop. He now felt compassion rather than irritation.

Before assuming that you know why someone is exhibiting a behavior, remind yourself that you may not have all the information. It will also help if you can remember that the other person may perceive or think differently from yourself.

Does Your Self-Esteem Suffer From Cherry Picking?

Selective Attention can maintain or worsen our self-esteem wounds.

Wikipedia (the on-line encyclopedia) defines cherry picking as “the fallacy of incomplete evidence” or the act of self-esteem cherry pickingpointing to individual cases or data that seem to confirm a particular position, while ignoring a significant portion of related cases or data that may contradict that position.” So, we do cherry picking when we pay attention to those instances that confirm our prior belief, while discounting or completely ignoring the instances that would refute our prior belief.

Cherry picking is a major factor in the maintenance and worsening of self-esteem wounds. It allows the person to maintain a negative belief about herself, despite a significant amount of evidence to the contrary. In cognitive psychology, this is called selective attention.

For example, a child who experiences harsh criticism learns to see himself as inadequate or a failure. As an adult, he “cherry picks” by focusing his attention on his failures, while ignoring or dismissing his successes. Any compliment he receives is discarded as a kind gesture. A 100 on a test is discounted in his mind by statements such as, “I got lucky” or “It was an easy test.” On the other hand, his failure experiences are analyzed, reviewed, and long remembered as indisputable evidence of his inadequacy.

Another example of cherry picking is occurs when the person with low self-esteem compares herself with other people. She selectively pays attention to a positive trait of one acquaintance, wishing she could be more like her. She then pays attention to a different positive trait in another person, wishing she could be like him in that way.  She ignores the negative traits of each person, leaving her with a strengthened belief that she is inadequate, compared to most people.

A wife and mother may envy another woman who keeps a spotless house, while ignoring the fact that the woman seems very irritable toward her children. She then envies another mother, who seems to have more patience with her children, while ignoring the fact that her house is cluttered. She is, thus, left with the impression that she is a failure as a housekeeper and a mother.

Sometimes when I hear someone cherry picking, I ask them to identify any person that they know well, with whom they would completely change places. I ask if they would they exchange all their own traits and characteristics with all the other person’s traits and characteristics. In others words, they would have to exchange all the good and bad traits of the other person. I’ve never had anyone to say that they would.

Next time you notice that you are comparing yourself with others, consider the possibility that you are cherry picking. Also, notice where you focus your attention. Make a deliberate effort to notice your positive traits, characteristics and circumstances, as much as you do your negatives. See how that makes you feel.