Life is messy.  It doesn’t always go according to plan.  This is as true for toddlers or teens as it is for adults.  Things happen, and we feel however we feel about it. Although we cannot control the emotions that “show up” for us, we can decide which feelings we choose to “fuel.”

Say you are doing some holiday shopping.  All the cashiers have long lines, but you have chosen the line that seems the shortest.  You patiently wait for your turn, but while the other lines keep moving, your line has stopped.  

Perhaps it is the fault of the cashier.  Perhaps it is the fault of the customer currently at the front of the line.  Whatever the reason, frustration and agitation begin to show up for you. Your children are with you in line, and you begin to snap at them.  Frustration and agitation had already begun to show up for them, too, waiting and waiting in that line; now, on top of that, you’re irritated and short-tempered with them.

Don’t ‘fuel’ the frustration

What if you chose not to “fuel” the frustration and agitation you began to feel in the first place?  What if, when you first felt those feelings, you decided to acknowledge them but then decided to focus your thoughts and energies on something else?  What would it be like for you to imagine the feelings that first show up for you as a match that has just been struck; the match is now lit, but what you do with that lit match is up to you: you can use it to light a bonfire or you can simply blow it out.

What, then, to do with the strong emotions that show up for us when things don’t go as planned?  Dave Mochel, an Applied Attention Coach and Consultant, recommends the following steps:

  • Acknowledge the feelings that have shown up for you, and then…
  • Consciously relax any tension you feel in your body.
  • Take a deep, cleansing breath.
  • Continue to breathe slowly and deeply as you ask yourself, “What am I grateful for?”
  • Allow yourself to focus on the gratitude you feel — for the comfy sweater you chose to wear today, the cup of coffee you had this morning, your friends, your children, for being able to see, for the leftover turkey and stuffing and that piece of pumpkin pie you hid behind the tall things in the fridge for later…

A quick way to shift your way of thinking

You will find that shifting your focus in this way can empower you to shift your mindset within about 30 seconds.

This is one tool set you can use to “blow out the match” of frustration that has shown up for you instead of allowing it to consume you.  While we cannot control which emotions show up for us from moment to moment, we can control how we choose to respond to those feelings.  Use this tool set to help you choose what you “fuel”.

As with any other skill, the more we practice, the better we will get at “blowing out the match” when we choose to do so.  In addition to reducing the amount of stress we experience throughout each day, this is a powerful skill to teach to and model for our children.

For more on this and other helpful stress-reducing tools, read Good Life Practice: A Quick Start Guide to Mindful Self-Regulation by Dave Mochel.

Dr. Cheryl Blau is a middle school teacher at New Morning School, Plymouth, MI. She can be reached at cheryl@newmorningschool.com.