As I pull into my office parking lot every morning, I often see this monstrosity of a white Chevy Silverado parked in a fashion that is just infuriating and a huge inconvenience to every person who needs to enter this lot. Whoever drives this truck, parks it in such a manner that it is hidden by some bushes and by the time you see it, if you are not totally alert, the tailgate is pretty close to ruining your morning.
Where I am going with this? When I spoke with some of the more thoughtful, “Zen” like people in my life, the advice was pretty consistent. “While you are getting irritated about this and setting a sour foundation for the rest of day, the driver of this truck is simply going about his day. You are angry at him, but he knows nothing of your anger and short of leaving of note expressing your displeasure, he will never know of it.”
In short, you are completely wasting your time and raising your blood pressure over a situation that you are powerless to control. In addition, there is nothing productive or pleasant happening as a result of time spent thinking about this.
The funny thing about this advice is that I already knew this to be the truth. I had figured this out a while back so my annoyance at the parking job and the driver’s apparent indifference was compounded by the fact that I knew it was foolish to be annoyed about it in the first place. Knowing how pointless my irritation was actually made me feel worse.
So what was the play? I would love to tell you that it was this elaborate psychological technique taught to me by the most learned behavioral psychologists in the field. It wasn’t. I would love to tell you that I researched Zen Buddhism on how to be a more stress-free and enlightened individual. I didn’t. The truth is, I got over it by consciously willing myself to not be annoyed and giving the driver the benefit of the doubt.
The basis of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that sometimes our interpretations of situations and consequent emotions are just not helpful or accurate. This was certainly the case here. While I could not be certain that my interpretation of the situation was actually wrong, the resulting emotions were inarguably unpleasant.
I knew it was ridiculous to let this little thing bother me but for months I did just that. Eventually I said “enough is enough” and began practicing little skills such as mentally rehearsing my reaction prior to pulling into the parking lot, forcing myself to smile as I was passing the truck and taking a couple of deep breaths as I entered the parking lot. These little interventions helped but the magic bullet here was this: I became a citizen of the “Land of I Don’t Know”.
I have no knowledge of why this individual parks their car like this and in all likelihood, I never will. However, I am pretty sure that he parks this way for some reason other than to irritate me. Maybe he parks this way because of a physical disability that makes it easier to get to and from the building. There could be multiple reasons, some of them having a sound rationale. Or maybe not. Maybe he really does just park like a jerk. However, I know that is easier on me to give him the benefit of the doubt. Please consider this the next time you come up against your “white truck”.
Joshua Sagor, M.A., LMHC, is the Director of Program of Development at Comprehensive EAP.