We’re human, we’re not going to stop being pissed off.
As we (“the societal we”) continue to understand the impact of our state of mind on our wellbeing, and subsequently our wellbeing on everything we want to accomplish in the world, we’ve put more and more focus on the kind of thoughts we need to develop for an optimal mindset. Increasingly the science is guiding us to the conclusion that our thoughts impact the way our brain functions, which then determines the way our bodies function.
This is all well and good, but the world is still out there, and for most of us, on a daily basis it contains things that “get on our last nerves”.
Until recently I hadn’t thought about what that phrase even meant. I mean, yes, I know what it means like I’m sure you do. But I didn’t understand that this was a colloquial way of acknowledging the existence of the parasympathetic nervous system and the sympathetic nervous system. It’s funny how old, conventional sayings contain everlasting jewels that we can keep rediscovering.
Our “last nerves”, are our sympathetic nervous system.
If you know what I’m talking about now, great, you can continue to read. If I’ve just lost you, the above image is part of a fantastic 9 minute video on YouTube by CrashCourse that you can check out here.
The sympathetic nervous system aka “fight or flight” is necessary and very good for a short list of things related to our survival. The problem is that in today’s world of digital media bombardment and 24 hour news cycles, we’ve been tuned up to see a ridiculous number of upsetting things that trigger it. “Fight or flight” is becoming a bit more of the default mode of our body’s operation than it should be. And there are a lot of things you don’t really want to do when you are all revved up in “fight or flight” mode, for example engaging in conflict with your loved one or your teammate.
Furthermore, the overload of information is lowering our attention span, which makes it easier to get distracted and pulled into a cycle of dissatisfaction.
But let’s put all the negative input overload to the side for a second. We still will be dissatisfied when we see real dysfunction in our workplace or our health or our relationships. I am not sure there is anyway to stop that trigger of dissatisfaction from arising. Furthermore, I don’t ever want to NOT be upset when I hear about or see injustice or tragedy in the world.
So what’s the answer? How do we allow ourselves to maintain our humanity and the important role that dissatisfaction plays in signaling when something isn’t right, but keep it from always “getting on our last nerves?”
Well, I’m not sure. But I’ve been thinking about what makes me tick as an entrepreneur, and I think there’s a strategy in there that I’d like to share with you.
In a conversation with a young technology professional on Friday who is about to make a serious career move from the corporation he has worked at for over 17 years, we went through a list of options that he had for what he might do next. We talked about various new job opportunities, shifting to a different industry or maybe even a move away from leading in technology. When we got to the option of entrepreneurship, he said “I know about myself that entrepreneurship is really scary to me because there is so much risk involved with it.” Totally normal and great self-awareness on his part.
I paused and reflected and said to him “I hear you and totally respect that. You know what’s interesting… risk is interpreted differently by each of us. I have always seen working in a large corporation as incredibly risky because I am not in control of what’s going on. Someone could come in and surprise me with a layoff or a huge change in company direction that I had nothing to do with, and I think that’s really risky.”
And that’s when I realized how being an entrepreneur, while stressful due to the enormity of the responsibility, has actually been pretty healthy for me.
It’s because as an entrepreneur, I am constantly meeting dissatisfaction with gratitude.
Just like most people, when I see something less than perfect in the world (healthcare in the US for example), I’m dissatisfied with it. But what gives me the excitement to work on a solution to it (rather than just complain and be sad) is the gratitude I have for my abilities and the fact that I live in a country where I can be rewarded for creating solutions to problems in the free market. In my mind, I start to see the world with the problem solved, and I’m optimistic. This gives me energy to create and work hard, and makes the problem I started out being dissatisfied with the root cause of my happiness.
Turning dissatisfaction into happiness, routinely, is like magic to me.
Thoughts of gratitude kick us out of “fight or flight” and shifts the parasympathetic nervous system into gear. When that happens, my anger at the problem or my fear of it going unaddressed kind of goes away. The parasympathetic nervous system slows my heart rate and respiration. I relax. I can think more clearly and more deeply. I have the ability to respond rather than just react. It’s powerful.
This weekend I was in a negotiation (yes, over the weekend). It was annoying for everyone involved, but had to be done. I could feel at various points in the conversation my heartbeat increasing and my breath getting short. When that happened, I just thought about how grateful I was to be in the negotiation. I was only there because of what I had accomplished leading up to it. I also knew that no matter the result of the negotiation, it would have little impact on me in the long run because I’m so confident in my ability to produce the outcome I want for myself long term. So I could, at the deepest level, be dispassionate about it.
By the end, a good result was reached, and I managed the fight or flight result actively and intentionally, by actively (and repeatedly) being grateful.
I think this can be used in many situations where we are dissatisfied. If we can deploy gratitude when we are dissatisfied then we can turn that dissatisfaction into a mission, a purpose, a muse and even a friend.
Have a grateful week.