Last summer we rented a house built beside a stream. The house wasn’t air-conditioned, and even in the temperate climate of Hawaii, it was stuffy without the windows open, and ceiling fan running. So we slept with open windows, and the sound of water running through our nights.
A funny thing, I noticed the stream didn’t bother me. I noticed it because running water at night usually does bother me. When the source of the water is a toilet that keeps filling, or a faucet that isn’t completely turned off, I hear the trickle of water and I can’t unhear it. It annoys me, keeps me awake, disturbs my rest.
What is the difference between the two? The stream was actually louder than a trickle from a toilet that keeps filling, or a leaky faucet.
I think the answer is how I framed the noise. The stream, I told myself, is soothing, natural, a white noise that’s calming and peaceful. It’s a good thing.
The leaky faucet or ever-filling toilet…nothing soothing about those sounds, and I feel like I have to get up and address the issue. To ignore it would keep me tossing and turning all night.
It’s all about the frame I put around the noise, and the story I tell myself.
I wonder how else I demonstrate this principle in my life?
Some issues have to be addressed, have to be challenged, have to be sorted out.
But how many battles do I fight that don’t need fighting? What if I tried to re-frame the things that bother me, to see if re-framing changed my attitude?
It’s a question worth considering, and worth answering.
Can I see differently? Can I frame people in my life through a different lens? Can I use a filter of kindness and patience to help ratchet down frustration?
There was a time when I was impatient with life, a time when I wanted everything to be fair, and it bothered me a lot to see inequity. I saw life in a concrete way, with little tolerance or allowance for the realities of the in-between.
I thought if I complained about unfairness or things that needed improving, that would help. Instead, it mostly created conflict.
The reality is many situations are colored in shades of gray. Most relationships have their strong points and weaknesses. People are a mixture of great character and qualities, and habits that annoy, distract, and grate on nerves. Work is usually the same mixed bag…things we like, things we don’t, or maybe even things we hate.
Some elements in my life are less-than-perfect, and I’ve come to accept that. After all, I’m not perfect either, and I know it.
The challenge is always drawing the lines: what can we re-frame or accept…live with, if you will…and what issues will we dig in and fight for?
There are things worth working for, things that need to be changed. But a lot of what frustrates just isn’t important, in the big picture.
And yet, so much of the little stuff gets in the way of the good stuff! The irritants of life derail the day, shift the focus, sharpen tones.
I need to do a better job of framing. I need to recognize that the habits that annoy, or the things that go wrong in my day, are not worth angst, and certainly not worth spreading my frustrations to others.
Why do I let something insignificant be more important than the people I love, or the issues of real value? I think it’s because the small things are often the barriers of the moment…those “in your face” challenges that lead to a spike of temper, raised voices, impatience or unkindness.
That’s not who I want to be on any day.
And so I remind, and re-train, and ask myself, on a regular basis, “how does this help?” How does it help my day to bark at my husband, or tell myself a story about all the things that have gone wrong since I got up this morning?
Perspective, re-framing, choosing to live out of kindness and patience, rather than frustration…none of this makes me a saint. In fact, it’s hard work to coach myself out of these attitudes. But living with intention makes me happier and calmer. And that’s a gift to myself that’s worth the effort of re-framing.
I find it’s a lesson I have to re-visit often. I remind myself of the good things, the great people in my life. I practice gratitude. I ask myself what will matter in a year, or even in a week? Will it be this issue that flashes up to cause anger, or make me feel like I’m doing more than my fair share?
Please understand…in the words of Ann Voskamp, I’m preaching gospel to myself. I don’t do this well, or all the time. But I see it…I see how often I’m my worst enemy, letting the little things become big, and forgetting what’s truly important…the laughter of someone I love, health, opportunity to do something good with my day.
So, re-framing…perspective…gratitude…the lessons come packaged in different ways, but the bottom line is always the same. I have the ability to shape my life, my happiness, by what I focus on, by choosing the narrative I rehearse to myself.
I have the power. You have the power in your life. That’s the thing…we each have this amazing potential to frame our lives with joy and humor, or to frame our lives with anger and impatience.
Once more, for today, I promise myself to see differently, to show patience, and to ask my favorite question, “how does this help?” It’s a habit that requires daily practice, this effort at re-framing.
And maybe I won’t have to worry about that trickle of water I sometimes hear at night. 🙂