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  • Writer's pictureMark J. Keenan

The Power to Prefer

Mark narrowly avoids an incident with a beach umbrella.

One of the lessons I have learned in the last decade is that I can't control what happens in my life and in the world. But, I can manage how I respond to it.

When something occurs which doesn't align with my expectations, or my values, I have a choice to make. And it can be as simple as choosing the words I use, internally and externally, to describe what happened and how I feel about it. An example will help explain what this means.

I'm driving along the freeway in my 1964 Holden EH. It's busy but flowing at close to the speed limit.

Marlowe (the name of my EH) is in good nick; well cared for and serviced, everything works about as good as you can expect for an almost sixty year old motor vehicle.

Still, I know the drum brakes are not as effective as in modern cars and so I leave an extra large gap between myself and the car in front. If I have to slam on the anchors I know this barge will take longer than most to come to a halt. I also know Marlowe is analog. There is no electronic wizardy to help me to come to a stop. And if I do hit something it won't be pretty because there are no crumple zones or airbags either.

Someone in a green hot hatch, with rego plate GRNGBLN, hurtles up behind me, switches lane to pass, then pulls in directly in front of me before jamming on their brakes because the traffic ahead has suddenly slowed.

Surprised, I hit the brakes hard causing Marlowe to swerve into the emergency lane for a moment. We regain control and move back into the traffic flow. We are safe and so is everyone else; no thanks to the comic book villian driving the snot-coloured pocket-rocket in front of me.

I have a few options:

A. Hit the horn hard.

B. Tailgate the 'stupid %#&^*$!+'.

C. Utilise my index finger to indicate my displeasure.

D. Exercise my extensive vocabulary of expletives.

In the past, I would have gone for 'Option E: All of the above'. But none of them are useful. All of them increase . So, today I don't.

Instead, I take a deep breathe, accelerate slowly and allow the gap to increase back to a safe distance. I do this by changing a couple of words in my judgement of what has just happened.

Instead of thinking:

GRNGBLN should not drive like a 'stupid %#&^*$!+'.

I reframe to:

I would prefer GRNGBLN didn't drive like a 'stupid %#&^*$!+'.


Because I can't control someone else's behaviour, and I can't change something that has already happened, but I can control how I respond.

Because acknowledging my shock, and reframing my emotional response, causes me less distress.

Because doing so means I choose to be in control and I choose to remain calm.

And you can choose too.

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