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That thing that’s irritating you

4 Oct 2018 | Being Human

“Sometimes the most uncomfortable learning is the most powerful” Brene Brown

When I think of learning experiences, I think of the big, the scary, the new and the risky. The times I need to step up or stretch outside my comfort zone. Times when I can see the learning coming and I can brace for impact.

What I don’t think of are the curve balls. The lessons that crash land in the middle of just another ordinary day. These are the ones that leave me reeling afterwards with “What the heck was that?!”

These are the ones I can easily miss as learning opportunities, because in these moments, I don’t feel like learning. I feel frustrated, annoyed, let down and taken advantage of. I feel like retaliating, or retreating. Fight or flight. Blame or shame.

“Who do they think they are?”
“What did I do to deserve that?”

But these can be big learning moments.

A chemist friend reminded me last week that a catalyst is essentially an irritant.

That thing that’s irritating you right now – what if that could be a catalyst for change?

Here’s how:

1. Shift the focus

They often say that when someone lashes out, it’s usually more about them than about you. The advice is not to take it personally. But what if you took the learning personally?

You see when we focus on what they did wrong and why they were wrong, what we learn can only change them – and that’s if they’re open to feedback and change. If they’re not, we can feel even more frustrated, hurt and conflicted.

But when we focus inwards and get curious about “What does this tell me about me? Why was that experience so jarring – which of my values did that clash with? What do I really believe in? What’s the right thing for me to do?” the learning is clarifying, edifying and strengthening. It helps us to show up stronger, communicate clearer and make decisions with even more integrity than before.

2. Prepare, don’t avoid

It’s natural to want to avoid uncomfortable situations. But sometimes the cost of avoidance is too high, especially when it means you have to agree with something you don’t believe in, play smaller or fall in line so you don’t get singled out.

Instead when we take the learning forwards, we can use it to prepare ourselves, to be better equipped to deal with future situations. The sh*t we find ourselves in becomes compost – and instead of shrinking, we grow.

3. Take your time

Curve balls are time-consuming, and not just in the moment. They have a way of playing on our minds long after the deed is done. When it feels like so much time has already been wasted, the last thing we want to do is spend even more time on it. We itch for closure – but often our quickest reactions can be the ones that end up deepening the wound or prolonging the pain.

Learning from uncomfortable situations usually involves sitting in that discomfort for a little longer. Riding out the outrage until our considerate brain kicks back in and figures out something constructive to do.

When this happened to me recently, I found it helped to phone a friend – or two in fact – who I knew would support me from a place of understanding, and give me equal doses of empathy and truth-telling, who I could trust to give me a sanity check and tell me straight: ‘don’t do anything stupid’.

It takes time, but it’s so worth it. What came out of the process for me was something truly beautiful and useful – a tool I can use in my business that will add value to my clients, and you know what, I’m proud as punch with it 🙂

What’s knocked you off course lately? What’s pissing you off right now?

What if you can turn that irritant into a catalyst?


Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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