Jam and positive thinking: making your own luck
One minute I was driving home along the motorway… and then, suddenly, I wasn’t.
And an hour of my life disappeared with nothing to show for it except the memory of some flashing lights.
No, don’t worry: I wasn’t abducted by aliens.
I was stuck in a traffic jam while the emergency services dealt with a crash up ahead.
But, amazingly, I was delighted.
My immediate reaction was to be annoyed, of course. I’d been driving for over five hours, and I was looking forward to getting home. Another ten miles, and I would have left the motorway and been on the road home.
And now I was going nowhere fast.
But then I tried some positive thinking.
I decided to see this as an opportunity. Not the opportunity to get home, sure, but a different one – the opportunity to take a break from driving and do something else instead.
I turned off the engine and reached for my notebook and pen. They weren’t there – I’d ‘borrowed’ them for something else and forgotten to replace them. Oops!
So I looked around me to see how the people in other cars were using this time.
Some did nothing at all. They sat in a driving position, staring through the windscreen, just waiting for things to change so they could continue their journey. For an hour.
Others chose useless, time-filling activities. They turned on their radios and sat drumming their fingers on the dashboard, or got out of their cars and paced around impatiently, complaining to other drivers about the delay.
Some people used their unexpected free time to link up with friends and family. They used their mobiles to tell people they’d be arriving late, sent texts to pals or took selfies showing the crash to put on Facebook.
Very few people gave work their top priority, using the time to return business calls or make notes for work. And none appeared to be using the time for creative hobbies.
We all had the same amount of free time – so why did some of us get some work done, some of us build our network of relationships… but others wasted the time completely?
Why don’t we use every chance to make our lives better?
There are two reasons – attitude and preparedness.
We need a positive, forward-thinking attitude to be ready to embrace opportunities when they come. If we think only about the things we can’t do (such as continuing our journey), we may miss the obvious truth that we can rise above our limitations and achieve other things.
And we need to be prepared, so that when we get opportunities, we’re equipped to take advantage of them. How many of the people stuck in that traffic jam were thinking, I wish I had my sketch-pad/knitting/notebook/novel ?
The people who got the most out of that opportunity weren’t just jammy – they made their own luck, because they had the right attitude and were prepared for new situations.
So, how do we cope when our progress comes to a standstill?
We start a self-improvement plan with the best intentions, bursting with enthusiasm.
Yay – we can do it! We’re going to get that promotion at work… lose those extra pounds… find that exciting new social life… make our first million…
And at first, we make progress, but then it all goes pear-shaped and we start struggling.
And we think, What’s the point? it’s just not going to happen.
But when we stop making headway on one front, it doesn’t mean we can’t improve our lives in other ways.
So instead of giving up when things don’t go according to plan, let’s make our own luck – let’s keep a positive attitude and be prepared to try alternative ideas.
And I’m going to put another notebook and pen in my car. Right now.