The plane was full. My seat was 22C. To my surprise there was no one beside me and no one behind me. I felt like I had won the lottery of airplane seating. You know the feeling. You can spread out. You can recline without bothering anyone. You can even use two tray tables!
I was flying to Chicago to present one of my corporate seminars. I needed to concentrate on reviewing my program. The peace and quiet would be great. I immediately opened my bag and began to work. The flight attendants were readying the plane for takeoff when it happened.
“You’re in 23C,” I heard a flight attendant say. And just as I looked up I heard the increasingly loud cries of a baby. A mother and her upset baby girl were coming my way. Right behind me was the seat 23C.
Five minutes later the baby’s cry turned into a wail and her little legs were kicking my seat. I couldn't work with such distraction.
There were no answers to my questions: “Why does the little girl have to kick my seat? Isn’t there a way to stop the baby from crying? And why of all places on the plane do they have to sit right behind me!?” I started searching for what I could say, or what I should do. There was nowhere for me to go.
When Your Road Turns Negative Create a Fork in Your Path
Then I smiled. I realized I actually had a choice. I could either see the situation as a dead-end negative, or I could see the situation in another way. I could find another road out and take it. And I did. In that moment I found another way to look at the situation.
I now call it “my fork.”
I thought of my own children. I started to laugh when I thought that Eliana, 4, and Ariela, 3, had done their share of crying and seat-kicking in airplanes, as hard as we tried to stop it! So I turned the baby’s crying and seat-kicking into a reminder that I have two wonderful little girls of my own. Each time the little girl cried or kicked my seat, I felt grateful for my daughters.
Sure I would have preferred the flight to be quieter, but guess what? I was able to work because I became quieter inside. I replaced the negative emotion I was feeling with gratitude for my own children. Psychologist Barbara Frederickson at the University of North Carolina observed how inducing positive emotions in people following a negative experience loosens the vice grip that the negative event holds psychologically. She also found that people bounced back faster physiologically — their cardiovascular activity slowed.
When we landed in Chicago I stood up and turned to look at the mother and her child. She smiled a little nervously at me and started to apologize for her daughter’s crying. I stopped her. I pulled out my wallet, opened it, and handed it to her. I pointed to the picture of my two little red-headed daughters. I said, “These are my little girls. They’re wonderful. And they cry too. Your daughter is beautiful. Congratulations.” She smiled and said, “Thank you.” I smiled and left the plane feeling good (something I wouldn't have thought possible when the crying and kicking began).
So the next time a situation seems to be a frustrating dead-end, ask yourself, “What’s my fork?” There’s almost always another road you can take.
David J. Pollay is the author of “Beware of Garbage Trucks!™ - The Law of the Garbage Truck™ (www.bewareofgarbagetrucks.com).” His book, The Law of the Garbage Truck™, is due out this summer, and you can read his blog each week. Mr. Pollay is a syndicated columnist with North Star Writers Group, creator and host of The Happiness Answer™ DVD and television program, an internationally sought after speaker, founder and president of The Momentum Project.