Recently I had a chance to use my Quantified Self work in a way that was very effective at reducing suffering from my overreaction to a situation. I was in Ojai, CA and had to drive to LAX for a long haul flight. On getting in the car I saw that I had left myself 2 hours travel time. After a quick estimate of the drive and rental car drop off, I realized that any traffic delay at all would result in me missing my long haul flight. And I was driving through LA which has notoriously bad traffic. Thus the suffering began.
This suffering was imagination induced. There was no physical pain. I saw images in my head of traffic jams, rental car buses moving slowly and my flight taking off in the sky with me watching it from the ground. I saw images of me on the phone to my wife explaining I would not be joining her on time. Though I did not measure it my heart rate variability, it was likely low and my prefrontal cortex probably offline. I was in full fight/flight mode.
I knew that enduring two hours of anxiety and worry about whether or not I would make the flight would do nothing to change the outcome. It would just be misery for the sake of misery, so I pulled some techniques from my Quantified Self kitbag.
First, I reversed the thoughts as I had done in a previous study. When I took the thought “I am going to miss the flight” and reversed it, I got “I am going to make the flight.” Looking at the thought and its reversal, I knew that both outcomes were possible. With increased possibilities I calmed down a bit.
I was travelling to a wedding in the UK, but it was not for several days. As I continued to think I realized that I would be able to attend the wedding if I made the flight or missed the flight. I relaxed even further.
I then looked at the opportunity embedded in the situation if I missed the flight, mirroring a study I had done on “glass half full” thinking. I had spent the weekend with friends in Ojai and it happened they were in LA that night. I could have connected with them for dinner. Or called my hilarious cousin in LA and visited her. Both were good outcomes. I now knew that any outcome was going to be positive. I was a pretty happy guy by that point.
This whole reframing process took about ten minutes. As I drove recalled the many, many times I had not unscrewed myself while travelling. My very first QS post about a Stress Trigger Personal Survey identified travel as a huge source of Upsets. In my quest to measure the change myself and chip away at the bedrock of that stressful self, it seems I had made progress.
In a calm and balanced state, I decided to drive no more than five miles per hour over the speed limit, remain focused on getting to the airport, and see what happened. I was alert, but no longer suffering. The mechanism that decreased my suffering was the reframing the belief that making that specific flight was the only positive outcome possible.
As it happened, I was quite lucky. Traffic was unusually light, and only twice did I have to slow below the speed limit. The drive took an hour and a half and I arrived in plenty of time. I ended up standing at the gate 20 minutes prior to boarding with bags checked and being all ready to go. And I had done it without two hours of unnecessary stress.
These techniques work in reducing or eliminating imagination driven suffering. When the imagination pictures how things should be and that image clashes with what is actually happening, we suffer. With reframing simply how we see our possibilities, we eliminate this type of suffering.
For me this is a great example of how pragmatic these techniques can be. Looking at a reversal and the opportunities in the situation allowed me to move from fight/flight to an action which put me in an alert, action-oriented state. I had several good outcomes available to me and I let things play out, using my planning for a useful outcome or potential outcomes. And that is the definition of not suffering.