This past weekend I put on my homeowner hat, went to my yard and mowed my extra extra extra long grass. I actually enjoy doing a little yard work here and there but I’d definitely been shirking my mowing duties as of late. Much to Lucy’s delight, I may add. Her Great Dane goofiness in full effect with her daily rolls in the long blades, being sure to bring some back into the house with her every time.
I digress, this story isn’t about Lucy.
As a new homeowner over two years ago, thrilled to have a backyard to call my own, I found myself in need of a lawnmower. Having just bought a house, I wasn’t looking for anything fancy and was able to score a reliable used mower for $75. Believe you me, never will I ever do that again.
Last summer required $150 in repairs to keep it running, and this spring I enthusiastically set out to trim the yard only to be met by a non-starting mower. With the help of my ever handy father, minor repairs had it up and running. Until this weekend.
No, this story is also not going to be about my lawn mower. But your understanding of what I’d been through with this dang mower is important.
I knew it was going to be an uphill battle this weekend given how long I’d let the grass get, and needless to say, the bag filled up quickly and the tiny engine was almost constantly on the verge of stalling. After some frustration, I tipped the mower back to allow for more clippings to fall into the bag in hopes that in doing so I could make it another trip around the lawn before having to empty it again. Well, the engine disagreed with my plan. I’d managed to upset the oil enough to get it where it wasn’t supposed to be, the engine started smoking and the whole thing died.
Fully owning my ignorance to anything motorized, I waited until the smoking stopped then just tried to start it up again! I use this same logic with technology, just turn it off then turn it back on. Works (almost) every time. And sure enough, this plan worked again! Made it two more trips around the lawn even, then it sputtered to a halt once again. “Now I’ve really done it,” I think to myself. I tried with all my might to get it going, to no avail. I abandon it for the day, intending to call trusty old dad to work his magic again.
After sharing my adventure with Dad that evening, his first question was, “did you check the gas tank?”
Sure enough, it had simply run out of gas. And sure enough, that hadn’t even popped up on my diagnostic radar. Now I consider myself pretty adept at solving problems, and before Dad even finished asking his question I was shaking my head, how could I not think of something so simple?
Our perspectives and our ability to navigate situations are formed by our past experiences. My only experiences with this mower involved it breaking down. So, of course, that had to be the case this time around. Regardless of my awareness that motors require gasoline, and that I myself have filled this mower’s tank on more than one occasion.
I find this narrow path of thinking to be more evident in stressful, high stakes or confrontational type scenarios. We are more likely to react from our instincts (which have been influenced greatly by our past experiences) rather than to critically think and analyze the situation. As you can imagine, this often does more harm than good, particularly when the receiver is human instead of machine.
The next time you feel yourself responding quickly out of instinct, take a moment to uncover where that is coming from. Is it accurate? Is the conclusion you’re drawing based on the whole picture or just the piece you’ve been taught to see? Are you looking at the person or the act? The intention or the result?
If you pay attention, you’ll catch your instinctual, and potentially short sided, reactions at play every day. With your family, coworkers, strangers, even yourself. And although the catalyst for me sharing this with you may be lighthearted, there is a serious amount to gain from taking a good hard look at those thoughts and then doing something about them.