EQ Reflection, March 31, 1999

I got back from Missouri last night — somewhat later than I had planned, but in exchange for the delay, I had an opportunity to think about complacency.

I was in Colombia, MO (smack dab in the middle of the state), started to drive west to the airport in Kansas City, and after two hours realized that I have driven east to St. Louis… so what happened in those two hours? How did I manage to ignore all the signs? To ignore my own “are you going the right way?” questions?

I’ve often been outraged by complacency. During elections, for instance, people seem to vote more on “life is fine for me now” than on issues. So perhaps it was high time for me to get clocked in the head by my own complacency. In the two hours driving back to Columbia, then the two more hours driving to KC, I had a bit of thinking time. I decided that complacency is moving ahead in spite of all the messages to re-assess.

For example, when I first got on the freeway, I definitely had a moment where I felt like I was spinning the map around in my head… but I chose to believe that I was disoriented rather than going the wrong direction. All along the drive, I kept seeing signs, “St. Louis, 140 miles” “St. Louis, 120 miles” yet somehow I chose to believe I was going in the right direction… and, I remember pressing one of the “preset” buttons on the radio, and when there was no signal, I choose to believe that I must have changed the preset from where I had originally set it in KC.

I was having a great drive! I listened to a Garrison Keilor tape, laughing hard, fully awake in the bright sunshiny morning, enjoying a beautiful day… but obviously I was not fully awake.

So, on the return trip, I thought about what might help me be more awake:

Experiencing the here-and-now. I have a tendency to fill my moments with plans, to brainstorm, to dream, to work on problems. This seems like useful activity… in moderation. On the return drive, I practiced being here-and-now every once-in-a-while.  Once-in-a-while-here-and-now. Just about that length of time, focusing on my five senses, on what my toes felt like, on the temperature, on the light in the trees. In some of those practices, I started thinking, “hey, I ought to practice so I can write about this… I’ll write that I…” ERRR. So I tried ignoring that voice, I tried laughing at myself, I tried shifting that voice from talking about the future and you, to talking about now and me. Not 100% successful, but different.

Time to hear myself. In daily conversation, I often interrupt people, I often “push the conversation along” — I am a bit impatient. I think I do that with myself too. So I tried to not be impatient with my messages to myself, I tried to not interrupt and actually attend. Not a breakthrough… maybe because this time I was going in the right direction… but I’ll keep practicing this one.

Turn off the road. I finally realized that I was going the wrong direction when I got off the highway. As I wen tot get back on, I finally saw what I’d been doing. In “real life” (as opposed to driving in Missouri), I do this too — I get in a rut, and pretty soon I don’t notice that I am in one. I LIKE my rut — it is a comfy, warm, friendly rut. Fine — if I still like it after stepping out and looking around, I can climb back in… but if I don’t get out and look around, I can’t choose. This has implications for learning, and even learning over the course of a few minutes. This rut-affection is one reason why “eustress,” or positive stress (as opposed to “distress”), is so important for learning. It is also one reason why variation, shifting focus, and multiple approaches are so essential for effective learning.

Thanks for reading, thanks for all the encouragement about the baby (Patty is doing well, he belly feels like a drum… a wiggly drum, anyway), and if you have more “be awake” ideas, I’d love to hear from you.
– Josh

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Joshua Freedman

Joshua is one of the world’s preeminent experts on developing emotional intelligence to create positive change. With warmth and authenticity, he translates leading-edge science into practical, applicable terms that improve the quality of relationships to unlock enduring success. Joshua leads the world’s largest network of emotional intelligence practitioners and researchers.
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