In listening to a talk by my favorite spiritual teacher Mickey Singer this morning, I heard a fantastic nugget. It was the question Mickey recommends we ask anytime we face an adverse situation.

Let’s take a minor, relatable example. You’re driving on a two lane road, a few minutes late to pick up your kid at school, and you find yourself behind a car that is doing 25 MPH in a 35 MPH zone. It’s annoying as hell. Your energy starts flowing down to your lower self and you feel that stressful, ragey bile start to gurgle.

What Mickey says we should ask ourselves at that very moment is this:

“Is getting stressed about this situation doing me any good?”

In this example, I can think of not one good thing that comes with getting all bent out of shape because the driver is going slow. Absolutely nothing good comes from that. You feel bad and the situation doesn’t change one iota.

The truck that didn’t show up

Just yesterday, my wife and I put two large pieces of furniture and three big rugs out in our driveway for the city to come pick up and take away. We made an appointment weeks ago and they were supposed to come yesterday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

They didn’t come. My wife called and they said they had no idea why no one came. And they won’t be able to come again until Thursday. So we now have to lug all that stuff back into our garage, then put it out again early Thursday.

Do I find that annoying? You bet. Does it do me one nano-ounce of good to get worked up about it? No. It’s all pain and no gain.

Finding my clothes in the sink

One more. I put my clothes on the bedroom floor the other day when I went to workout. When I got back, I found that my wife had put my clothes in the bathroom sink. Did it do me any good to blow up at her about this? No. (Though I must admit I’ve been having fun planning my retaliatory strike!)

Granted, these are small potatoes examples. But the truth is, it doesn’t do any good to blow up at bigger stuff, either. In all situations it’s in our best interest to lean away and watch how we feel rather than take the bait and fly down south to our lower selves, which love nothing more than a good, dramatic brawl. It’s about staying present in the midst of emotional upset.

The key to this whole idea is that we’re giving ourselves a choice. Most people don’t see it in these stark terms. All they see is: annoying thing happens, go down the rabbit hole, get upset.

It’s about realizing we have a CHOICE

What this is about is stopping ourselves in these situations and saying, “I have a choice here. Get upset and feel lousy OR don’t get upset and feel okay.” It’s a no-brainer.

So what do we do to divert our attention away from going down the rabbit hole of egoic insanity? Mickey counts. Seriously.

The driver ahead is going too slow and he says, “One, two, three, four, five…” He simply diverts his attention to something OTHER than the slow driving. It works for him.

I like to go to my breathing. Just long, slow, deep breaths…until the urge to go south has passed. Do whatever works for you.

The takeaway

The bottom line is that the greatest power we humans can exert is that of deciding where our attention goes. We can decide to get pointlessly pissed off at a slow driver or we can place our attention on our breathing.

All Mickey Singer’s question does is give us a tool for framing that choice, a choice most people don’t even realize they have.