Beyond Pet Peeves

Beyond Pet Peeves

I want to encourage you to lose your pet peeves – in fact, I’d like to encourage you to find more effective ways to channel frustration in general. When you’re frustrated, are you the sort of person who finds that getting really angry over what’s bugging you will make you feel better?

I learned that expressing frustration doesn’t work so well for me personally – in fact, it intensifies the frustration and makes it more likely for me to make additional mistakes. I also have a tricky time calming myself when I’m finally successful. I discovered this by what follows in this post. First, I followed a thinking skill listing and rating exercise about various ways to answer this question:

Exactly how do I get myself to “feel better” about whatever bothers or frustrates me?

(In fact – try making this list before you continue reading. Then rate each point on a 1-to-10 scale…)

Higher on my own list were such points such as:

• Taking a break by laying on my back semi-supine with my knees in the air. (A short nap also works for me.)

• Doing something more effective in a practical, problem-solving way that realistically solves the challenge, even though it may involve ongoing, cumulative or work yet-to-be determined.

• Reminding myself that I don’t need to expect myself to already know how to complete an unfamiliar task

• Making art – or doing other things that I generally enjoy as a daily practice so my general level of frustration is less

• Deliberately using “book-matched” breathing – (measuring my in and out-breaths and making them match each other in pairs. I was taught this effective strategy by Joanna Wyss as a handy technique for interrupting high levels of anxiety.)

• Refusing to think of and “adding onto” other situations or points that were negative to this irritating one

• Reciting to myself, “Patience!” really slowly.

• Asking myself, “Is this REALLY so important enough to get upset about?”

After making this list for myself, the: “Deciding to not associate this bad thing that is happening with other bad things that happened in the past” turned out to be an interesting point on the list I made. So I decided to expand and discuss this point further here. This point on my list generated some additional interesting observations and questions. (Maybe you have a point on your list that could also be fruitful to further expand?)

My first observation was how I already knew “State-Specific Learning” can both help and hinder skill expression. To use this concept, I had to consider expressing an angry frustration as a functional skill. For me, the most common situation where frustration emerged for me was when I was learning or trying to accomplish a goal and things weren’t working the way I’d hoped.

To do this, I had to ask myself some more questions…

In what situation does violent expression of frustration effectively work for me?

Maybe because in some situations, getting violent does work to “blow off steam” from volatile emotions – it definitely gets attention.

Can I think of how and why does this work?

Many decades ago, my small town had collected many junk cars that were to be towed away. My quirky friend decided it was a sales opportunity to “rent” people a sledge hammer and eye protection so they could pound on and destroy further these junk cars with abandon to make themselves “feel better.” Wish I could see that amusing video again right now! It appears that one of the techniques of comedy is to exaggerate complaints so that they become blown out of proportion.

This also made me realize how “better” needed to be defined. “Better” can be expressed as “happier” or as “more meaningful,” and these two are often mutually exclusive.

Now that I have my definition of “better,” I can observe how violence can be an effective way of bringing a serious complaint to the foreground so it becomes meaningful and even perhaps newsworthy. Crying has a cathartic function as a release for sadness and other overwhelming or conflicting emotions.

So, now I have a list of some more sources and situations that can help me decide if I should express my frustrations in some negative way to “make myself feel better.” Now that I’ve made this list, I can ask myself specifically, “Am I in those situations listed where expressing my frustrations are likely to be effective?”

For me, there was another notable feature on my list that was low on my ratings. Talking or writing about something that bothers me rates very low for me in it’s effectiveness to make me feel better when I’m frustrated or upset. But talking about what bothers us evidently rates high for most people! So effective, that the whole field of talk therapy is based on doing it. Some people have a past problem or bad situation that makes them notable and in some cases, the bad things that happen to some people even makes them a living. But for me, talking about a situation “spends” the energy of it and functions sort of like releasing a pressure cooker valve. But this “release of pressure” is unsatisfying to me, because nothing changes because of having done it.

Yet, I write this blog!

Is there something unusual or notable on the bottom of your ratings?

Nearly everyone has irritants or situations that bother them. Now that you’ve made this list, it also helps to ask yourself about if there’s a category or customary time for you when being upset commonly emerges. If you can anticipate you’re about to confront a circumstance where you’re likely to react, you can head your reactions off at the pass before these emotions spring out of nowhere on you.

For me it was, “How can I expand my lack of tolerance for unfamiliarity?”

If we know what situations are when our frustrations are likely to emerge, then we can design positive solutions that improve our circumstances in general over time. In some cases, we might be able to avoid those situations entirely if we think that’s OK. Personally, I want to continue to learn new things. Because I feel that learning new things is valued, I’m forced to take gradual steps to improve my tolerance for unfamiliarity. I think that I need to take on my specific challenges gradually and build my muscles up about confronting my issues around unfamiliarity, now that I know my challenging circumstances. I need to build so incrementally that the fearful resistance doesn’t activate.

So is there any advantage to minimizing our Pet Peeves – if that’s even possible once they are set into place? Given our history with them, how can we possibly deactivate a Pet Peeve? Is it even possible to imagine what life would be like for us beyond having been a victim of a bad experience, if our “Peeve” is so serious that it has become our sense of identity? Is it worthwhile to prioritize what concerns or frustrates us?

There’s a number of factors that are at work here, but first, let’s apply our thinking skills on this question:

What are the differing qualities between “hated” and “loved”?

Curiously, the feelings about what you “hate” are often intense, memorable and notable; whereas things, people and situations that are about what you “love” have subtle qualities that are sometimes tricky to even register on our own perceptual capacity. Realizing what we love sort of “sneaks up on us,” requiring repeated exposure. Most of us find it tricky to make as long of a list about the positive things that we actually want. But we can rattle off our negatives with no hesitation!

This suggests a strategic exercise that I learned from Barbara Sher, (1935-2020, author and “Godmother of Life Coaching.”) She called this exercise, “The Job From Hell.” But it works as an activity with any situation you hate, not merely jobs. (It works for what sort of house you might want, what sorts of relationships you might enjoy, etc.)

First, you list what you “hate.” Then the more tricky part: imagine and convert things or situations on your list to contain the opposite of the features or qualities of each point of what you hated. Perhaps this “opposite” list will contain indicators of “what you love,” or at least “what you don’t hate.” Doing this exercise might in total help you uncover or design multiple positive features you might come to love in a situation, over time. When we did the last exercise describing Loves & Hates, we uncovered that realizing what we love happens through repeated exposure and gradually increases as we note what we do enjoy.

Maybe you’re wondering, “How does this topic relate to Alexander Technique?”

One of the ways to express the Alexander Technique principle of Direction is to note how and where in your own body you’re already feeling easier (as opposed to sensing and noting relative tension.) Humans are wired to sense the relative contraction of their musculature, not the lengthening of muscles. Usually, lengthening only comes forward in our sensory capacity when there’s a big change from effort due to a marked release of effort. It takes practice to widen our field of awareness to sense muscular lengthening in other circumstances. AND it often takes movement to internally sense where or if lengthening is happening.

Turns out, it takes further practice to note multiple spots inside our body that happen to feel easier with our own coordination – where inside ourselves that we can feel a sense of effortlessness. That’s why Direction is a practice and not something you do once and poof! “Changed forever after.”

What do I mean by “effortlessness?”  You can explore further with an experiment that will give you a sensation of a lack of effort here:

The curious effect is that the skill of sensing a lack of muscular effort will expand as you pay attention to it. Of course, this phenomena of expansion works with any specific you focus on – it expands as you turn your attention to it. Expanding whatever you notice is a feature of how humans brains work, termed the RAS. (Reticulated Activating System.) Essentially, we humans have an “important” list we can note in order to help us focus on what exactly are future priorities. For instance, if we invest time buying a car, this is why suddenly we notice the same models of the cars we’re considering – they suddenly appear everywhere.

Hope you’ve enjoyed my topic today. I know it’s three times the length of what people normally read online – thanks for using a quality of sustained attention to read it!

Please comment with your own observations, explorations, suggestions and comments…