by Josh Dredze, Psy.D
As I waited at 9 a.m. at a bus stop in the freezing temperature of this excessively cold winter, all I could think was “I’m so cold.” I didn’t check my phone, as I knew taking off my gloves to reach into my pocket would only further expose me to the elements, but I realized the bus I had been waiting for was well past its scheduled arrival time. In general, I’m not a morning person, but these circumstances made things that much worse. “This is unbearable.” “Why do I have to be freezing here?” “This is incompetency at its best.”
I waited and waited, and finally a bus came. At this point, I was able to thaw out my fingers and note that my cell phone said 9:50 a.m. At least one bus never showed. Of all days to not send a bus on its route, when it’s 9 degrees outside, is probably the worst. It’s bad enough that I need to be outside, but to leave people waiting for extended periods of time borders on poor safety. I was not happy. I was intent, though, on not letting this ruin my day. The reality was, I needed to wait for another bus to get home, when the same thing could happen again. And, for all I knew, by then, it could be colder. I challenged myself to identify my irrational beliefs.
I first noticed that I was, as Dr. Ellis called it, awfulizing. Yes, I was freezing. Yes, I was uncomfortable and, quite frankly, irritable. Was I going to die? No. Maybe, if I remained in such cold weather for hours on end, insufficiently dressed, I would. But, close to an hour, huddled inside a bus stop, was not going to kill me. With that, I was awfulizing. Was this the worst thing ever? As I sat on the bus, going to work, I observed that some people work outside for a living. I think examined my frustration intolerance. Could I stand waiting at a bus stop outside for an hour? Yes. While certainly not pleasant, it was tolerable. Lastly, I noticed my irrational assumptions. Did the bus not come, specifically, on one of the coldest days of the year? Probably wasn’t intentional. If anything, it may have been due to the cold and snow that the bus didn’t come, not in spite of it.
Although it has been cold, and, over the course of the last few weeks, I have been conditioned to dislike it, it is not the worst thing ever. Yes, maybe a move to San Diego or Miami is looking pretty good around now, but the more I see things from an irrational perspective, the less effective I’ll be as a person and the unhappier this winter will be. As the cold only seems to continue, my choice seems to be, think more rationally or stay miserable.