I’m a morning person. So when I wake up and bounce out of bed, I sip my coffee with a brain fully engaged, thinking about the full day ahead of me. As I do, I’ve noticed that I bring out a mental balancing scale. And as the narrative for the day emerges, I put things on one side or the other, depending on how much I like it.
For example, if it’s October and the temperature is going to be in the nineties, I really don’t like that. It’s fall! And even though I live in Texas, dadgummit I want October to be cool and crisp. I want pretty leaves floating to the ground. So even though I can’t remember a past October when it was actually fallish in dadburn Texas, I put a small weight on the “it’s going to be a bad day” side of the scale.
Another factor I use to evaluate the day is my schedule. How many hours do I have to teach today? If it’s a lot, then that means a weight on the bad side of the scale. Unless the class I’m teaching has fun students in it, then I put a weight on the good side.
Other things that demand weights include meetings—always a rather large weight on the bad side, even if fun colleagues are going to be there, because it’s still a meeting, and they are all, by default, bad.
Lunch with my wife puts a weight on the good side.
A day with nothing on the schedule demands a very large weight on the good side.
Rain is good most of the time, unless it has rained a lot, then eventually it means a weight on the bad side.
There are certain things that automatically slam one side of the scale to the mental table on which it sits, like a one-ton weight falling from the sky in a Roadrunner cartoon. For example, children coming home from college automatically mean it’s going to be a great day. However, there is no way to redeem a day when there’s a university-wide faculty meeting. I’ve tried.
So, as I go out the door to start my day, I already have an attitude about it based on which side the scale is tipping.
But then there are the things that happen throughout the day that continue to affect the scale. An aggressive driver on the road, an encouraging note on my desk, a surprise bill in the mail, a new restaurant opening in town that’s not barbecue or Mexican.
With each of these, I’m tossing more weights on my mental scale. Eventually, the scale tips all the way down, and that’s the moment I’ve made my decision about the day. And so now, I either have a serene look on my face, or I’m grumpy. Very grumpy. And it’s going to take a lot to change my mood.
The problem with this approach is that it leads me to a life of constant criticism, and I’m prey to having a bad day over things I have absolutely no control over. Why give such things power? It’s October. It’s Texas. It’s going to be hot. Move north or embrace it. I shouldn’t let it ruin my day!
Recently, as I was out walking I came upon a bird hopping on one leg with his friends, looking for worms. He seemed oblivious to the fact that he had only one leg. Now, I’m not even sure if birds are able to notice such things. Is it even possible for a bird to think, “I only have one leg an all my friends have two,” and then get depressed?
But that’s my point!
The bird didn’t evaluate his predicament and put a label on it. He was too busy flitting around with his friends and enjoying the worms.
Maybe I shouldn’t evaluate my predicaments, either. Maybe I should pay less attention to the things I have no control over and more on the opportunities at hand.
Because the more I can let go of attaching baggage to every little thing that happens, the more I can be set free to allow a day to be what it really is…a gift. And even though something might happen bent on ruining my day, I don’t have to let it have that power.
Bad moments end. What happens next is up to me.
As Thoreau wrote, “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a morning star.”