I woke up in pain. My right hand felt like a water balloon that was about to burst. “Must be a new iteration of carpal tunnel syndrome,” I thought as I tried every possible position to get the throbbing to stop. Finally, I lifted my hand in the semi-darkness to look at it and instantly saw the problem.
I had one of those coated ponytail elastics on my wrist where I had placed it the night before after picking it up off the kitchen floor. I meant to put it away, but forgot and slept with what turned out to be an actual tourniquet on my wrist. I yanked it off and immediately began to feel relief. Then I wondered how much permanent damage I might have done to my hand (because if you know me, you know I tend to go to the worst case scenario in my mind.)
Obviously, I didn’t intend to put a darn tourniquet on my wrist and then leave it on while I slept. But who thinks of those little ponytail thingies as potentially dangerous? They seem so harmless . . .
I think I sometimes do that with my thinking.
What starts out as a practical framework for my ideas turns into a flawed and possibly dangerous assumption. Instead of wisdom or insight, I default to an interpretation that constricts and risks damage to my relationships, to my attitude, even to my own personal peace.
Here’s an example: A couple of weeks ago, I was walking in my neighborhood at dusk and three people rode by on bicycles — a 50-ish man in the lead followed by a woman around his age and then a younger woman. Probably a family, I thought. As they rode by, the man was holding forth on how much to inflate their tires for maximum comfort and how to regulate their speed to conserve energy. The two women looked miserable.
My first thought was, “What a know-it-all gas bag. Why can’t they just go for a leisurely ride? Why does he have to preach them a sermon on how it’s done?” I felt myself getting ramped up.
Then I realized I was succumbing to what I’ve started calling “tourniquet thinking”. Like the ponytail holder, it seems harmless in the moment — logical, even reasonable — but it can become restrictive and potentially damaging.
I could see where my assumption originated: For a number of years, I was in a relationship with a man who really was a know-it-all gas bag. He regularly felt it necessary to diminish me in front of others, no doubt so he could feel more powerful. I know, I know, he was insecure. But it’s still not okay.
Once I was playing in a golf tournament with him and as I addressed my ball for a chip shot (with several of my coworkers looking on), he actually announced in a loud voice, “Now remember, dear, the idea is to hit the ball onto the green.” Seriously. I dropped my club and said something uncharitable to him. (Hey, at least I dropped the club first.) He did stuff like that a lot, so it would have been just like him to treat me the way I assumed that man was treating those women.
But the guy on the bike? Not the same guy. It hit me that I was letting my past (negative) experience influence how I was interpreting the present. I was engaging in tourniquet thinking and it was raising my blood pressure. Literally.
In a situation like that, I’m finding it immensely helpful to pause and ask myself, “Is there maybe another way to look at this?”
Okay, maybe they’re not a family. Maybe he’s a trainer helping them prepare for an upcoming event and none of the three are related in any way. Maybe the two women aren’t miserable, they’re just concentrating on achieving their next level of fitness.
Could be. Honestly, just entertaining the notion of an alternate narrative allowed me to let that whole “what a jerk” thing go and continue in peace with my walk.
Tourniquet thinking rears its head for me in a number of forms: making assumptions about people and their motives (as I’ve just described); clinging to expectations that may or may not be reasonable; engaging in black or white thinking; giving in to negativity and despair. I don’t always know why.
What I do know is, if I take just a moment to ask myself, “Could there be a different way of looking at this situation? Something a little less constrictive?”, it can be immensely helpful.
But if you see me with a ponytail holder on my wrist, please make me take it off.
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- Maybe This Will Help - February 10, 2017
- I’m Firing Olivia Pope - January 24, 2017
- I’m crossing some things off my list this year - January 11, 2017
- I learned a new word - November 30, 2016
- The best question I’m asking myself these days - July 18, 2016
- A tragic story with a tender twist - May 17, 2016
- Gosh, people are a mess - May 12, 2016
- I’ll take the red carnation, thank you – revisiting an odd tradition - May 2, 2016
- The surprising thing about “weakness” - April 20, 2016
- The holiness of a four-way stop - April 13, 2016