Yes, there is a formula for life success.
Unfortunately, it isn’t what you think.
Recently I had a meeting in beautiful Boulder, Colorado. My work meeting was going to let out at just the right time for me to go do one of my favorite hikes. I am rarely in Boulder so when I am pairing business with pleasure is a fabulous opportunity. I’d been looking forward to this sunset hike for weeks. I REALLY wanted to do this.
I was working a life formula that looked like this: Good proximity (a) + desire to do a favorite hike (b) = great evening for me!
This is often the type of formula we create: a + b = the life that we want.
Life, however, most often has a slightly different formula. Occasionally you can get a + b = life you want. It’s great when it works out. Mostly though, life’s formula looks like this: a + b + (insert unknown x factor here) = the life that we get
What is this x factor? Well, the x factor is all the unknown variables that life throws into the mix. Often it looks like a small hassle like traffic, a dog having an accident on the carpet, or the restaurant being out of your favorite dish. Sometimes it is a big life positive such as an unexpected raise, your best friend moves closer to you, or that spot on your wrist is just a cyst, not a tumor. Occasionally, life hands you a big life stressor: that bump is cancer, your best friend moves away, you have a terrible new boss. The x factor represents all the things, small and large, that don’t figure in neatly to your calculations.
Refusing to acknowledge the existence of the x factor makes people miserable. I see folks try to do this a couple of ways. One is that people will avoid considering any change to their formula. They will get angry (see every person in line shouting at the gate attendant when a flight is delayed) because “their plan” isn’t going “their way.” They will let themselves descend into outrage because things aren’t going according to their a + b formula. Another avenue I see folks tangle unsuccessfully with the x factor is when people try to outwit it. When this happens, anxiety is often running the show. Folks will try to account for every possible problem, thinking that they can somehow control the arrival and type of x factor they will face. Unfortunately, this tends to lead to disappointment. While we can predict with some certainty an x factor and subsequent outcome, we often miss the mark.
For example, I couldn’t predict that there would be a thunderstorm right over the location of my hike. It wasn’t called for so I didn’t think of it, and, since I still don’t have much control over weather patterns and I couldn’t make it magically go away.
This is where psychological flexibility comes in. I needed to adjust my formula to account for the unexpected x factor of a storm. To get closer to the life I wanted (a fun night out on my own) I had to accept the thunderstorm and make a new plan. I still had (a) proximity but (b) hiking was out of question due to x (thunderstorm). So, I changed (b) to dinner out. Didn’t get my workout, or the joy of this particular hike, but I still got to enjoy my evening.
Next time life is giving you an unexpected x factor, you can smile and feel grateful that you know this is just all part of the gig. X factors welcome. You’ve got this!