A trip to the dentist a few days ago reminded me of the value of thinking outside the box. I’ve always hated having my teeth X-rayed because the equipment is somewhat cumbersome and I gag on it, turning what should be a quick and efficient process into an ordeal. Imagine my relief, therefore, when my erstwhile torturer suggested we try a new approach this time and took the shots with me sitting up instead of lying down. The upright position allowed me to breathe more easily and to feel more in control and the images were done before I’d even had time to worry about it.
How often in life do we force ourselves to endure and struggle through tasks and experiences that really needn’t be so difficult? Speaking for myself, when I come up against an obstacle, my first (and often only) idea is to push harder and harder, to whip myself on until somehow I blunder out the other side. I chastise myself for being feeble, lazy, cowardly – whatever fits the situation – but it very rarely occurs to me that perhaps I could do this differently. I’m aware, at one level, that if I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got, but my answer always seems to be try harder!
If at first you don’t succeed, stand back and look at the big picture. Start by analysing the objective: what are you trying to achieve? Is it actually feasible? And necessary? To take a banal example, if you want to tidy this room, you might try to shove all the extraneous stuff into that cupboard. It won’t fit. And there is absolutely no point in keeping on trying to make it fit, getting crosser and more frustrated as the door won’t shut and every time you open it something falls out. You’re failing not because you’re rubbish at stashing things but because it’s a bad plan. So change it.
This is a lesson I’m still in the process of learning but it’s such a useful one. I’m grateful to my dentist, both for finding a solution to the X-ray problem and for prompting me to shake up my own thinking.