Psychology

I’ll take my time…

Why it can be better to explore frustrating situations with curiosity.

I walked into my office yesterday, which means a 6km journey along the River Thames and through the City of London. I know I’m incredibly lucky to have this as my commute, so I try to enjoy as much of it as I can.

I normally have an audio-book or a podcast in my ears as I stride along, which keeps me entertained along the way. Sometimes, I end up turning the sound off so I can think through a problem or an idea. Either way, the walk is enjoyable and often quite productive.

(Incidentally, there’s science to support this! Check out ‘In Praise of Walking‘ by Prof. Shane O’Mara from Trinity College Dublin. It’s an excellent summary of the health and cognitive benefits of regular, brisk walks. If you don’t fancy reading the entire book, check out my interview with Shane on the ‘My Pocket Psych‘ podcast from a few months ago!)

Now I’m a fairly fast walker, and I really notice how I have to slow down once I get into the busier streets near my office. It can turn Ito a bit of a slalom, avoiding oncoming pedestrians and the occasional cyclist.

Whatever the reason, I noticed how I was stuck behind someone walking really, really slowly. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t ‘overtake’ them and began to feel frustrated. Which really isn’t that helpful.

Pausing for a moment, I decided to explore why they might be walking so slowly, rather than how I was being delayed.

It set of a chain of thoughts in my mind about how not everyone is exactly thrilled at the prospect of getting into their workplace. Not everyone is dashing to make a start on an exciting project. Not everyone gets to work with supportive and fun colleagues.

Might walking slower be one way to delay the inevitable?

Whatever the reason, my frustration had evaporated and, by the time I was level with this person at a pedestrian crossing, I could see she looked far from happy. A bit younger than me, dressed for work in a City institution, she looked pretty miserable actually.

I reflected on how lucky I am to do something that I (generally) love to do for a living. This thought stayed with me for most of the morning, actually. So I thought I’d share it here for fellow city-dwellers. We can often get frustrated by how others behave on our commutes and we effectively decide that we know why.

But we rarely do. We can’t mind-read, right? Have a think about other explanations for people’s actions and you’ll find that your frustration will probably be replaced by curiosity. Which is possibly best for all concerned.

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