One of our trainers, Adam Mitchell, wanted to improve his climbing and teaching ability so he decided to sign up for the Free Mind coaching we offer. One part of the training requires wearing a Petty Tyrant bracelet, made of leather with a penny attached to it. Petty tyrants are small stressors that irritate us and distract our attention. The point of the bracelet is to continually irritate us. It interferes with anything we do with our hands like washing them, typing on a computer, or climbing. It reminds us that we can learn from irritations and stressors. We honor our petty tyrants—those irritations and stressors—by choosing to respond with curiosity.
Adam honors stress much of the time, but just like all of us, sometimes he gets frustrated. This happened to him while planning a climbing trip to Joshua Tree, California. He wanted to make sure his van was reliable before leaving his home in Austin, Texas, so he took it to an auto repair shop to have a mechanic perform a maintenance checkup. The mechanic did the checkup and told Adam the van needed to have the air filter casing replaced. Adam agreed, so the mechanic replaced it. The next day, Adam thought it would also be helpful to change the air filter itself, so he bought one and installed it himself. Happy with his proactive way of preparing for his trip, Adam started driving to Joshua Tree.
The van stalled five minutes into his trip.“How could the van breakdown? It must be the mechanic’s fault,” Adam yelled to himself. He had the van towed to the auto repair shop. Adam was visibly upset with the mechanic, telling him that he did a terrible job and now he was delayed for his trip. The mechanic apologized and told Adam he’d correct the mistake right away. A few minutes later, the mechanic returned with a broken part in his hand and asked: “Did you replace the air filter after we did the maintenance checkup?” Adam said he had. “Well,” he told Adam, “it seems you must have broken off a part of the casing and it was sucked into the throttle, which stalled the engine. We’ve fixed it and the van is running well again.”
Stressful events like this happen to all of us. What’s important is to realize that we’ll need to deal with them regardless of whether or not we like them. Therefore, choosing to be frustrated will make our journeys anxious. We’ll struggle, not accept what occurred, and assign responsibility haphazardly like Adam did. Choosing to be curious will make our journeys more peaceful. We’ll accept what occurred quickly and begin taking effective action.
Adam was embarrassed when he realized it was his responsibility for the van breaking down. He was also embarrassed that he’d blamed the mechanic. So, he apologized, laughed silently to himself about his mistake, and focused on what he learned from it. He shared the experience with me during our next coaching call. The experience left a big impression on him about the importance of choosing curiosity, which would have led him to the source of the problem quicker, assign responsibility correctly, and maintain more peace while working through it.
We have a saying in the Warrior’s Way training: You know something when you experience it, not before. Stressful experiences such as Adam’s are inevitable. We’re all on learning journeys rife with irritations and stressors, and we’ll make mistakes. Knowing that we’ll be continually irritated by stress helps us accept it and honor it as an important part of our learning process. With acceptance, we can relax, laugh at our mistakes, and be at peace with our learning journeys.