There isn't a lot to look at when you're lying on your back in a dentist chair. So, while unspeakable acts were being performed inside my mouth, I distracted myself by mentally scanning my closet, putting together outfits I could wear to upcoming social engagements. Given the minimalistic nature of my wardrobe, that exercise didn't burn much time. I couldn't help coming back to my immediate situation and the latex-gloved hands darting in and out of my mouth.
Before spinning into a panic, I took several deep breaths. Within one minute, I'd loosed my death grip on the arms of the chair. Two minutes more and I was surprisingly calm. I had abstracted the unpleasant smells and sounds emitting from my mouth to the point of intrigue. How amazing, I thought, that I could so quickly get used to such a disturbing event. Could I have lulled myself into a "new normal" in fewer than five minutes while two relative strangers held my mouth open?
As the procedure went on (and on and on), I pondered the amazing power of adaptability. We humans can unconsciously adapt to a remarkable number of unpleasant and even dangerous situations. For example, I no longer notice my coworker's off-key humming. I reasoned that our adaptability is-by and large-a good thing, although there's a risk that we all are proverbial frogs in our own particular boiling pots.
While driving away from the dentist and back to my workplace, I resolved to pay more attention to the varying states of normal to which I'd grown accustomed. If I could get comfortable with the sound of a dentist's drill so easily, I likely was accepting other unnecessary, unpleasant, and unproductive situations as normal. Why couldn't I set about creating new states of normal by questioning the status quo and role-modeling the positive behaviors I wanted others to emulate?
The power of this simple yet far-reaching concept nearly made me forget that the water I was clumsily attempting to get from my glass to my numbed mouth was probably dripping off my chin.
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