Have you ever found that you’re going about your business, feeling pretty good, when suddenly … a teeny, tiny, non-important stumbling block comes across your path and stomps on your day?
Not sure what I mean?
I’m talking about the moment when there’s no milk for your coffee, or someone cuts you off on the freeway, or there’s a fifteen minute wait at the post office. When someone forgets to say ‘thank you’, or leaves the laundry out in the rain, or disagrees with your taste in films. When you burn your eggs at breakfast, or someone eats the last of the ice cream, or that annoying email from a co-worker asking again where to find a file.
Confession time – I feel like I’m a pretty positive person and I’m always optimistic about my future, but on a day to day basis I feel like I’m letting the little things get to me a bit too often. A few weeks ago I had a minor incident involving a basket of wrinkled laundry that left me thinking that I need to work a little harder at letting go and not letting the little things get to me.
I had a brainstorm and created an action plan for myself, which I’ve been testing out over the past few weeks. I’m certainly not perfect, but I feel like I’m making a tiny bit of progress and getting better at just moving on.
If you ever find yourself in the same boat, here are four ways to let go and stop letting the little things bother you.
RESIST THE URGE TO COMPLAIN
Believe me, I know this one is easier said than done, but the quickest way to not let something little bother you?
Don’t complain about it. When you complain about something, you magnify the situation; you’re drawing attention to a little issue and making it bigger than it needs to be.
I’ll be honest and tell you that I really, really struggle with this. But experience has taught me something important – complaining is a mindless habit.
I’ve noticed that when I complain, it’s almost like a reflex – something that happens automatically without even really thinking about it. It’s a lazy way to make conversation and bond with people and I’m totally guilty of this.
But if you push through this, make the effort to stop complaining, and let things go – you’ll notice a difference.
I know when I make the effort, I always end up feeling better – and hopefully I even have a positive effect on the people around me. (I know for sure that some of the people I admire most are the ones who never complain and go through their day with a smile on their face!)
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LOOK AT THE LITTLE PICTURE
Sometimes I read too much into things, particularly when I’m feeling rundown or tired (or worse – hungry!) When I’m not feeling 100% it’s easy to misinterpret the intent behind other people’s little comments or actions.
For example, “I’m upset because someone ate the last cookie without offering me one” morphs into “I’m upset because no one here thinks of my feelings.” The reality is probably somewhere more along the lines of “Everyone is just really, really hungry and likes cookies” but sometimes reality is hard to see.
Regardless of the real reason you missed out on a cookie (sniff, sniff), the truth is you can’t control the things that happen to you, but you can control how you react. The reality of the situation is the less you let things bother you, the happier you will be.
And a quick and easy way to be less bothered? Focus on the little picture instead. Pause for a moment and turn your attention to the little thing that is bothering you and it becomes easier to see how silly it is (and not worth getting upset about!)
… Instead of “The service in this restaurant is horrible!” (Outrage!)
->> Try “I’m upset because my waitress forgot to refill my coffee.” (No biggie.)
… Instead of “No one here respects my time.” (Sobbing quietly at your desk.)
->> Try “I’m upset because I asked a question in my email and he didn’t answer it.” (Poor attention to detail – forgivable at 8am Monday morning.)
When you choose to focus on the little picture, you choose not to let little things upset your day.
CHOOSE COMPASSION + FOCUS ON HUMANITY
If you find yourself getting upset with someone else, be it a loved one or a co-worker you barely know, you can fight feelings of annoyance by choosing compassion and focusing on their humanity.
Let’s face it – it’s very easy to get annoyed with people, but it’s never a nice feeling. Sometimes you have a good reason and sometimes not so much … but either way, more often than not the best option is to let things go. The easiest way to do this is to pause for a moment and think a humanising thought about the person who has upset you.
Not sure what I mean? Then check out one of my favourite places on the Internet, the Humans of New York Facebook page. With 15 million fans, you may already be familiar with this site, but if not – what it does so well is share the humanity (the history, the pain, the inner thoughts) of the people all around us.
What the pages has taught me is we think of people differently (and with more kindness) when we know their stories. You can apply this to your life as well; next time you get annoyed with someone try to change your focus away from whatever they did to upset you and choose instead to think of their stories.
If you don’t know someone well, you can look for small things (how John from accounting always holds the door for you, or the way the lady ahead of you in the supermarket queue speaks gently with her daughter.) These little moments act as a reminder that the person you’re annoyed with is a actual person, with feelings and struggles just like you.
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LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS
A lot of times, I have a picture of how my day will play out in my mind. I imagine walking into my office early, making a nice hot cup of coffee, and having a fantastically productive morning. (Sounds great, doesn’t it?!)
But instead, sometimes life happens. I can’t find my keys and I’m late out the door. When I go to make my coffee there’s no milk. I open my inbox and starting plodding through the avalanche and the next time I look at the clock it’s 10am. My morning is half over, I’ve had NO coffee and I’ve done nothing on my to do list.
At this point, it’s really easy to write the day off as a ‘bad day’; when you have high hopes for how things will turn out, it’s disappointing and frustrating when things don’t go as planned. However, when your focused on how you expect something to be, it can be difficult to see the reality of the situation.
If I let go of my expectations and open my mind, I can see my day is off to a slow start, but there is still plenty of time for me to change the course of my day.
If you find yourself getting frustrated or annoyed over something small, try pausing for a moment and consider if you’re letting your expectations affect the experience.
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If you’ve noticed one common theme in all of these suggestions, it’s the power of taking a pause – a moment to step back, look at the situation, and then deciding how you want to react.
This has been really inspired by a book I’m reading Wired For Life: Retrain Your Brain and Thrive*. I bought it after seeing the authors speak a few months ago (they are local Brisbane ladies too!) It’s a good book for other nerdy types who might be interested in the actual mechanics of the brain, why we behave the way we do and how to actually train your brain to behave differently. The first step is learning to pause and be aware which is something I’m slowly working on.
*In full disclosure this is an affiliate link – I occasionally share products I love and if you choose to purchase anything from Amazon I receive a small commission, which helps support this site. All opinions are always my own.
How do you deal when the little things start to get to you? I’d love to hear any of your ideas (trust me – I’m still in need of advice) or it would be great to know if any of these methods help you. Let me know in the comments! x
photo credit: Kristina Paukshtite // Used with permission