Have you ever found that you’re going about your business and 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. It’s when someone forgets to say “thank you”, or leaves the laundry out in the rain, or disagrees with your taste in films. It’s how you feel when you burn your eggs at breakfast or find out someone ate the last of the ice cream, or the frustration of getting yet another annoying email from a co-worker asking 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 think 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 perhaps I need to work a little harder on letting go and not letting the little things get to me.
I brainstormed and created an action plan for myself, which I’ve been testing out over the past few weeks and I think it’s making a difference. I’m still a work in progress but I feel like I’m getting better at letting go and moving on from things that don’t really matter.
If you’ve ever found yourself in the same boat, then I think there’s a good chance these ideas might help you too. Here are four ways to move on and stop letting the little things bother you.
RESIST THE URGE TO COMPLAIN
Believe me, I know this is easier said than done, but I’ve learned that the quickest way to keep something from bothering you is to not complain about it. I know this goes against the popular belief that you should “get things off your chest” but in my experience, when you complain about something, it magnifies the situation. You draw attention to the issue and make it bigger than it needs to be.
In full disclosure, I really struggle with this, but experience has taught me that complaining is a mindless habit. It’s almost like a reflex and I do it without thinking—or, when I do it on purpose, it’s usually a case of making lazy conversation. It’s a tough habit to change but the more I call myself out, the better I’m getting stopping.
It’s hard but it’s worth it. When I make the effort to stop complaining, I almost always feel better and hopefully, I even have a positive effect on the people around me.
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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 about my feelings.” The truth is probably somewhere more along the lines of “Everyone is just really, really hungry and likes cookies” but sometimes reality is hard to see—and to be honest, it doesn’t always matter.
Regardless of the real reason you missed out on a cookie, the truth is you can’t control the things that happen to you, but you can control how you react. It’s not always fair but the less you let things bother you, the happier you will be. (This isn’t to say you should never stick up for yourself but perhaps you should choose your battles, or at a minimum make sure there’s actually a battle there to fight!)
One quick and easy way to be less bothered is to focus on the little picture. When you feel yourself getting upset, pause for a moment; turn your attention to what’s bothering you and try to frame it in it’s simplest form. For example:
… Instead of “The service in this restaurant is horrible!” (Outrage!)
->> Try “I’m upset because my waitress forgot to refill my coffee.” (No big deal)
… Instead of “No one here respects my time.” (Sobs 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 8 am on a Monday morning.)
When you choose to focus on the little picture, you choose not to let little things upset your day.
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CHOOSE COMPASSION + FOCUS ON HUMANITY
If you find yourself getting upset with someone else—anyone from a loved one to a co-worker you hardly 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 other times less so … but either way, letting go is often the best option and one easy way to do this is to think humanising thoughts about the person who has upset you.
If you’re not sure what I mean, then I encourage you to check out one of my favourite places on the Internet: the Humans of New York Facebook page. With over 15 million fans and counting, you’re probably already familiar with it, but for those who don’t know the page shares photographs and stories of random New Yorkers. It’s become wildly popular because the creator shares the humanity (the history, the pain, the inner thoughts) of the people he photographs.
What the page has taught me is that we think of people with more kindness when we know their stories. We can use this knowledge to be more compassionate in our daily lives; next time you get annoyed with someone, try to shift your focus away from whatever did to upset you and instead, think of their stories.
If you don’t know someone well, look for small details; think about how John from accounting always holds the door for you, or the way the lady ahead of you in the supermarket queue is speaking gently with her daughter. These little moments act as reminders that the person you’re annoyed with is an actual person, with feelings and struggles just like you.
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LET GO OF EXPECTATIONS
Often times, I have a picture of how I hope 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 in reality, sometimes life happens: I can’t find my keys and I’m late out the door. Then, when I go to make my coffee … there’s no milk. When I finally get to my desk and open my inbox, I’m flooded with emails and when I next look up it’s 10 am. 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” because when you have high hopes for how things will turn out, it’s disappointing when things don’t go as planned. But the truth is your expectations are often clouding the reality of the situation.
If you can let go of your expectations and open your mind, you’ll notice that yes, the day is off to a slow start, but it’s far from over. There is still plenty of time to change course and turn things around.
If you find yourself getting frustrated or annoyed over something small, try pausing for a moment and asking if you’re letting your expectations affect the experience.
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FINAL THOUGHTS AND AN UPDATE
2018 UPDATE: This post is one of the first I ever wrote for this blog and at the time, I could never have imagined it would become so wildly popular. I’m truly humbled by the response and by the many heartfelt comments, so thank you. ❤️
Having said that, I feel like this post deserves an update because I’ve learned a lot about myself over the past few years. I still believe in the tips mentioned above but I feel like I should add that “getting bothered by little things” is often a symptom of a bigger problem (or at least it was for me).
For me, I was struggling because my life was out of alignment, which means that the way I was spending my time and energy didn’t reflect my values and dreams. I wasn’t taking care of myself and I was working too much, which meant there was a lot of hurt and anger under the surface. Most of the time I didn’t notice it but it was always there, which is why I let “little things” bother me so much.
I’m still not perfect but I’ve made a lot of changes; I’ve recommitted myself to simple, intentional living and I’ve invested a lot into developing my self-worth.
If you’d like to learn more about these changes, I recommend starting here and then exploring some of my more recent blog posts. You can also subscribe to my newsletters using the form below (and as an added bonus, you’ll get a copy of Mindful Decluttering, a free guide to clearing the clutter from your life).
Thanks for reading and have a lovely day!
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