Intentional Living

4 Ways to Stop Letting the Little Things Bother You

October 7, 2015

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.

Are you letting the little things ruin your day? 4 tips to let go and move on! ??

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.

RELATED POST: 5 Ways to Be Kinder to Yourself

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.

RELATED POST: 5 Ways to Use Your Journal For Self Care

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.

RELATED POST: The Long Road to Self Acceptance

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.

RELATED POST: 14 Ways to Stop Living for the Weekends

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

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  • This is so brilliant. And yes, I’ve totally felt that rush of anger come on so suddenly… most of the time it happens when I’m on the road here in LA. People are such unsafe drivers!! But you’re right– there’s nothing I can do that can really change their behavior; and being angry at them only makes my own mood foul. Each of the steps you listed here are so useful! Thanks for writing this.

    • Hi Daisy, thank you for your sweet comment. It’s a relief to hear I’m not the only one who gets worked up sometime … although I’m pretty sure LA traffic is a good reason! I’m really glad you found this useful 🙂

  • Yep, guilty! 🙂

    I tend to get annoyed by those little things and my whole mood or day gets off kilter. I just try to remind myself of all those positive things I saw, did, or encountered.

    Love your advice on humanizing other people. What you get irritated with in others you gloss over in yourself.

    • “What you get irritated with in others you gloss over in yourself.” Oooh, I love this! And it’s so true, definitely something to think about. Thanks so much for sharing Wendy.

  • VerveHouseCollective

    Such a great post! It’s amazing how the little bothers of life so often tend to be magnified and made into huge deals – I know I’m guilty of this. The thing is, life is made up of millions of “little bothers”! It all boils down to how we respond to them.

  • Daisy

    Hi Jennifer, it’s been a few weeks since I last visited, & I’m enjoying catching up on your posts. I like what you said about the little things; perspective is everything & often reminds us everything’s still fine after all.

  • Jessie

    I just finished reading this, and I honestly think it just changed my life. I got into an argument with my Significant Other this morning, and if I would have just had these 4 things to keep in mind, it would have went totally different. I’m ready to make a change for the better and I really think that this article is helping me jump start that change. I can’t thank you enough for sharing.

    • Wow Jessie, thank you so much for your kind words and for sharing your story! You’ve absolutely made my day!!

      And In full disclosure, I still struggle with putting a lot of this into practice in my own life, so thank you – your comment has been a great reminder for me to listen to my own advice. x

  • Therese S

    This is honestly one of the best tips of advice I have read on this topic! It totally changed my day and possibly my life. Thank you so much!

    • Wow Therese! I’m so sorry by my late response – but I’m so honoured by your response. I’m so glad that this has helped you!! ❤️ Thank you so much for letting me know xo

  • Christine Snoke Bouquin

    Boy, did I read this at the right time! Thank you for the wise words and advice. Very helpful!

  • Amanda

    Hi Jennifer, I enjoyed reading the article. I just have a question about your first tip, not complaining. I agree with you but I don’t really know the difference between venting and complaining. Sometimes I feel I can’t let something go unless I have complained/vented to someone about it, otherwise I just stew over it in my mind. What are your thoughts on this? Is there a diff between complaining and venting and if so, is venting ok?

    • Hi Amanda,

      Thanks for your comment. I do think there is a difference between complaining and venting … it has to do with your intention. When you complain, it’s often mindless – sometimes you don’t even realise the words coming out of your mouth! When you vent, you more aware of what you’re saying.

      For example, complaining is coming home at the end of the day and going on and on to your partner about how horrible you day was as soon as you walk in the door, or turning to a coworker every time you get an annoying email and going on about it.

      With venting, you choose your place and time, let the person you’re talking to know the purpose of the conversation (“I just need to get this off my chest”), and then you say your piece and move on.

      This is just my opinion! I think venting can be healthy – but we also need to be careful of how often we do it and what we’re talking about. Not everything needs venting; instead, sometimes we just need to take a few deep breaths!

      Thanks for reading! I hope this helps 🙂 x Jen

      PS: I’m still working on this one. A LOT!

  • Sope Hannah Ojolola

    Hi Jennifer,

    I just wanted to say your blog was the most helpful thing to me I have found. I have had a massive problem with overthinking and not letting things go, especially things I am passionate about so that includes things that upset or anger me. However I know there is a better way to handle things, and while I know that a lot of things I am reacting to I am probably in the right, it does not mean that my reaction to it is. Although I do also know that this is much easier said than done, there have been countless times where I want think this to myself constantly but it’s like I just can’t help it. What are some tips for making sure you constantly apply this to your every day life?

    • Hi Sope! Thank you so much for your sweet comment and I apologise I’ve been so slow to respond! Before I answer your question, I first wanted to say I completely understand. Just because I wrote this post and my logical brain knows what’s best doesn’t mean my heart always listens. I’d be lying to you if I said I constantly apply this in my life!

      Having said that, I’m definitely more vigilant than I used to be and it all comes down to self-awareness. The 2 things that have helped me most are: 1) meditation – it helps me slow down my thoughts, so I have a chance to calm down and think logically before I get upset and 2) journaling – I make mistakes all the time, but journaling gives me space to reflect and learn from my actions.

      I hope these tips help you. It’s definitely a learning process and things don’t change overnight. Just keep trying – tiny changes every day really do add up!

      All the best!! xx Jen

  • Carey

    Hi Jennifer,
    I know this post is more than a year old, but I found it in a search of “how to let little things go” and yours is by far the best article I’ve stumbled on for realistic steps to take to put yourself in a better mindset. Like you, I consider myself a very optimistic, future-thinking person, but have been plagued with teeth-grinding impatience and annoyance over the dumbest stuff lately! Thanks for putting me in the right mindset and happy 2017.

    • Hi Carey, I’m so sorry for my slow response to your comment, but THANK YOU so much for your lovely feedback. It really means a lot to me!! x Jen

  • Sonam Sherpa

    Thank you for the article! I can definitely relate and i will try your tips for getting over little annoyances. I think the reflecting then reacting advice will really help!

  • pj mt

    I did not find your post helpful. I would like my money back……just kidding, I liked it.

  • shubhangi jain

    hi Jennifer,
    I really liked your suggestions. i struggle with letting go of my anger & ego-hurt at times and end up instinctively dissecting it to sort it out. It does help to analyse & introspect and make sense of it but there is a big time cost involved in daily life. so, i have decided to think rationally & quite a no. of times that involves letting those feelings go in that moment at least. and i think your suggestions can be some of the ways to actively do it in significant no. of such situations…esp, when it involves a loved one.
    wish u the best of luck in your endeavours!! 🙂

    • Helga

      I feel exactly like you – lots of introspective thoughts, analysis, and discussions with friends about the injustice of it all….I think it makes the situation worse…..this time, I decided to give it a couple of days before I act, and…..well, it’s great! I just calmed down within the 48 hours and now I feel no compulsion to bring it up to the person in question. Go me! 🙂 Thanks Jennifer – great article!

  • Lisa Kempson

    I really enjoyed your post today. Something happened that made me realize I have a hard time letting go of things and I have been a self improvement junkie for years so I was shocked that I’m still doing that. So I googled it and came across your beautiful article. Thank you

    you also mentioned that being quiet in your mind still is a struggle for you so I thought I’d share with you something that really impacted me in that area. someone told me about Vipassana. It’s a 10 day course on meditation. I had failed for years at being able to drop my mental chatter so the idea of 10 days focusing on just that seemed like a really good idea and so I signed up went. The entire course is completely free of charge, they feed you and give you a room to sleep in but is quite comfortable by the way and the food is amazing. It was the most enjoyable and memorable 10 days of my entire life and by day for my mental chatter he dropped away and I came away with a practice that continues to keep my mind at bay, allows me to be in charge of it instead of the other way around. I did my course in Pomona, Queensland, however there are courses all over the world. I thought compelled to share it with you and your readers. Perhaps you’ve already done it and written an article on it, and if so my apologies. Otherwise check it out and I’d love to know what you think about it. Thank you so much for your insights. I so appreciate you sharing your experiences . 💜

  • Carol F

    This morning, I reacted to my boyfriend dropping a disc from a package I had just gotten and it changed my whole mood! I went from feeling happy to feeling like I was in a very bad mood. I wanted to scold him more and more, but I went into the bathroom and grumbled, and then I came out and googled something about getting irritated ruining my whole mood and came across your article. What I got out of it is that I need to get back to practicing mindfulness and challenge the responses I have become automatically disposed to. The other thing that happened was that the awareness your article gave me flipped the switch back to me being in a better mood again. Thank you.

  • Ekta Kamlani

    I usually get upset with small things and this lasts for long hours (i.e. 24 hours). It mostly happens when I am too much tired or have lack of sleep. This article has shown me some ways on how can I fight with this issue and make my life much better. Thanks for writing..

  • Mithila Vaidya

    Hey Jennifer !! The above-mentioned points are fairly easy to implement. Actually, I think I have come to the above stage where its easier to not get sooooo thrown off-gear as I used to be earlier. Vippassana, a meditation technique has helped me calm down. Besides, I myself am taking efforts to rewire my thinking process. Instead of visualising conflicts, arguments etc, I affirm Positivities. I feed myself lot of Positive stuff from all sources possible. Also, look up posts like these. Thanks soo much for the tips again. Cheers !!

  • Choi

    ‘See the little picture’ is the one that helped me.

    But it’s not useful with people who are abusers (in different forms). To those you gotta step up strongly and stop the abuse, otherwise they don’t stop. And understanding to them is an awful idea.

  • Connie Wiese

    Your article is practical and applicableand simple. However, my anger is anything but. My husband lives in constant fear that I will go ballistic at any time over a relatively minor incident. I hate the fact that I create that kind of atmosphere, regardless of where we are. I siffer from depressio and am on meds. I want to understand WHY I am unable to comtrol the anger or why it manifests in the first place. To be clear I am talking about things like bimping my head on a cabinet door or the pans not nesting correctly or having trouble clicking something on my phone (big one). And to make things worse this is the exact disposition my mother had and I would rin and hide when she would launch into a tirade. I despise this. I think I get angriest when something goes “wrong”‘ while trying to eccomplish a task. I know when it is happening that is has the potential to go real bad but feel absolutely powerless to stop it. Perhaps I need more help than you can provide. Thank you anyway.

    • Kay

      Have you looked into SPS personality trait? You may be a highly sensitive person. The reactions which you described sound just like mine, and i hate the way a ‘small’ thing can ruin my day. I consider myself to be highly sensitive, and this may give you a lead to understanding your ways..

    • Hi Connie, I know that this is a late reply, but I recently read a book called Emotional Agility by Susan David. It helped me a lot and I think you might find it helpful too. All the best x

  • Jay Gross

    Hey Jennifer,
    I am So grateful for stumbling upon your page just now!!! Recently something has happened and I have had a overwhelming change come out of nowhere. The thoughts of a complete life change ran through me so fast and I now have applied so many things to this change and my thoughts are SO CLEAR and my mind SO FREE. (where i now searched “How to let the small things go”.) How refreshed I have felt lately for changing my perspective from the way i perceive something to the possible many ways it actually could really be. Then I read one of your pages. I also wanted to say, you seem to mention being an inspiration to Woman, but i believe you are an inspiration to ALL. Although i am a 41 year old male I am subscribing and signing up anyways !!! 😉 Hope you don’t mind 😉 LOL… Keep it up! Your truly a blessing!! P.S- Next stop…. Liking your Facebook page 🙂 Yay!!!..