“Be master of your petty annoyances and conserve your energies for the big, worthwhile things. It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out-it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.”-Marquis De Custine
Have you ever noticed how many times we can lose our cool over the littlest of things? We spill a little coffee on our shirt, we notice our spouse forgets to buy milk (and she was already at the grocery store), we have to do that crazy toothpaste smoothing/roll-up origami to squeeze the last drop out so our breath doesn’t offend everyone (even our dog) in the morning. There is no possible way anyone could look at these things as life-shattering, (they definitely can make us not-too pleased) but in the moment, we act AS IF they are exactly doing that.
We can begin the day with great intentions, checklists, we are ready to take on the world and then something little happens and we suddenly de-rail. In his book: Triggers: Creating Behavior That Lasts – Becoming The Person You Want To Be, Marshall Goldsmith discusses how there is a definite difference between the planner and doer in our own minds. He also makes a great point, that sometimes the littlest of things can de-rail our doer off the track our planner had set up. He calls these little instances “life’s paper-cuts.” What a brilliant analogy! Paper cuts definitely won’t kill you, but they are so dang annoying, and in all honesty, they hurt… like hell! We run our fingers over a piece of paper and we feel a searing inferno of pain (well maybe I’m a wimp, but go with me here). We drop the paper (and probably our coffee and then yell some sort of expletive) and we immediately assess the damage, expecting to see a large gash or a severed limb or something, and instead we see a little teensy weensy sliver. Sometimes we even squeeze it so it at least bleeds a bit and we don’t feel like such a baby. The point is the damage does not equal the sensation. Sound familiar?
In our lives, these slight instances can create an explosion on perfectly laid plans. The planner in us sets the stage for a beautiful, namaste-ish (totally a real word) day, we sing happy songs in the car, drink our Get Happy, Be Happy Tea (they are actually real products, made by The Republic of Tea, and I bought some right after typing this sentence), roll the windows down to appreciate the beauty of the world around us, and then… we are stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for who-knows-why. And our oxytocin/serotonin/happiness cocktail gets drowned out by a flush of cortisol. We act as if this traffic jam is going to ruin our entire day, that guy we listened to on our meditation app was full of crap, and this tea could just as well be tar. Our entire physiology changes, and it isn’t pretty.
It isn’t just traffic either. People who chew loudly, people who talk loudly on their cell phone in public, a slow-down in internet speeds, partner/spouse not replacing the toilet paper roll when it is empty, rear-view camera not coming on in the car when we put it in reverse, application forms without enough space to write the answer, tangled headphone wires, pen clicking…the list of “pet-peeves” could go on forever. Do a simple internet search, and you will find hundreds of these things that are in reality, quite silly, but can send normal people through the roof and just go completely bonkers (FYI there is some sciencey-again totally a word- reasons for why some of these things bother us so much. Sometimes they can trigger responses in our brains that mimic responses to things far more egregious. Sometimes we are programmed to a higher sensitivity to things. But most times, we just plain over-react).
The good news is that we get to decide how to act when these instances rear their heads. There is a split second moment in time between THING and REACTION. We can train ourselves to pause, interpret, choose a response (there are always multiple choices) and then react. We don’t have to be creatures of impulse-reaction. We have too large of brain for that.
Step one is really simple… breathe. I am pretty sure you remember how to do that. Just pause, take a long breath and then exhale. Maybe even do it a couple of times, that alone will drain a bit of the cortisol swamp that was rising a second ago. Then, consider the actual ramifications of the issue (not the super-inflated knee-jerk reaction of “the day will end if I am 10 minutes late” scenario). Chances are, the actual is much less tragic than the imagined. Then choose how you want to react. There may be times that you truly want to just get ticked off. More power to you, but 99.567% (because everybody says “99.9%” and I just like being different) of the time, you will realize you don’t want to be mad. You can chillax a bit, realize you have more time to sip your Happy Tea, and listen to more songs on your Happy Days playlist and all will be right with the world.
So my advice…Don’t let these paper-cuts make you anemic. Stop the bleeding 🙂