“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff.”
Say this to someone who just had their plane delayed. I dare you. Of course, you will get slapped, but it might be kind-of titillating if you like living on the edge like that. Totally your call.
To be fair, this might seem like really good advice to you. You might equate it to a prescription to live in the moment, seize the day, or some other bumper-sticker truism that we throw around at each other. The problem with it is that it doesn’t actually work. It’s like telling a hysterical person to “calm down”. I’m going to say something shocking: “good advice” that isn’t usable isn’t good advice. Don't get me wrong, Richard Carlson did write a good book. Unfortunately everyone quotes it out of context and thinks they have found the secret of the universe. I guess it's easier to quote book titles (see my use of the above quote as an example.)
The advice fundamentally doesn’t work because each of us has a relative definition of what is considered “small stuff.” Furthermore, our definition only changes through either a change of circumstances or a change of mind. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know that I don’t like to just hate on something without providing an alternative, and this blog is no different. So, here’s my counter-argument.
You have two choices. Either stop sweating what’s outside of your control OR sweat it all out as quickly as possible until it’s out of your system and then keep doing what you can. We actually have far more control than we like to think, but because most of what is “controllable” is our behavior (actions, reactions, etc) which we prefer to delegate to our Neanderthal lizard brain.
There’s another even more dangerous component to this advice – if you have something that needs to be treated like anxiety, depression or any number of other chemical imbalances or life stressors, being told “don’t sweat the small stuff” is the verbal equivalent of being told that your “objects in mirror are closer than they appear” rearview mirror is inaccurate. Scary, dangerous, and bewildering. Definitely not helpful.
We can stop sweating what’s outside of our control when we create habits that support us in making progress on the things that matter most – no matter what. It’s that simple.
This is so, so important for creatives because we are incredibly sensitive. Once again, the generic advice to “be less sensitive” doesn’t work because it is fundamentally impractical.
1. Identify the top 3 most important areas of your life (there is no right answer).
2. For each category, write down 1 small, measurable, EASY thing can start today to make progress. What’s the smallest action you could take every day?
In case you need some guidance, here’s mine as an example:
Top 3 Areas: Health, Creativity, Relationships
Now, here’s the wrong way to do it.
Health: “90 minutes of hot yoga every day”
Creativity: “Play harp until my fingers bleed every day, including bank holidays.”
Relationships: “Stare into Bryan’s eyes while hand holding for 30 minutes straight the moment we get home from work. Also, maintain a robust social life in between hot yoga and bandaging my bloody fingers.”
Hmmm. Kind-of overkill, and you know what will happen? I’ll get so freaked out that I won’t do anything. Every impediment to me doing any of this will make me explode in frustration and anger. I’ll be upset with myself and others. I’ll be sweating the small stuff and ready to punch anyone who bumps into me on the subway.
Here’s a better way to do it.
Health: “Move 20-30 minutes a day – anything goes!”
Creativity: “Wake up 30 minutes earlier to practice 4x a week”
Relationships: “Exchange gratitude lists either by text or in person.”
These are small, doable tasks. I might be so encouraged that I decide to do more next time. Either way, I set up habits that create better behavior over time. Another very important bi-product of being so focused on these small habits is that you will actually find yourself having less time and energy to invest in meaningless work drama, shenanigans, and bozos who want to dump their complaints on you. Maybe a better title would’ve been “Don’t Invest Your Energy In Sh*t that Isn’t Your Priority.” But that’s not quite as sexy of a title.
In love and light,