Friday, July 3, 2020

DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF ÔÇô REALLY?!

Popular wisdom encourages us not to sweat the small stuff, but this week, as I found myself dealing with one annoying thing after another, this proved to be a real challenge.

I found myself wondering who decides what’s ‘small;’ and if we feel genuinely aggrieved about something, are we supposed to pretend we feel otherwise, for the sake of playing ‘big?’
The truth is, none of us is beyond losing it at one point or another; and as I’ve come to discover, what we define as ‘small’ is entirely subjective. The point is, how do we deal with those things that really get to us, like people not showing up when they’re supposed to with no explanation; or others making unfair judgements about our lives? There’s no end to the list of challenges that we have to deal with; and with that in mind, here’s what I learned.

Not sweating the small, or for that matter big, stuff is not a choice, it is an absolute imperative. In as much as there’s great reward to be had in life, it also never stops offering us challenges. But every moment spent in rage over things not going the way we expect them to really is unhelpful. It’s exhausting trying to force people to do things they know they should be doing anyway; and your anxiety about anything only brings you pain, not them.

When life brings us challenges we’d rather not have to deal with, there’s only one thing to do: deal with them, but remember: challenges are absolutely designed to help us grow.

When people used to tell me that challenges were necessary for growth, I dismissed this as a platitude people used to make themselves feel better. I thought if only I became more positive, I could avoid negative things happening to me altogether, because then I wouldn’t be attracting them into my life, right? Wrong!

Of course, we attract what we think about into our lives, but unless you’re a monk living in silence on top of a mountain, it’s impossible to be positive all the time; and life will inevitably bring challenges into your life. If you ever go out to shop, pay your utility bills, or even to your local place of worship, the chances are you’ll bump into people or situations that aggravate you. The question is, how do you deal with them?

While the temptation for many of us is to fly off the handle; and in certain instances, we may even be justified in doing so, how long do we allow that negativity to last? Feeling bad is a normal part of life, but it’s just as normal to get over negative feelings.

No matter how justified you think your negative feelings are, whether you’ve been betrayed; suffered loss; been treated unfairly, or disrespected, overcoming negativity is part of life.

Moving beyond bad feelings determines whether we progress or regress; grow or stagnate; and unless you plan on becoming ill (because all prolonged negative emotions ultimately manifest themselves as disease in our bodies), nursing negative emotions is simply not an option.

Instead, find constructive ways of dealing with your challenges by firstly, acknowledging how you truly feel.

If you’re worried about something and people encourage you ‘not to sweat the small stuff,’ remember: only you have the right to decide how you should feel about your situation.

If you find yourself experiencing negative emotions, honour them, but reach for any thought that feels better, even just a little bit. It doesn’t have to have any direct bearing to what you’re dealing with ÔÇô it could even be the fact that it’s been raining after months of no rain ÔÇô anything that makes you feel better.

With a little practice and persistence, all negative emotions can be overcome and replaced with joy.
Remember, it’s difficult to go from feeling acute anxiety about a bad performance report to joy and contentment with the world at large. What’s more, acknowledge that being positive doesn’t mean never having to deal with difficult situations.

It means becoming being aware of the harm that negative rumination over life’s inevitable obstacles can cause in our lives; and determining to always reach for better-feeling thoughts.
With time, you won’t even worry unduly about these challenges anymore. You’ll realise that all setbacks are temporary; and that you have the ability to overcome them.

Accept and bless challenges as growth experiences. What stops most people from benefitting from their difficulties is that they stay focused on their problem, rather than the solution. Every situation has two sides: the problem and the solution; and if life causes you to experience something that you don’t want, without a doubt, it also causes you to realise what you do want.
When you feel bad, it’s because you continue to focus on what you don’t want. If it’s right in front of you, it can be very compelling, but it’s detrimental nonetheless.

Difficult as it may be, once you become aware of your undesired situation, as quickly as you can, focus your attention on what you want. Don’t worry if your mind keeps wandering back to your problem – sometimes, we’ve practiced negative patterns of thought for so long, that they become habitual – but if you practice reaching for more positive thoughts long enough, this too will become a habit.

No matter what you’re dealing with, love yourself throughout the process. Realise that you’re doing the best you can under the circumstances; and that you’re a better person today than you were yesterday.

More importantly, don’t compare your experience to anybody else’s ÔÇô it may take your friend a week to get over a break-up while it takes you a month or longer.

The way you feel is always valid. Just make sure that you use your negative experiences to help you grow, and launch yourself onto something bigger and better, by focusing on what you want, not what you don’t want.

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Sunday Standard June 28 – 4 July

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of June 28 - 4 July, 2020.