I’m impressed by people who let things roll off their shoulders. I can’t seem to let things go, sometimes to the point of losing sleep, getting distracted from my other tasks—the list goes on. I often get like this when someone is upset and they’re coming down on me, usually external customers. How can I make sure these types of interactions don’t ruin my day or week?
It’s Bringing Me Down
Dear It’s Bringing Me Down,
I empathize, truly. When even one aspect of our life is uncomfortable or apparently out of control, it can discolor everything. I’ve experienced this more times than I can remember.
Here’s my tireless litany to myself (and anyone else who cares to listen): there are no problems, only projects. In other words (and this is the hard news), we only worry about things we wish were different but that we aren’t actively engaged in changing. We don’t complain about gravity, for example, even though it might contribute to a lot of challenges.
This is not to pretend that things are always easy or comfortable. It means that when we worry or complain, it’s because there’s a bell ringing (something bothering us) to which we haven’t yet responded. The world itself is fine—it’s not overwhelmed or stressed—just look out your window. The issue is how we are engaged with our world.
For example, if something is bugging me and I want it to stop bugging me, I have to figure out why it bothers me, what I might be able to do about it, and then engage with my commitment to its resolution. If I learn there’s nothing I can do about it, I must accept it as part of the landscape in which I operate. That’s strategic thinking. In short, if there is something I can do to clarify, resolve, or eliminate the tension I feel, what’s my next action? That’s what I need to determine and then do.
Responding in this way may not create the world you want, but it will help alleviate the feelings you talk about.
One perhaps silly but sure way to reduce your stress is to lower your standards. So what if X or Y or Z happens, or doesn’t? Life’s like that; and I’ll survive. Your acquaintances who “let things roll off their shoulders” may be in that camp.
But since you’re probably not going to lower your standards, the best relief (at least symptomatically) will come from reviewing and reflecting on all your commitments and values, and the challenges you face. You need to look at your situation from a larger and higher perspective. And you’re not going to do that in your head. As you may have heard me say, your mind is a lousy office.
Reflect on these questions, and write your answers somewhere: Why are you on the planet? What’s your purpose? What really matters to you, in terms of your values? What’s your vision of a successful future? What must you do to realize that vision? What do you need to maintain? What projects do you need to define and complete? What are your next actions?
When I reflect on these questions myself, it helps me accept the things other people do that I don’t like. It’s easier for me to empathize, realizing everyone is trying to do their best with what they know and where they are. I’ve realized that about myself.
This response to your question is probably more daunting than you had hoped, and for that I apologize. If I had a simpler remedy, I would gladly give it. I don’t. Welcome to this classroom called life.
All the best,