What if I told you that the small irritations you confront every day – traffic jams, a co-worker droning on pointlessly in a meeting, the grouchy checker at the grocery store – are potentially some of your biggest opportunities?
I’ve been working lately on really embracing the big value of small irritations. Each irritation we experience brings with it a learning laboratory that shines a light on how we respond, what our triggers are, what stories we tell, and ultimately how we get in the way of our own peace.
The other day it took me literally the entire day (from eight in the morning to around eight at night) to get my computer booted up and running (or perhaps more accurately, limping). Here’s a Facebook post from a couple days later.
“I have been using my uber-frustrating computer challenges the last couple days as a training ground for not getting sucked into a negative emotional response. Mixed results on that. Sometimes simply stopping and noticing what’s good in my life, or appreciating the beauty out my window, or even being thankful for the opportunity to practice patience. Other times throwing f-bombs around like a drunken sailor. “
Here’s what I love about using our daily irritations to practice becoming the person we want to become. First, they’re going to happen anyway – why not squeeze all the value we can out of them?
Second, they provide a reasonably low-impact opportunity to improve our ability to roll with life. When you get adept at working with the small irritations, you build coping muscles for the bigger challenges in life.
Third, the more I work with the small irritations, the more they cease to be small irritations. The more I let go of my stories about how things should be, the less worked up I get when the rest of the world doesn’t follow my rules.
Try this: For the next week, do a “small irritation experiment.” Notice the things that irritate you. Each time you do, ask yourself some questions, like:
- How important is this, really?
- What can I notice right now that is positive?
- What might be positive about this situation?
- What story am I telling about this?
- What can I let go of?
- What expectation can I soften?
- What can I learn from how I’m responding?
- What might a different response be? Am I willing to explore it?
- What is the hypotenuse of the square root of chi squared times f(x)?
(OK, I admit, that last one was completely nonsensical, without even a shred of sense, but if it works to knock your brain out of the irritation loop, what the heck! Right?)
Give it a try. Experiment with it for a week and see what happens. Don’t expect to navigate your irritations with perfect aplomb (witness my plethora of f-bombs during my computer issues). The key is just to dive in, explore, learn, and grow.
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