My new mantra – Don’t sweat the small stuff – Part 1

Don’t sweat the small stuff

I admit it, I can sometimes sweat the small stuff.  The big stuff? Not so much.  I tend to be okay with the big stuff because there are more defined decision points, pros and cons.  If I am honest, I can lose some major hours in a day worrying about things that in the grand scheme of things do not matter.  I recently read the book, Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson.  This book was recommended as part of a Women Taking the Lead podcast.  I relate well to Jodi Flynn, she is also a Type A female leader, and thus trust her opinion.  I added every book she suggested to my book list.  I am so glad this is one of the first books that became available from my library list.

BTW, did I mention that I *finally* have a library card again?  That’s right, 20 years after moving into NYC, I made the leap. Until recently, I didn’t read very many books.  If necessary, I would buy that random book in the airport or download a book to my kindle.  Now that I am reading and listening constantly, I decided it was time to make the leap and sign up for a library card.  Well, wasn’t I surprised by how easy it was, not to mention how much money I can save. Some of us can be slow learners.

Anyway, back to reading listening to Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  Apparently, I was late to this rodeo as well.  The book was published in 1996 and as I talk to others about it, I get the look, “duh, you are just reading it now?!?”  I learned a lot in this book and thought it would be of value to share.  It is an interesting and easy read.  There are over 100 short chapters, each with an actionable insight or practice that you could incorporate into your life to help make a difference.

As I was listening though, I often got a feeling of déjà vu.  I felt he was giving the same advice, just in a different way.  This drove me bonkers, probably because I am a type A, organized person, and I obviously sweat the small stuff (yes, I am hearing my own irony here).  To personally get the most out of it and continue to garnish value, I had to summarize the key points and group all the insights and practices accordingly.  Please keep in mind, this is my interpretation of the book.  You may have a very different understanding or method for extracting the most value for yourself.

Let’s call the key points – DSSS (Don’t Sweat Small Stuff) Guiding Principles.  Each week I will focus on a different principle(s) and share my point of view with the same goal as usual, to inspire and enable each of you.

DSSS Guiding Principles

It’s interesting.  I don’t think I read anything new or earth shattering in the book.  However, in some cases, ideas and explanations reinforced things I already believed in, provided new ways to look at things and most importantly highlighted areas where I had true gaps (ahem, opportunities) to work on.  This goes back to the Loyalty blog and being honest with yourself first.  It has provided me more material to work on!

  1. Make peace with imperfection
  2. Lighten up
  3. Learn to live in the present moment
  4. Fill your life with love
  5. Remember that you become what you practice most
  6. Practice humility
  7. Make service an integral part of your life
  8. Praise and blame are all the same
  9. Seek first to understand
  10. Argue for your limitations, and they’re yours
  11. Lower your tolerance to stress

Make peace with imperfection

Here are some of the chapters/insights that fall into this category:

  • Surrender to the fact that life isn’t fair
  • Give up on the idea that “more is better”
  • Repeat to yourself, ‘life isn’t an emergency’, life is a test and only a test

Pulling up your bootstraps and moving on

Let’s start with the facts: Life isn’t fair.  I think we have all had a lesson on this one early on.  When I asked my mother, “Why does Karen (my sister) always get the new bike and I get her hand-me-down?” or “Why does she get to stay up later (despite being 6 years older)?” or “Why didn’t I win the lottery?” or “Why didn’t I get picked for the team?”  or “Why did my husband leave me?”  I could always count on my mother’s advice, “Sometimes life just isn’t fair.  There is not much you can do about it.  Cry if you want to, but move on quickly.”  If I look back now, this was such sound advice that has allowed me to get through many things. For those that know me, you have probably heard me say at least once, “Just pull up your bootstraps and carry on.” This was the start of building mental toughness.

In some situations, these items helped me practice harder so I might make the team next time.  In other cases, I whined for years (wah, wah, wah, Kathy’s never had her own bike) and celebrated the victory when I bought my first new bike with my own money at the age of 35.  I learned that you can’t win the lottery if you don’t play.  Most importantly, I would use these opportunities to learn  I refused to let them define me.  At the end of the day, I learned to recognize that the universe is not out to get me, it is not singling me out.  I believe things happen for a reason (and you may never find out what that reason is).  The quicker you can accept it and move on, the less stress you will have.  The next time something happens that doesn’t seem fair, ask yourself whether it really matters in the scheme of things.  Can I learn something? Change something?  If not, why fret?

Grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence

This is an opportunity for me to work on this philosophy, “more is not always better”.  I suffer from FOMO – Fear of Missing out.  I will save FOMO for another blog, because I have a ton to share on this.  Let me share one story told by Paul Coelho that I love. It helps me put things in perspective when I get caught up in FOMO.

There was once a businessman who was sitting by the beach in a small Brazilian village.
As he sat, he saw a Brazilian fisherman rowing a small boat towards the shore having caught quite a few big fish.
The businessman was impressed and asked the fisherman, “How long does it take you to catch so many fish?”
The fisherman replied, “Oh, just a short while.”
“Then why don’t you stay longer at sea and catch even more?” The businessman was astonished.
“This is enough to feed my whole family,” the fisherman said.
The businessman then asked, “So, what do you do for the rest of the day?”
The fisherman replied, “Well, I usually wake up early in the morning, go out to sea and catch a few fish, then go back and play with my kids. In the afternoon, I take a nap with my wife, and evening comes, I join my buddies in the village for a drink — we play guitar, sing and dance throughout the night.”

The businessman offered a suggestion to the fisherman.
“I am a PhD in business management. I could help you to become a more successful person. From now on, you should spend more time at sea and try to catch as many fish as possible. When you have saved enough money, you could buy a bigger boat and catch even more fish. Soon you will be able to afford to buy more boats, set up your own company, your own production plant for canned food and distribution network. By then, you will have moved out of this village and to Sao Paulo, where you can set up HQ to manage your other branches.”

The fisherman continues, “And after that?”
The businessman laughs heartily, “After that, you can live like a king in your own house, and when the time is right, you can go public and float your shares in the Stock Exchange, and you will be rich.”
The fisherman asks, “And after that?”
The businessman says, “After that, you can finally retire, you can move to a house by the fishing village, wake up early in the morning, catch a few fish, then return home to play with kids, have a nice afternoon nap with your wife, and when evening comes, you can join your buddies for a drink, play the guitar, sing and dance throughout the night!”
The fisherman was puzzled, “Isn’t that what I am doing now?”

 I often question myself, “why are you going through all this mental anguish? Is the outcome going to provide something much better than what you have today?  I play my positive talk track to override my FOMO – enjoy what you have in front of you. When you finish enjoying that you can move on to the next thing.  I envy the people that naturally do this.  I am going to continue to practice!

Life isn’t an emergency

Life isn’t an emergency, this is a mantra that I also need to keep reminding myself.  Don’t get me wrong, there are sometimes emergencies. However, that typically involves trouble breathing, excessive bleeding or possibly a bad break/sprain.  In these cases, call 9-1-1 and stop reading this blog!  Most other things, however, truly do not constitute an emergency. If you are walking home when it starts pouring and you are not carrying an umbrella, accept it.  You are going to get wet.  As my mother would often tell me, “You will not melt.”  I can attest to the fact that I have yet to melt despite the rain.  Unfortunately, for some reason, which is beyond my understanding, I will often classify something as an emergency in my mind.  Well, maybe not an emergency but a “sky is falling” scenario.  OMG, my parents are coming in 2 hours and we don’t have any food in the apartment!  As Ralph will try and remind me, “this is not a tragedy.”

I had just finished reading this book and my parents were coming in for an early dinner on Friday, 3pm to be exact.   I had planned the menu on Thursday night and was feeling quite proud that I had made a few quick decisions, along with a grocery list and could knock it out easily on Friday morning.  However, the weather on Friday morning did not want to cooperate (yes, still haven’t gotten over my fear that I might melt), nor my need to get a few other things done.  When 1pm rolled around and I still hadn’t left the apartment to go shopping, I started to panic. I could feel the blood pressure rising.  I could hear the pace of my dialogue with Ralph increase and my level of frustration skyrocket.  With the book still fresh in my mind, I started to use some of the techniques to help me not sweat the small stuff.  The main one that I stated over and over was, “Life is not an emergency.”

This is my parents, coming into NYC to visit and catch up.  They were not expecting a gourmet meal (especially not from me!).  I also stopped and recognized that my elevated stress level was having an impact on my time with Ralph.  As I was barking orders, his levels of frustration were rising. Right, one step at a time.  First, go to the store. Success, I was out the door.  While walking, I kept chanting, “this is not an emergency, this is not a big deal.”  My blood pressure slowly began to decrease. I quickly realized that I could buy a rotisserie chicken and sides for less than the cost to purchase the chicken and other ingredients, as well as eliminate the time needed for prep and the craziness that would ensue. I called Ralph and told him we were going with Plan B.  This then came out of my mouth, “this is not a big deal, let’s focus on enjoying the preparations and being in a good mood for when my parents got there.” Ralph in return asked, “Who is this and what did you do with my wife?”  In that one event, I managed to implement multiple strategies to help me enjoy the afternoon, I surrendered to the fact that sometimes life (or the weather) is not fair, I gave up on the idea that “more is better” and I repeatedly told myself that “life isn’t an emergency” and believed it!   Needless to say, we had a lovely afternoon with our family.

Finding Peace

This first DSSS Guiding Principle – Make Peace with Imperfection helps me reset my thinking and remember that I cannot control everything and quite honestly most things are not a big deal.  Each morning, I spend time with my Affirmations and ask myself, what strategies am I going to deploy today to help me not to sweat the small stuff.  Today, I promised to remind myself that life is not fair, nor is it an emergency, and that less is more. I believe if I say it enough times it will become engrained and then the norm.  This will then allow me to make peace with imperfection and leave more time to be happy and enjoy life.

The next time you start to stress, or get caught up trying to make everything perfect, may this scene from my favorite movie, Dirty Dancing, as they arrive in the Catskills help inspire you not to sweat the small stuff:


Lisa : “Oh, my God. Look at that! Ma, I should have brought those coral shoes. You said I was taking too much!”                                                                 Mom: “Well, sweetheart, you brought ten pairs.”                                                 Lisa : “But the coral shoes match that dress!”                                                       Dad: “This is not a tragedy. A tragedy is three men trapped in a mine, or police dogs used in Birmingham.”                                                                             Baby: “Monks burning themselves in protest.”

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