June 2016

What Gets Your Goat? How to make life’s little annoyances disappear

Author: Linda S. Hopkins

Several years ago, when I was training to be a life coach, I hired a coach to work with me on my own state of being. One of the exercises she gave me became a favorite of mine to use with clients because it is such a powerful eye-opener. The instructions were to list 50 things that I was tolerating. At first I thought, “No way.” But then, like fingers hovering over the planchette on a Ouija board, my pen moved as if by some spirit guide, and soon I had filled all 50 slots. Even more miraculous was what happened next: Many of my tolerations began to disappear.

If you are like me, you are tolerating more than you think. Tolerations are sources of irritation and distraction that we just “put up with,” often without realizing that they are slowly sucking the life out of us. They can include people, situations, behaviors, attitudes, events, environments, and expectations.

A toleration might be as small and simple as a squeaky door hinge or dull knife or as complex as a relationship that isn’t working or a job that’s unfulfilling. Ultimately, neither size nor complexity matters. It’s the cumulative effect that brings our blood to a boil—those recurring annoyances that simmer beneath the surface, leading to perpetual irritation, possibly a short temper and usually a bad mood.

We tolerate for a number of reasons including external pressures, emotional stresses and unmet needs. We tolerate for good reasons as well, including cultural norms, common courtesy, social responsibility and sometimes a paycheck. For some people, friction serves as a stimulant for creativity and productivity, like the grain of sand in the oyster that ultimately produces a pearl. But at what cost?

Whether we realize it or not, all of our tolerations come at a personal price that includes time, energy, missed opportunities and health. Taken together, even small irritations can create chronic, low-level stress in the body, which can lead to weight gain, depression, a weakened immune-system, and even memory loss.

Elimination through illumination
Take a quick inventory of your own tolerations. I bet you have at least 50. Look around you and notice or think about what’s been bugging you over the past few days, weeks, months or years—big and small—anything that drains energy and causes stress, e.g. the dead plant by the door, a broken fingernail, a squeaky door hinge, the neighbor’s leaf blower, your partner’s snoring, your teenager’s procrastination, your co-worker’s incessant humming, dirty dishes left in the sink, your favorite pair of jeans that apparently have (ahem) shrunk….

Making the list does not mean you have to do anything about it. Not everything on your list can or should be eliminated. But you may find that by exposing your tolerations, you’ll naturally start handling, fixing and resolving them.

Start with the simplest items on your list. Take one at a time. Can you act on it? Can you eliminate it? When faced with a toleration that can’t be fixed or eliminated, look for ways of approaching it that will make it more tolerable or acceptable. Can you change your attitude, reduce your exposure or get help with it?
Some items on your list will involve other people, and this is where it gets tricky. What makes approaching the topic so difficult is not knowing how the other person will react. We fear ridicule, rejection, denial or backlash. And sometimes the potential solutions are terrifying.

Take, for example, the snoring spouse. It’s 2 a.m., and you are wide awake, again, thanks to the log sawing animal on the other side of the bed. So far, the only solutions you can think of are: murder, divorce or separate bedrooms, in no particular order…. Maybe your partner is unaware of his snoring or aware but hasn’t discovered ZYPPAH (that’s Happy Z spelled backwards, in case you haven’t heard the ad.)

The answer might be as simple as a different kind of pillow or as complicated as a session at a sleep clinic to determine the underlying cause. But without having the conversation, you will go on losing sleep and being mad while he snores away, oblivious to your waning tolerance and plot to remove his head.

In the process of voicing a few of my tolerations, I found out that my husband was irritated by my habit of leaving drawers and cabinet doors partially open. I never even knew I did that. Once I started noticing, I was able to change that behavior and stop annoying him. (Thankfully, we have separate toothpaste tubes, so neither of us cares where the other squeezes.)

Some psychologists theorize that tolerations are a mirror of what’s going on inside us and can reflect unconscious decisions we’ve made about what we deserve. Getting to the root of some deep tolerations and making lasting changes may require working with a therapist. But don’t underestimate the power of awareness. Like boogie men under the bed, turning on the light is often the way to make scary stuff go away. 

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