“It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe”
– Muhammad Ali
Back in 1997 Richard Carlson wrote the self-help book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff,” a fun, light read reminding us to refrain from getting bogged down by relatively minor life stressors. Admittedly, the core message of keeping things in perspective is incredibly simple, yet it is also amazingly powerful. We all experience life stress, but we don’t all experience it the same way — in other words, some people really do quickly move by relatively minor stuff in life, while others allow even the smallest things to turn into catastrophes. The great news is we have the ability to choose how we deal with stress, and whether you frame your stress as threatening or challenging is entirely up to you.
The pebble in your shoe…
Have you ever walked around with a pebble in your shoe? You know the feeling — it’s there, you feel it, and while it’s obviously not life-threatening, it’s annoying. What do you do?
- Continue to walk around with the pebble while feeling mildly uncomfortable?
- Continue to walk around, but you become incredibly upset and bothered, so much so it literally ruins your day?
- Take your shoe off, remove the pebble, and carry on with the mindset that a small nuisance won’t ruin your day?
The first option, leaving the pebble but feeling uncomfortable, always keeps the nuisance in the back of your mind as opposed to facing the stressor and solving the problem. It’s not the worst response, but it’s also not the most effective, either.
The second option is the classic making a mountain out of a molehill problem. With this example something that really shouldn’t be a big problem becomes one, and it even ends up ruining the rest of the day. This response is the least effective, most problematic way to counter an otherwise minor stressor! In fact, many of the clients I see struggle with challenges just like this — rather than effectively dealing with the problem, they instead ignore it, put it off, or add to the problem.
The third option, removing the pebble and moving on, is the best option in almost every case. Why let that guy who cut you off in morning traffic continue to bother you at lunch? Many times in life we allow an earlier nuisance consume our day, when we would have been much better off using Carlson’s advice to not sweat the small stuff. Why give more time, thought, and energy to stressors that simply aren’t worth it?
When you stop to think about it, seemingly “little things” can quickly add up and eventually cause much bigger stress. It takes energy to “sweat over the small stuff,” and the worry that accompanies the “sweating” doesn’t help, either. Instead, evaluate your life stress in responsible ways — let the little things go, allowing you greater time and energy to put toward life’s bigger problems. By more effectively managing your stress, you’ll experience better focus, motivation, and resiliency, all qualities commonly found in peak performers.