One of the hardest things to do in life is keep things on even-keel. Life is a constant battle between order and chaos – and the slip into chaos can be triggered by the simplest disruptions in our day.
We have to deal with endless mental chatter about our past. We’re constantly reminded of every insecurity that we need to address. Sometimes we come across people at work that make us want to pull our hair out.
Life does it’s best to disturb our equilibrium. Learning to manage your emotions and let go of disruptive thoughts will help you stay relaxed while others scramble to keep themselves in check.
In this article, we’ll discuss how to not let things bother you so much using a few simple strategies for managing your emotions.
Why Do Little Things Bother Us So Much?
Why is it that the smallest annoyances seem to make us upset and anxious? Why is it that we can’t seem to let go of negative thoughts once they’ve entered our mind?
Well, it has to do with a phenomenon called the mental snowball.
Let’s say that you’re looking for your phone before you leave the house. When you start your search for the phone, you begin to get a little annoyed.
“Ugh. This is stupid I know it’s around here somewhere.”
You keep looking, but aren’t having any luck. Suddenly, a few negative thoughts are beginning to make their way into your conscious mind.
Now, you’re becoming a little agitated and visually annoyed. As your thoughts continue to flow, you may begin to pass irrational judgements on yourself.
“Why can’t I find my phone? God I’m such a forgetful person why does this always happen before I leave the house!”
More time goes by, and now the frustration is really bubbling up. Forget about being a little annoyed, you’re flat out pissed off. At this point, your mind is a dog off its leash that can’t be controlled.
- “Fuck! I wish I wasn’t so forgetful. My life would be so much easier.”
- “Why am I the only one that has this issue…Why can’t I get this under control?”
- “Man, if I can’t remember where I placed my phone, how the hell am I gonna build that six figure business I wanna build?”
All of these stupid, useless thoughts fill your conscious mind. After another few minutes of self-loathing, you peek under one of the couch cushions and find the phone you’ve spent the last ten minutes looking for.
Things slow down, but we’re still in a state of high-alert. What started as a minor annoyance turned into a cascading stream of negative thought and feelings.
This is what’s like when we experience a mental snowball – one small event sets us off and all of the sudden we find ourselves drowning in a sea of negativity.
The events that precede mental snowballs come in many forms. Maybe a co-worker makes a joke that gets under your skin. Maybe your boss tells you that you’ve gotta come in on the weekend. Maybe you forget something at the grocery store and need to drive back to get it.
When events like this happen, sometimes we let our mind take over. We blow things out of proportion and have an unnecessarily intense emotional reaction.
Happiness. Inner peace. Fulfillment. All of these things that we want have one pre-requisite built into them – we have to learn to control our mind. If we don’t master our emotions, they will inevitably master us.
The following section of this article will provide valuable tips for how to not let things bother you and tackle this problem head-on.
How To Stop Letting The Past Bother You
Self-loathing thoughts about our past seem to sneak up on us daily. We’re sitting on the couch watching television and then BOOM!
- We think deeply about the mistakes we’ve made that we can’t change
- We start thinking about the chances that we didn’t take.
- We begin thinking about people that are no longer in our lives
- We feel regret and shame while we replay scenarios where fear stopped us from taking action
Thoughts like this hit us hard, and what’s worse is they’re so powerful that we latch onto them really easily. This process that many of us go through is called rumination.
Rumination is the process of continuously thinking the same sad and dark thoughts on a daily basis.
Learning from the past is healthy, but rumination isn’t about learning. It’s about heaping blame on ourselves. It’s about wallowing in guilt and shame over the choices we’ve made.
In other words, it’s an act of self-sabotage that keeps us stuck where we don’t belong. Here are three tips for breaking the cycle of rumination and minimizing the impact of the past on your future.
#1: Accept The Fact That You Can’t Change It
Want to know the stupidest part about living in the past? We can’t do anything to change it.
For years, I struggled with social anxiety, which was complete hell. Each day, there would be those random moments where the mental snowballs of rumination kicked in.
“Fuck, today I didn’t do anything to fix my social anxiety.”
“C’mon Justin, you’ve been telling yourself you were going to take control of this for years. But you’re sill staying in every weekend. You’re still staying in your comfort zone and avoiding risk. What the hell is wrong with you??”
“Last weekend you just stayed inside and didn’t even make an effort to meet new people, are you gonna do that for the rest of your life?”
Our mental chatter is downright nauseating. Can you imagine how much of an asshole we would be if we treated other people like we treat ourselves?
It’s this kind of internal dialogue that defined me for years. It took a long time for me to start taking control of my social anxiety, but here’s a mantra that made it easier for me to stop getting trapped in negative thought patterns:
“Hey mind, the thoughts you’re telling me about my past are 100% true. Thanks for bringing this useless information to my attention!”
This plays into a concept that we’ll talk about next called defusion. You are not your thoughts, and what you’re doing with a mantra like this is building separation between you and your mind.
Instead of letting whatever you’re feeling send you into a mental snowball, you’re labeling it as useless information that doesn’t serve you. Doing this anytime you catch yourself ruminating about the past will significantly reduce its impact.
#2: Practice Defusion
Now after that section you’re probably wondering…what’s defusion? Defusion is a technique used in Acceptance & Commitment Therapy that’s meant to help people cope with unwanted or uncomfortable thoughts.
It’s a process by which you take a step back and look at the big picture. What often happens when unwanted thoughts about the past pop-up is we get tunnel vision. We become fixated on them and send ourselves down a mental rabbit hole of negativity.
When it comes to how to not let things bother you, it’s best to be proactive – that’s exactly what defusion is about. Our minds are going to conjure about all kinds of bullshit all day long about who we are:
- I’m useless
- I’m such a loser
- Why did I do X five years ago
- I’m not good enough
- I’m so anxious all the time
When we fuse with our thoughts, we tend to take them as absolute truths. In other words, we latch onto them and take whatever we’re feeling as fact.
We have difficulty separating them from reality. The truth is that they’re just passing sensations and words, but we don’t see it that way when we’re hooked into them.
Defusion facilitates letting these thoughts come and go while staying present. It’s the ultimate countermeasure to mindless wandering that keeps you in a negative headspace.
Here’s exactly how to not let things bother you using defusion:
- Step 1 is to notice and name the thought
- Whenever an unpleasant thought comes to your mind, start by noticing it and naming it
- Say something like, “I’m having the thought that I’m anxious” or “I’m having negative thoughts about the past.”
If you feel useless, you’re not. There’s just a thought floating around in your head that’s trying to tell you that you’re useless.
If you feel like your goals are out of reach, they’re not. There’s just a thought floating around in your head that’s trying to convince you that your goals are out of reach.
- Step 2 is to defuse yourself from the thought
- Defuse yourself from the thought by thanking your mind and moving on
- Say things like: “Thanks mind for that thought!” or “That’s an interesting thought, thanks mind!”
You can even use this technique to point out the ridiculousness of your mind by saying things like:
- “There goes the untrue story that I’m not good enough! Thanks mind.”
- “Ah, there goes my mind ruminating about the past again.”
- “There goes my monkey mind thinking of something that has nothing to do with the present.”
See what’s going on here? You’re reducing the power that your thoughts have over you by pointing out their absurdity. You’re creating a clear separation between who you are and what you’re thinking.
So whenever you feel your past getting to you, defuse from your thoughts and bring your attention back to the present. The more you do it, the less power your mind will hold over you.
#3: Perform The One Small Step Exercise
One of the main reasons that our past continues to eat at us on a daily basis is because we don’t take any action to create a better future.
When I struggled with social anxiety, the only reason the story of self-loathing kept repeating itself is because I wasn’t taking any action to overcome it.
Mindfulness work is great for reducing the impact of your thoughts. But let’s face it – those thoughts aren’t going away until you do something about them.
This is an exercise I actually came up with while working through my social anxiety. If you don’t know what your biggest demon is, start by asking some self-reflection questions and observing your internal dialogue. (I’d bet that most of you reading this already know what it is)
- What’s the biggest flaw in your life that brings you the most shame?
- What insecurity constantly runs through your head on a daily basis?
- What do you constantly tell yourself that you’re going to fix?
Once you figure out what to focus on, shift your focus to what you can do to make things better. Each morning, think about one small step that you can take today to address your biggest demon.
Whether it’s procrastination, social anxiety, your marriage, a personal relationship you’ve let slip – there’s always something small you can do to make it better or worse.
It’s completely within your power to address the 600 pound gorilla on your shoulder. Commit to an action step that’s so small and that there’s no excuse for not getting it done.
Make it too easy to say no too. Do this day in and day out. If you keep your word to yourself each day, you’ll start chipping away at your biggest demon.
As the small wins start piling up, you’ll start to feel a surge of motivation to get out the hole you’ve built for yourself. Beating down years of demons starts with putting one foot in front of the other.
Remember what Confucious said: “It doesn’t matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.”
How To Not Let Things Bother You At Work
Given that work can be a high-stress environment, it’s easy for us to let things get under our skin.
A stressful day combined with negative internal dialogue can turn it into a ticking time bomb ready to explode. Here are a few tips for how to not let things bother you at work.
#1: Do Something That You Love
Forgive me for being obvious here, but it’s much easier to keep a cool head when you love what you do.
We all possess an internal bias called confirmation bias. Confirmation bias states that as humans, we tend to favor information that confirms our previously held beliefs.
So if you hate your job, what do you think your brain will be doing all day? Well, it’s going to look for evidence that confirms that belief.
Get assigned some extra work from your boss?
“See I knew I hated this job! My boss is such an asshole. Out of all people to give extra work to, he chooses me?”
Someone says something rude to you in the break room?
“Ugh. Yet another reason why I wanna leave this job and go somewhere else. My colleagues just have no sense of respect.”
It doesn’t take much to go from a bad mood to a worse one. With each disturbance, your brain’s beliefs get confirmed which perpetuates the cycle of negativity.
Choose a career that actually excites you. Pick a job not based on the money or the title, but on if you can actually see yourself enjoying the work, or at the very least the subject matter that the work revolves around.
I don’t necessarily love writing, but I love learning about self-improvement. Because of that, writing is easier given that it’s a topic I’m intensely passionate about.
Loving what you do improves your productivity and acts as a protective shield against the inevitable slings and arrows of your chosen profession. It’s much harder to find inner peace and live a happier life when you’re dedicating almost half your waking hours to something you cheer to end each and every week.
#2: Be Empathetic
Our relationships with our colleagues play a significant role in our mental state at work. I have friends that don’t truly love their work, but they love socializing with their colleagues who have turned into life-long friends.
In any job, there will be times when people get under your skin. Maybe it’s an uncharacteristic outburst, a disagreement that gets blown out of proportion, or a dismissive tone that irritates you.
You don’t have much control over this, but you do have control over how you respond. The best way to not let the action of other people bother you at work is to show a little empathy.
For example, if someone blows up at you, or your boss gets short and aggressive with you, it’s easy to think, “Wow. What’s up with him/her today?”
But the truth is we have no idea what internal battles people are fighting:
- Their mother or father may be sick
- Their dog may have died
- They may have just had a huge fight with their spouse before coming to work
- They may be experiencing anxiety or depression
The point is that no one is indestructible. We all have things going on in our lives that can put a chink in our armor and trigger a situational fuck-up
Be aware of this whenever your colleagues get to you. You’ve got shit. They got shit. We’ve all got shit. We’re all just trying to figure it out, and we’re not perfect. So be empathetic with people and don’t rush to judgement.
#3: Occupy Your Mind With a Two-Minute Drill
One of the quickest ways to quiet mental chatter and prevent mental snowballs is to take action.
Doubt and fear are removed by action. If you ever find yourself annoyed or ticked off at work, the best thing you can do is occupy your mind with something else.
Whenever you catch yourself ruminating about the past, feeling nervous about a presentation, or getting angry over something a co-worker said…
Just pick a task and work on it for two minutes. Don’t aim too high because setting a huge target will only lead to feeling more overwhelmed.
It could be responding to an email, making a quick call, printing something out, etc. Whatever it is, it will take your mind off whatever is bugging you by allowing your brain to shift its attention elsewhere.
Your internal dialogue will slow down once you’ve given your brain a new goal to achieve.
How To Not Let Things Get To Your Head
The previous two sections of this article covered how to manage unwanted thoughts and emotions they pop up.
Here’s two simple lifestyle changes that can reduce the frequency with which they show up in the first place.
#1: Start Meditating Every Day
When external events begin to affect our mental state, we experience stress. Stress means that our body releases cortisol and operates in a state of fight or flight – which means that we’re more anxious and on-edge.
Being in this state too often is damaging to our physical and mental health. The antidote to this feeling is our relaxation response, and that’s exactly what meditation helps facilitate.
Meditation reduces stress by triggering the body into a calm and relaxed state where our focus is intensely on the present. As an added benefit, meditation allows us to actually practice deflecting negative thoughts that lead to increased stress.
As you sit and focus on your breathing, your mind is going to wander. You don’t have a say in that, but you do have a say in whether or not you wander along with it.
Meditation helps you become better at letting things go. It improves your ability to concentrate on what’s right in front of you keeps you calm and collected when things get shaky.
If you want to make meditation a daily habit, start small with 3-5 minutes sessions. Once you’ve been consistent enough, start aiming for 10-20 minutes sessions.
#2: Hang Out With Positive People
A positive environment fosters more positivity. That is especially true when talking about the people that we spend time with.
Subconsciously, we begin adopting the worldviews, judgements, and beliefs of the people that we spend the most time with.
It’s only natural. We have a hard-wired survival instinct that motivates us to fit in, and the easiest way to fit in is to align our values with the people closest to us.
So if the people you spend time with are always letting negativity fester and routinely playing the victim card, it’s likely your unconsciously adopting some of those same traits into your life.
On the other hand, if you’re in the company of positive people who exude happiness and lift up other people, you’ll start developing those traits as well.
There’s no cheat code to winning the game of life, but choosing your circle carefully is about as close as you can get.
Final Thoughts On How To Not Let Things Bother You
I hope you enjoyed this article on how to not let things bother you so much.
Life is a constant balance between chaos and order, between sadness and happiness, between anger and joy.
The mix of these emotions is what makes life worth living. Yet, when the negative tends to outweigh the positive, that’s a sign that we need to start managing our emotions better.
Because the truth is that two people can look at the same situation and draw completely different conclusions.
For example, someone who lets things get to them might have a random thought about the past and latch onto it. Then before they know it, they’re in a mental snowball and their mind is polluted with negative thoughts.
On the other hand, someone else might experience that same thought and defuse it. They’ll call it out by name and then say, “Thanks mind,” then proceed to continue whatever it is they were doing before the thought popped up.
It’s a simple choice with far-reaching impacts.
If you can disconnect from your thoughts, choose your friends more carefully, and pursue a career that you love, you’ll start becoming bulletproof. The negativity will always be there, you’ll simply handle it better than everyone else.