“Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff”

One of the most popular “self-help” books ever written (in fact, it was the best-selling book of the year after it was published and #23 among all books in the last fifteen years, according to USA Today) is “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff….and It’s All Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson, Ph.D. (www.dontsweat.com). I had read it years ago, but last week a client mentioned it and I decided to re-read it. Among the 100 tips given by the author, I was struck by three consecutive ones: # 74, 75, and 76, each of which contains what I feel is valuable guidance in the areas of both work and relationships.

#74) Do A Favor and Don’t Ask for, or Expect One, in Return

Much as we may hate to admit it, I have seen that while many of us will gladly do a favor for somebody, it’s often accompanied by a little mental ledger sheet that pops up in our head registering that we’ve done it. Later on, should there be a disagreement or fight with the person for whom we’ve done the favor, we think (or even say) “After all I’ve done for you……”.A favor is in and of itself a good thing, but when it comes with any expectations attached it’s diminished in its ability to be of value to the giver. When we’re doing a favor for someone it ideally comes from “the goodness in our hearts”. Doing a favor can make us feel capable, generous, altruistic and abundant. But if the favor has a condition attached, even an unspoken one, it loses its value FOR US. And if and when the condition is revealed, it can cause resentment in the person for whom we’re doing the favor. So be good to yourself and do a favor for the sheer joy of doing it.

#75) Think of Your Problems as Potential Teachers

For most people, encountering a problem is usually not enjoyable. Problems can be viewed on a spectrum ranging from disastrous to roadblock to troublesome to inconvenient to, on the more positive end of the spectrum, a challenge or a call to summon the best within ourselves. But perhaps the most beneficial way of looking at a problem is to view it as a learning opportunity – a chance to grow, learn, and expand. Thinking back on your life, I imagine that virtually anything you have learned first presented itself as a problem, from crawling to learning how to ride a bicycle, from making correct change to speaking a foreign language to how to be a good employee or spouse. Problems summon your creative energies, and out of them can come a stronger, more capable you. If you can somehow embrace them as potential teachers, rather than simply try to conquer them, you will find a much greater sense of peace, from which will probably come a simpler and more intuitive solution.

#76) Get Comfortable Not Knowing

You may indeed know, but if you start from that place you’re not open to learning anything new. Starting with “I don’t know” (or at least “I don’t know for sure”) opens you to the possibility that you’ll learn something new. Author Carlson presents an even more valuable aspect to not knowing: the inner peace that comes with allowing for unseen possibility. He relates a story of a wise old man to whom the villagers came seeking advice on how to deal with one apparent catastrophe after another. The wise man’s answer to every characterization of an event as catastrophic was “Maybe so, maybe not”. Each apparent catastrophe contained what turned out to be a blessing in disguise: e.g., a farmer’s son broke his leg, which meant he couldn’t help with the harvest, but the next day soldiers came to conscript every able-bodied man in the village to fight in a war and the son was saved. It may take a little time, but getting comfortable with not knowing can yield many benefits.