Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Friday, Inspiration, Learning

Transform Your Relationship to Your Problems

Chapter 23 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Obstacles and problems are part of life. True happiness comes not when we get rid of all our problems, but when we change our relationship to them when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice patience and to learn. Perhaps the most basic principle of spiritual life is that our problems are the best places to practice keeping our hearts open. 

Certainly, some problems need to be solved. Many others, however, are problems we create for ourselves by struggling to make our life differently than it actually is. Inner peace is accomplished by understanding and accepting the inevitable contradictions of life—the pain and pleasure, success and failure, joy and sorrow, births and deaths. Problems can teach us to be gracious, humble, and patient. 

In Buddhist tradition, difficulties are considered to be so important to a life of growth and peace that a Tibetan prayer actually asks for them.  It says, “Grant that I may be given appropriate difficulties  and sufferings on this journey so that my heart may be truly awakened and my practice of liberation and universal compassion may be truly fulfilled.” It is felt that when life is too easy, there are fewer opportunities for genuine growth. 

I wouldn’t go so far as to recommend that you seek out problems.  I would, however, suggest that if you spend less time running away from problems and try to rid yourself of them—and more time accepting problems as an inevitable, natural, even important part of life—you will soon discover that life can be more of a dance and less of a battle. This philosophy of acceptance is the root of going with the flow. 

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Life, Monday

Stop Blaming Others

Chapter 22 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

When something doesn’t meet our expectations, many of us operate with the assumption, “When in doubt, it must be someone else’s fault.” You can see this assumption in action almost everywhere you look—something is missing, so someone else must have moved it; the car isn’t working right, your expenses exceed your income, so your spouse must be spending too much money; the house is a mess, so you must be the only person doing your part; a project is late, so your colleagues at work must have not done their share—and on and on it goes. 

This type of blaming thinking has become extremely common in our culture. On a personal level, it has let us believe that we are never completely responsible for our own actions, problems, or happiness. On a societal level, it has led to frivolous lawsuits and ridiculous excuses that get criminals off the hook. When we are in the habit of blaming others,  we will blame others for our anger, frustrations, depression, stress, and unhappiness. 

In terms of personal happiness, you cannot be peaceful while at the same time blaming others,  Surely there are times when other people and/or circumstances contribute to our problems, but it is we who must rise to the occasion and take responsibility for our own happiness. Circumstances don’t make a person, they reveal him or her.

As an experiment, notice what happens when you stop blaming others for anything and everything in your life.  This doesn’t mean you don’t hold people accountable for their actions, but that you hold yourself accountable for your own happiness and for your reactions to other people and the circumstances around you. When the house is a mess, rather than assuming you’re the only person doing your part, clean it up! When you’re over budget, figure out where you can spend less money. Most importantly, when you’re unhappy, remind yourself that only you can make yourself happy. 

Blaming others takes an enormous amount of mental energy. It’s a “drag-me-down” mindset that creates stress and disease. Blaming makes you feel powerless over your own life because your happiness is contingent on the actions and behavior of others, which you can’t control. When you stop blaming others, you will regain your sense of personal power. You will see yourself as a choice maker.  You will know that when you are upset,  you are playing a key role in the creation of your own feelings. This means that you can also play a key role in creating new, more positive feelings. Life is a great deal more fun and much easier to manage when you stop blaming others.  Give it a try and see what happens.

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Thursday

Think of What You Have Instead of What You Want

Chapter 21 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

In over a dozen years as a stress consultant, one of the most pervasive and destructive mental tendencies I’ve seen is that of focusing on what we want instead of what we have. It doesn’t seem to make any difference how much we have;  we just keep expanding our list of desires, which guarantees we will remain dissatisfied.  The mindset that says “I’ll be happy when this desire is fulfilled”  is the same mindset that will repeat itself once that desire is met. 

A friend of ours closed escrow on his new home on a Sunday. The very next time we saw him he was talking about his next house that was going to be even bigger! He isn’t alone.  Most of us do the very same thing, We want this or that.  If we don’t get what we want we keep thinking about all that we don’t have—and we remain dissatisfied.  If we do get what we want, we simply re-create the same thinking in our new circumstances.  So, despite getting what we want, we still remain unhappy.  Happiness can’t be found when we are yearning for new desires. 

Luckily, there is a way to be happy. It involves changing the emphasis of our thinking from what we want to what we have. Rather than wishing your spouse were different, try thinking about her wonderful qualities.  Instead of complaining about your salary, be grateful that you have a job. Rather than wishing that you could take a vacation to Hawaii, think of how much fun you have had close to home. The list of possibilities is endless! Each time you notice yourself falling into the ” I wish life were different” trap, back off and start over.  Take a breath and remember all that you have to be grateful for. When you focus on not what you want, but on what you have, you end up getting more of what you want anyway. If you focus on the good qualities, she’ll be more loving. If you are grateful for your job, rather than complaining about it, you’ll do a better job, be more productive, and probably end up getting a raise anyway. If you focus on ways to enjoy yourself around home rather than waiting to enjoy yourself in Hawaii, think of how much fun you have had close to home. The list of possibilites is endless! Each time you notice yourself falling into the “I wish life were different” trap back off and start over.  Take a breath and remember all that you have to be grateful for. When you focus on not what you want, but on what you have, you end up getting more of what you want  anyway.  If you focus on the good qualities of your spouse, he’ll be more loving. If you are grateful for your job rather than complaining about it, you’ll do a better job, be more productive, and probably end up getting a raise anyway. 

Make a note to yourself to start thinking more about what you have than what you want. If you do, your life will start appearing much better than before. For perhaps the first time in your life, you’ll know what it means to be satisfied.

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Monday

Turn Your Melodrama into a Mellow-Drama

Chapter 20 ~  Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

In a certain respect, this strategy is just another way of saying, “Don’t sweat the small stuff.”  Many people live as if life were a melodrama—- “an extravagantly theatrical play in which action and plot predominate.” Sound familiar? In dramatic fashion, we blow things out of proportion, and make a big deal out of little things. We forget that life isn’t as bad as we’re making it out to be. We also forget when we’re blowing things out of proportion, we are the ones  doing the blowing. 

I’ve found that simply reminding myself that life doesn’t have to be a soap opera is a powerful method of calming down. When I get too worked up or start taking myself too seriously ( which happens more than I like to admit), I say to myself something like, ” Here I go again.  My soap opera is starting.”  Almost always, this takes the edge off of my seriousness and helps me laugh at myself.  Often, this simple reminder enables me to change the channel to a more peaceful station. My melodrama is transformed into a “mellow-drama.” 

If you ever watched a soap opera, you’ve seen how the characters will take little things so seriously as to ruin their lives over them—someone says something to offend them, looks at them wrong, or flirts with their spouse. Their response is usually, “Oh my gosh. How could this happen to me?” Then they exacerbate the problem by talking to others about “how awful it is.”  They turn life into an emergency—a melodrama.

The next time you feel stressed out, experiment with this strategy—remind yourself that life isn’t an emergency and turn your melodrama into a mellow-drama. 

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Thursday, Your Health

Become a Less Aggressive Driver


mdroadrageChapter 19 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

Where do you get the most uptight? If you’re like most people, driving in traffic is probably high on your list.  To look at most major freeways these days,  you’d think you were on a racetrack instead of a roadway.

There are three excellent reasons for becoming a less aggressive driver.  First, when you are aggressive, you put yourself and everyone else around you in extreme danger.  Second, driving aggressively is extremely stressful.  Your blood pressure goes up, your grip on the wheel tightens, your eyes are strained, and your thoughts are spinning out of control.  Finally, you end up saving no time in getting to where you want to go. 

Recently I was driving south from Oakland to San Jose. Traffic was heavy, but moving. I noticed an extremely aggressive and angry driver weaving in and out of the lanes, speeding up slowing down.  Clearly, he was in a hurry. For the most part I remained in the same lane for the entire forty-mile journey.  I was listening to an audiotape I had just purchased and daydreaming along the way.  I enjoyed the trip a great deal because driving gives me a chance to be alone.  As I was exiting off the freeway, the aggressive driver came up behind me and raced on by.  Without realizing it, I had actually arrived in San Jose ahead of him.  All of his weaving, rapid acceleration, and putting families at risk had earned him nothing except perhaps  some high blood pressure, and a great deal of wear and tare on his vehicle. On average, he and I had driven at the same speed.

The same principal applies when you see drivers speeding past you so that they can beat you to the next stoplight. It simply doesn’t pay to speed. This is especially true if you get a ticket and have to spend eight hours in traffic school. It will take you years of dangerous speeding to make up this time alone. 

When you make the conscious decision to become a less aggressive driver, you begin using your time in the car to relax. Try to see your driving not only as a way of getting you somewhere,  but as a chance to breathe and to reflect.  Rather than tensing your muscles, see if you can relax them instead.  I even have a few audiotapes that are specifically geared toward muscular relaxation.  Sometimes I pop one in and listen.  By the time I reach my destination I feel more relaxed than I did before getting into the car.  During the course of your lifetime,  you’re probably going to spend a great deal of time driving.  You can spend those moments being frustrated, or you can use them wisely.  If you do the latter, you’ll be a more relaxed person. 

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Tuesday

Search for the Grain of Truth in Other Opinions


Chapter 18 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff 

If you enjoy learning as well as making other people happy, you’ll love this idea.

Almost everyone feels that their own opinions are good ones, otherwise they wouldn’t be sharing them with you.  One of the destructive things that many of us do, however, is compare someone else’s opinion to our own.  And, when it doesn’t fall in line with our belief, we either dismiss it or find fault in it.  We feel smug, and the other person feels diminished, and we learn nothing. 

Almost every opinion has some merit, especially if we are looking for merit, rather than looking for errors.  The next time someone offers you an opinion, rather than judge or criticize it, see if you can find a grain of truth in what the other person is saying. 

If you think about it, when you judge someone else or their opinion,  it really doesn’t say anything about the other person, but it says quite a bit about your need to be judgmental.

I still catch myself criticizing other points of view,  but far less than I used to.  All that changed was my intension to find the grain of truth in other positions. If you practice this simple strategy, some wonderful things will begin to happen: You’ll begin to understand those you interact with, others will be drawn to your accepting and loving energy, your learning curve will be enhanced, and,  perhaps most important, you’ll feel better about yourself.

Posted in Don't Sweat The Small Stuff, Inspiration, Learning, Tuesday

Resist the Urge to Criticize

Chapter 17 ~ Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical. 


If you attend a gathering and listen to all criticism that is typically levied against others, and then go home and consider how much good all the criticism actually does to make our world a better place, you’ll probably come up with the same answer that I do Zero! It does no good. But’s that not all. Being critical not only solves nothing; it contributes to the anger and distrust in our world. After all, none of us likes to be criticized. Our reaction to criticism is usually to become defensive  and /or withdrawn. A person who feels attacked is likely to do one of two things: he will either retreat in fear or shame, or he will attack or lash out in anger.  How many times have you criticized someone and had them respond by saying, “Thank you so much for pointing out my flaws. I really appreciate it”?

Criticism, like swearing, is actually nothing more than a bad habit. It’s something we get used to doing; we’re familiar with how it feels. It keeps us busy and gives us something to talk about.

If, however, you take a moment to observe how you actually feel immediately after you criticize someone you’ll notice that you will feel a little deflated and ashamed, almost like you’re the one who has been attacked. The reason this is true is that when we criticize, it’s a statement to the world and to ourselves, “I have a need to be critical.”  This isn’t something that we are usually proud to admit.

The solution is to catch yourself in the act of being critical. Notice how often you do it and how bad it makes you feel. What I like to do is turn it into a game. I still catch myself being critical, but as my need to criticize arises, I try to remember to say to myself, “There I go again.” Hopefully, more often than not, I can turn my criticism into tolerance and respect.