The Trouble With Trifles

There is a great book written by Richard Carlson entitled “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.” I knew the book was spot on before I even opened it because the second part of the title is “and it’s all small stuff.” 

 

My sentiments exactly!

 

Anger, especially anger that comes from small stuff, is a terrible master and if you let yours control any part of your life you will be worse off because of it. If you allow “little things” to bother you or add any amount of stress to your life then you are limiting your potential. 

 

My dad used to be a worrier; he allowed most everything, even the very trivial stuff, to bug him. It didn’t take much to cause him worry and it took even less to get his hackles up. Then he heard something far from trivial from his doctor. He heard he needed a heart transplant. 

 

Once he received his new heart he was like a new man. Not only was he physically better but he no longer sweat the small stuff and he truly believed it was all small stuff. 

 

After living decades with his still like new heart he would tell you that all it takes for the day to be great is to wake up. To be given a new day. To have one more chance to enjoy life, that’s all that truly matters. 

 

So before you get yourself worked up, before you add an ounce of stress to your life, before you care about anything, ask yourself if it will matter in 10 years. Ask if it will matter in 10 months, 10 weeks or even in 10 minutes. 

 

If you’re like most people you will discover that it won’t. 

 

A mentor of mine once told me to never underestimate the absolute unimportance of almost everything I did. At first I was offended and then I asked myself those questions. When I was honest with myself I was shocked to discover that most of what I did wouldn’t matter for long. Some of it might matter in 10 minutes, some for 10 weeks but hardly anything was going to matter in even a year much less 10 years down the road. 

 

It was a sobering realization. It’s humbling to realize that most of what you do, most of what you stress over, most of what you’ve convinced yourself is important really doesn’t matter. But it was also a freeing realization. It allowed me to “let go” of the little things that had imprisoned my joy of life. 

 

A trifle is defined as a thing of little value or importance. The trouble with trifles is that we give them undue importance and that allows them to block us from the truly important things that we could be thinking about, we could be talking about or we could actually be doing.

 

The most successful people and the most effective leaders don’t fuss over the trifle stuff. They focus on what matters today and what will still matter tomorrow and for many tomorrows to come. 

 

If you have trouble with trifles then decide today that you won’t be fooled any longer, decide today to focus on what truly matters.

Submarine Your Stress!

Most people have at least heard the phase “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It’s not just a saying, it’s actually the title of one of the greatest books ever written. It was written in 1936 by the legendary Dale Carnegie. It has been a best seller forever, translated into more languages than virtually any other book. 

It is truly a life changing book, to this very day. 

But many people who know Dale Carnegie’s work well would tell you it’s not his most impactful book. They would say it’s the book Carnegie people call “the worry book.” It’s official title is “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” 

It is truly a masterpiece of tactical insights into how to control worry in your life. 

The insight, or principle as Mr. Carnegie called them, that has made the biggest difference for me is the very first one discussed in the book. 

The principle says that to avoid worry we should “live in day-tight compartments.”

A submarine is divided into compartments so that when a problem develops in one compartment the other compartments can be sealed off from the trouble. Dale Carnegie suggested that we live our lives as a submarine is constructed. 

Live each day as a separate compartment. Don’t let yesterday’s troubles seep into today and never let tomorrow’s potential worries (which often never happen anyway) leak into today’s opportunity for success.

As simple and as easy as that sounds it is anything but. It requires a steely discipline and faith that today’s good can drown out yesterday’s not-so-good. 

Here’s one thing I’ve found that helps me to live in day-tight compartments. I don’t just compartmentalize my days, I put many things into their own compartments. 

I work hard to keep my work life separate from my family life. As bad as it is to let one bad work interaction negatively affect the next work interaction it’s absolutely terrible, tragic really, to let something bad that happened at work have a negative impact on my family. 

There is never a good reason to “take out” my work frustrations on the people who are far more important to me than anything to do with my job. By compartmentalizing those two areas of my life that’s much less likely to happen. 

I once had a participant in a Dale Carnegie Class tell the class that he passed over a long bridge on his way to and from work each day. He said that at the end of each work day he packed up all his worries and put them in a box. On his way home as he crossed the bridge he rolled down his window and tossed the box out the window and into the river he was crossing over. The problems and the worry they caused never came home with him. 

He went on to say that sometimes the box would be waiting for him on the bridge when he was returning to work but that was okay, he was back at work and that’s where his work worries belonged. 

If you want to attempt living in day-tight compartments then you need to find your own metaphorical bridge. Maybe you’ll need several of them, that’s perfectly okay.

This much I can tell you; developing the discipline of living in day-tight compartments will do more to relieve stress in your life than anything else you can do. There is enough stress for most of us in a single day, we don’t need to be dragging stress from yesterday or tomorrow into today. Most of us can deal with the weight of stress from one day, it’s when the days start to pile on that we have real trouble.

Live in day-tight compartments and the worries of life will find it very hard to gang up on you! 

By the way….read the book.

Don’t Stress Over Stress

Do you believe that all stress is bad? That all stress has a negative impact on your performance and life?

Maybe you’re one of those people who believes that some stress is positive. You could be one of those who believe that a bit of stress is actually good for you and actually improves your performance and productivity.

If your mindset on stress is negative then you likely stress over being stressed. If you believe that stress can be positive then you’re likely better able to handle everyday stress inducing events.

Let’s talk first about people with a mostly positive mindset about stress. This is a bit of a generalization but as a group they tend to be the people most willing to ask for help and feedback on their performance. They also are the most likely to have mentors to coach them through the stressful situation.

They gain confidence from “surviving” the stress-inducing event and as a result they have even less stress in the future.

The lesson here appears simple, if you want to be more effective at managing stress then at least consider the possibility that not all stress is negative.

The lesson might appear simple but it is not. You can’t just will stress away.

Here are some concrete actions you can take to help reduce everyday stress in your life:

Know your stressors.
This is the most important step of all, because identifying the things that cause stress in your life is the first step towards eliminating them. Take 15 minutes to think about what stresses you out during the day. What people, activities, and things cause stress in your life? Make a Top 10 list, and see which of them can be eliminated, and start to weed them out. For those that can’t, find ways to make them less stressful.

Remember, successful people don’t complain about the things in their life that they can control. If there are stressors in your life that you can control and you choose not to then stop complaining about too much stress. You must actually like it.

Eliminate unnecessary commitments.
Learn to say no! The most successful people under-commit and over-deliver. Personal commitments can be just as stressful as business commitments so examine your entire life to determine where and when you over commit. Be brutally honest with yourself and eliminate commitments that bring no real value to you or those important to you.

Stop being late.
Being late always stresses us out. When you have to rush to get ready, rush to get there, and worry the whole time about looking bad and being late you stress yourself out. Learn the good habit of being early, and this stress disappears. Make a conscious effort to start getting ready earlier, and to leave earlier. Time yourself to see how long it actually takes to get ready, and how long it actually takes to get somewhere. You’ve probably been underestimating these times. Once you know these times, you can plan backwards so that you show up a few minutes early each time. You’ll enjoy the feeling.

Manage your calendar.
Don’t fool yourself into believing you’re highly productive by filling your calendar each day from sun-up to sun-down. When you leave yourself no time to deal with the unexpected you allow the stress of dealing with the unexpected into your life. If you have a negative mindset about stress then you’re actually less productive when you’re stressed. Give yourself some time on your calendar each day to breath and you can exhale some of the stress from your life.

Be grateful. Learn to relish and appreciate the stress inducing events in your life. Consider the opportunities that come with stress. When your job causes you stress be thankful for it. If it was easy then your company might be paying somebody else less qualified to deal with it.

When your family causes you stress just consider life without them. Be grateful for what you have, for the people in your life and the blessings that come with them. That mindset will help some stress disappear and make living with the stress that remains easier.

The cemeteries are full of formerly stressed out people who I’d bet would be the first to tell you that none of their stress inducing events really mattered at the end.

Take a lesson from them and relax a bit, enjoy the stressful parts of life because even the most stressful day is better than no day at all.

Living in Daytight Compartments

Some of the regular readers of this blog know that I worked for Dale Carnegie Training for a number of years. It truly was a life changing experience. The training business is a huge business with training companies and independent training “experts” almost as prevalent as people who need the training. 

Despite the never ending attempts, in the 100 years of Dale Carnegie Training’s existence not one single company has been able to duplicate the results of the original Dale Carnegie Course.   The design of the course and the incessant training of it’s instructors truly make it a one of a kind program.

Seventeen years after leaving that organization I still can’t recommend their programs enough. One of the books you receive as part of the Dale Carnegie course is of course, “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It is a timeless classic. The 36 principles written about in that book are an answer to almost any situation a person could find themselves in. While the language in the book is quaint and inclusive by today’s standards it’s principles apply today every bit as much as they did in 1936 when the book was first published.

Most everyone has at least heard of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” It is an incredible book, a great book and one I highly recommend. It is not however, at least in my opinion, the best book Dale Carnegie wrote. That distinction belongs to a far lessor known book entitled “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living.” It was first printed in Great Britain in 1948, and remains in print today. 

It provides a priceless set of principles for overcoming worry and stress in our daily lives. To be sure, it doesn’t speak much to the catastrophic events of our lives but to the everyday events that cause the vast majority of the stress in a person’s life.

One of the most impactful concepts is the principle of Living in Daytight Compartments. That principle basically says we should not worry about what happened yesterday and allow no stress over what might happen tomorrow. 

Yesterday is done, we can learn from it but we can’t change it. Any worry and stress we apply to the past is a total and complete waste of time. Fix what must be fixed, apologize to those you may have offended, resolve to not repeat the stress inducing incident again and MOVE ON! 

Your future success and accomplishments will not be found in the past. Successful people plan for the future but they live in the present. They know that dwelling on the past, and worse, dwelling IN the past, will only hinder their future. Worrying about yesterday crushes our enjoyment of today and lessens the likelihood of succeeding tomorrow. 

The vast majority of the things that could happen never will. That includes the vast majority of the things we waste time worrying about. Seriously, there are enough “things” to worry about today that we certainly don’t need to borrow any from tomorrow. 

When you worry about stuff that might happen, could happen, or might not happen you again crush your enjoyment of today. You also limit your critical thinking skills, the very skills you may need to make tomorrow a successful day. 

Worry pays no dividend, it never has and it never will. The better job you do at living in daytight compartments the more likely it will be that you succeed. 

Successful people learn from yesterday, plan for tomorrow and live in today. Focus on where you’re at and what you’re doing today. That is the surest way to eliminate yesterday’s regrets and ensure tomorrow’s joy. 

Live as if today is the most important day of your life and it just may be!