By dealing with the irritations you have been tolerating rather than blocking them out, you close the open loops and plug the energy drains. Now you have energy and attention to begin living a life of excellence.
Don’t Ignore the Dragon
There’s No Such Thing as a Dragon, written and illustrated by Jack Kent, tells the story of Billy Bixbee, a little boy who wakes up one morning to find a dragon in his bedroom. He’s surprised of course but pats the little dragon – it’s about the size of a kitten – on the head. The dragon likes this.
Billy goes downstairs and tells his mom about his new pet. “Nonsense!” she says. “There’s no such thing as a dragon.” When he goes back to his room to get dressed, the dragon comes over, looking for more pats. But Billy doesn’t pat it since it’s silly to pet something that doesn’t exist.
As he ignores the dragon, it gets bigger. And Bigger. And BIGGER. Until eventually Billy’s house is riding on the dragon’s back. Only when Billy decides that there really is a dragon, and pets it again, does the attention-seeking dragon shrink back down.
This is an excellent metaphor for how those small, and not so small, annoyances, problems, and tasks we put off and don’t deal with, grow and grow in our lives, seeking attention.
What Tolerations Are
What are you tolerating, putting up with? These may be petty annoyances or major situations that you have been ignoring. Sometimes, you need to take care of all the small things before a large situation even appears in your consciousness.
Take a moment and think about these questions: What are you putting up with? What are you tolerating? Here are some areas to consider: think about things, people, situations, and environments.
- Things that need to be cleaned and areas that need to be decluttered and organized: your car, your refrigerator, your desk, your closet, your bureau drawers, your house.
- Things that need to be repaired: a missing button, a torn hem, malfunctioning electronics, leaky faucets, broken blinds.
- Maintenance that needs to be done: oil changed in the car, burned-out light bulbs replaced, gutters cleaned out, squeaky hinges oiled, HVAC filters changed.
- Bad habits to break: smoking, drinking too much, mindless TV watching, incessantly looking at your phone, chronic lateness.
- Staying healthy: needing a physical, needing a dental check-up, needing to lose weight, not getting enough sleep.
- Friends and family: a spouse’s annoying habit, friends that are always late, children not helping with household chores, people that criticize and complain, gossips.
Some of the things we are tolerating are within our control but others may not be. The Stoic concept of knowing the difference between what you can change and what you can’t may be useful when you are dealing with tolerations. In order to effectively deal with them, we must recognize each type.
The things under our control include our thoughts, our responses, and, to quote Epictetus, “in a word, whatever are our own actions.” [Epictetus]
What Is In Your Control and What Is Not
When you look at the things you are tolerating, chances are most of the so-called “minor” annoyances are things you can take care of, either by doing them yourself or paying to have them done. Keep in mind that “minor” simply refers to the difficulty of resolving the issue. All tolerations, no matter how small, waste valuable time and energy.
These minor tolerations — squeaky doors, a dirty car, clothes that don’t fit properly, a disorganized file drawer, needing an oil change for your car, dirty windows, a cramped living space, etc., are all within our control. We can certainly deal with these types of tolerations.
Some things are partially under our control. For example, while your body is not under your direct control, i.e., you could fall ill, be injured in an accident, or die, there are steps you can take (eating a healthy diet, getting enough sleep, exercising) to care for yourself and improve your situation. While “being overweight” may not be a toleration you can directly control, you can influence the factors that lead to a healthier body.
Similarly, many of the things you are tolerating from other people are not directly within your control. But you do have the control to set boundaries around behavior you will and will not accept. And you have control over what you think and how you react or respond to these annoyances.
Differentiating between what we can and cannot control gives us a different perspective, but addressing them is still necessary
What Tolerations Are Not
When you are stuck in traffic, or it rains on the day you have plans for an outdoor activity, or your favorite show is preempted by some other program, well, there’s little you can do about these. These you just accept and move on.
While we can control our thoughts and our actions, the things not under our direct control are basically everything else including other people and even our own bodies. As you look at the list of things you are tolerating, be aware of things you’ve listed but which may not be under your control.
These are not in our control:
- stuff that happens in the daily news
- the weather
- other people
And, these are not necessarily tolerations. In the last analysis, tolerations, as we understand them, are the things you can deal with, so deal with them. The rest you must learn to accept and let go.
Why Respond To Tolerations?
Many of the things we tolerate, or put up with, are relatively minor — scratched sunglasses, a dirty car, a missing button from a favorite shirt, and so forth. However, some things are not so minor — a failing relationship, a dead-end job, an estranged family member. Whether they be big or small, a danger of tolerating the things we put up with is this: What you tolerate grows.
If you put up with something long enough, it fades into the background. Major problems become minor aggravations. Minor aggravations become petty annoyances. Eventually, petty annoyances drop off your radar. Then your life falls apart or you get stuck in place (or on the side of the road) because you aren’t dealing with your stuff.
Responding to tolerations frees you in these ways:
When you see a pending task and think, “I’ll get to that someday”, you have expended some of your life energy. And you haven’t accomplished a thing except maybe feeling bad or guilty. The work is still there to be done “someday”. Little by little, you are draining away your energy. On the other hand, when you learn to deal with things as soon as they show up, it becomes energizing and you have more energy.
Every time you think, “I’ve got to do this someday”, your subconscious mind says “Right” and adds it to the running list it keeps of everything you have to do. But, the subconscious doesn’t understand “someday”. So, from time to time, usually at an inopportune moment, the subconscious rises up and says, “Remember, you need to do this, and you need to do this, and you need to do this, and you need to do this, and you need to do this . . .” Energy expended, nothing accomplished.
What Responding to Tolerations Doesn’t Do
Dealing with tolerations doesn’t absolve you from ever having to deal with them again. Our tendency is to believe that, once we’ve dealt with an issue, it’s over and we shouldn’t have to address it anymore.
There are many benefits that come from dealing with annoyances you’ve been tolerating, as we’ll see later. Never having to deal with annoying situations, events, or people ever again is not one of them. So, keep this in mind: you are never finished.
What Responding to Tolerations Does
If you are “stuck” in some way – not making progress on your goals, not making a change you want to make, in a rut — the quickest way to get un-stuck is to clear up all the annoyances, petty and otherwise, that you are living with.
Whenever you feel your energy being drained away, look around you and look inside yourself. Are there things, situations, feelings, or people you’ve been tolerating and that you need to deal with?
Benefits of Responding to Tolerations
As you name and face the things you are tolerating, you get a reflection of what is going on inside you . . . “as within, so without”. Although we aren’t always aware of it, tolerations distract us from our BIG (Bold-Important-Gratifying) goals. And they can have other negative impacts. Small frustrations build up over time, so subtly that you can’t always pinpoint the reasons you feel stuck, or aimless, or lacking in energy.
When you address these frustrations, you free up mental, emotional, and physical energy which you can use for those things that are important and meaningful to you — your BIG goals and your relationships.
Drawbacks of Responding to Tolerations
“First, recognize the many actual benefits of tolerating.” [Leonard]
Determine what you are getting for hanging on to the things you are putting up with. What’s the payoff? There must be one or you’d already have dealt with them. It may be substantial or it may simply allow you to avoid dealing with the issue.
List the payoffs you receive from not dealing with something you are tolerating. What is putting up with the issue costing you? Is putting up with the annoyance worth the cost? Once you know the payoff and the cost, you may find that thing you’ve been tolerating is too “expensive” to hang on to.
What To Do
In deciding how to approach our tolerations, it is necessary to identify two types: those things you can fix and those situations, people, and so forth that are not under your immediate power to fix. Remember the first rule of Stoicism: There are things within our control and things that are not in our control. When thinking about the things you can’t control (and there are many), remember, too, that there is one thing that is always under your direct control. You.
Let’s look at some things you can do to let go of annoyances: pick your battles wisely, act on it, improve it, talk about it, stop talking about it, take a different approach, let it go.
Pick your battles wisely.
Suppose you are running late for an appointment and encounter a road-paving crew that has half the road blocked. You have to stop for the flag person and wait till the drivers coming from the other direction clear out. Before you get really upset, be sure there is something to be upset about.
How much control do you have over this mess? Absolutely none. What are the reasons for being impatient, annoyed, even angry? Absolutely none. What can you exert control over here? Yourself. You could do some deep breathing or some other calming practice. You and I can’t control all the things that happen to us, we can only control our response to them. There are things that happen to you that you can control, so pick your battles wisely. At least be sure there’s actually a battle to fight. Let go of the petty annoyances you can do nothing about.
Act on it.
Sometimes, we become so accustomed to something we’ve been putting up with that we forget we can fix it. Sew on the button. Repair the leaky faucet. Toss out the broken toaster. And if you can’t – or don’t want to – fix it yourself, hire someone to do it.
You may face some situations, relationships, and environments that you cannot directly control and that you can’t completely let go of. Is there a way you can improve it to make it easier to accept? Can you lessen your exposure? Change the way you think about it? Get someone’s help with it?
Talk about it.
As a younger man, I thought I was very patient. I could endure a lot of stuff and seem quite unruffled, but sometimes a tiny annoyance would send me over the edge. I’d fly into a rage out of all proportion to the remark that set me off. In talking to a therapist, he explained that instead of confronting the things that aggravated or annoyed me, I kept everything inside. I was like a balloon that was inflating bigger and bigger. Eventually, the balloon would be so full that some tiny irritation caused it to burst and all the pent-up anger and annoyance came flying out. With his advice and help, I began learning to express my emotions when they came up, not letting my balloon get so full. Sometimes, it can be helpful and healthy to talk about an annoyance that is bothering you. Especially if you tend to let things build and build until they reach a breaking point.
Stop talking about it.
It’s good to get things off your chest and not hold them inside. But be careful you don’t get into a “complaining habit”, where you constantly go over and over an injustice or a slight, real or imagined. Complaining keeps the annoyance front and center in your consciousness. A driver cuts you off in traffic. Your boss doesn’t acknowledge the extra work you put in to get a project finished on time. Your boyfriend or girlfriend forgets that today is the 8-month anniversary of your first date.
Although you are the center of your universe, your universe is different from others. Perhaps the other driver didn’t see you or had an emergency. It could be your boss is concerned about keeping the business afloat. Maybe your significant other . . . well, there’s no excuse for forgetting your 8-month anniversary, but you get the idea. It isn’t always about you. If you’re feeling annoyed, by all means, get it off your chest. But remember, the more you discuss it, the more you keep the annoying event alive. At some point, it’s better to just let it go.
Take a different approach.
Get on with replacing a missing button, cleaning a disorganized house or garage, replacing scratched sunglasses, washing a dirty car, having car repairs done, etc.
BUT . . . if you have an issue worthy of writing Dear Abby — a friend with whom you’re no longer compatible, a mother-in-law that constantly finds fault, a spouse who is self-centered and doesn’t offer support in return, or a spouse who remains upset over something that happened 20 years ago — your methods of dealing with these tolerations may be different. These are things that are out of your direct control. However, you can remove yourself from the situation or, at the least, change how you think and respond to it.
Let it go.
Are you tolerating some things that you could let go of? Your grandmother’s silver tea service that needs polishing and which you will never ever use? Those books you’re never going to get around to reading? “Friends” that constantly criticize you and others? Let them go.
How To Do It
These are the steps for dealing with tolerations, which I adapted from Talane Meidenar and Thomas Leonard.
- The first step in eliminating tolerations is to list them. Take a sheet of paper and list everything you have hanging over you, all those things you look at, and think, “Someday I need to fix that.” Get them out of your head and on paper. These may be petty annoyances or major situations that you have been ignoring. List everything. A button that needs to be sewn on, the garage that needs to be cleaned out, the closet you want to organize, files that need to be purged.
When you’ve listed everything you can think of, take your paper and pencil and walk through your house. In each room, look around and see if you are reminded of other items that need to go on your list. Write those down. Go out to the garage and do the same thing. Look at your car — what are you tolerating there? Walk around the outside of the house and in your yard and garden. What are the things that you have been putting up with or putting off? Do not waste energy on any of these items any longer. Add them to the list.
Some people find it difficult to think of even 1 or two annoyances. In most cases, this is because they’ve become numb to the stuff they are putting up with. This is one reason it’s helpful to write them down — it helps to get your brain engaged and seeing one or two things will often remind you of others.
- Set aside a Saturday or Sunday and work through your list. Knock out as many of the items on your list as you can complete. Or schedule a certain time period each day to do one or two until the list is done. Focused time can help you deal with a good number of your annoyances. If your list of tolerations is long, you may need more than one day.
As you do this work, keep calling up a sense of urgency, of “do it now”. As you work through your list, remember the 3 options for dealing with tolerations:
- Act on it if you can.
- Let it go if that’s what is needed.
- Improve it if you can’t eliminate it.
You can attack the list in a couple of ways. One way is to go for quantity. Complete as many of the smaller tasks as you possibly can in your allotted time.
The second option is to pick one major task that may take the entire day to complete, and then work until it is finished. Either way, after you’ve completed the work for the day, you will feel lighter and more energetic, as you feel the burdens lifted from your shoulders. Some people report a surge of creativity after they complete this exercise, a result of the energy that is freed up.
- Some things will be too big to do in one day. Break them down into discrete actions and work these into your schedule. Continue this process until you have worked through your entire list.
- You may have things on your list that you don’t know how to address. (First, be sure it is something you can control. If not, practice acceptance.) If it is under your control, don’t worry about it right now. Deal with the things you can. Clear them from your mind. As you work through the things you can deal with, solutions for the other things will come to you.
- After you’ve marked everything off your list, reward yourself. Go out to dinner or to a movie or any other small treat you enjoy.
Whatever tactic (or combination) you choose, get started right away and keep at it till you have dealt with everything on your list. Handle them in a way that they won’t come back to bite you for at least 5 years, if ever. Then become a “toleration-free zone” . . . deal with those annoyances and irritations as they come up. Don’t step over anything. Deal with them now and keep them from nagging away at your energy.
What Not To Do
Note that being free from tolerations is not the same as being intolerant. To be intolerant is to refuse to acknowledge others the right to their own opinions, beliefs, or worship. To be toleration-free means you don’t put up with situations or other people’s behavior when it is bad for you. [Leonard]
There is a difference between being tolerant and tolerating annoyances, irritations, or evil. To be tolerant is to accept other viewpoints, beliefs, and opinions, even if you disagree with them. Tolerating is to put up with situations or other people’s behaviors when they are bad for you. Quit doing it.
Consider the difference between being toleration-free and being intolerant. One frees up energy, the other eats up energy.
When You Don’t Respond to Tolerations
You know that tolerating annoyances can be a drain on your energy but did you know that tolerating annoyances could have a detrimental effect on reaching your goals? A group of researchers in Melbourne found that simple pleasures, which boost daily happiness, increase the likelihood that a person will make progress on their goals. Conversely, daily irritations reduce the pleasurable affect. This could have an adverse influence on a person’s goal progress. [Mead]
Tolerations, says Thomas Leonard, “are holes in your personal success cup; they drain away your contentment and your good fortune.” [Leonard] Tolerating situations, things, and people drains your energy and keeps you from being your best self.
You get what you tolerate. “By ignoring the problem, you raise your threshold for pain and make it easier to put up with more,” writes Cheryl Richardson, in Take Time For Your Life. I know people who are forever having problems with salespeople and check-out clerks in stores, waiters in restaurants, and so forth. They seem to always get the rude or incompetent ones.
If you allow rudeness (and if you are rude), then rude people will find you. You’ll get what you tolerate.
If you allow hurtful behavior (or you hurt others), then hurtful people will find you. You’ll get what you tolerate.
“Choosing what you hate is serious business. What will you tolerate? What will you not? . . . Remember that what you do not hate well is going to find its way into your life.” [Cloud]
When You Respond to Tolerations
Apart from the fact that dealing with those things you are tolerating plugs the energy drains and facilitates the flow of your life, it may also improve your progress toward your goals. [Mead]
If you are looking to improve your progress on your BIG goal, consider dealing with those pesky annoyances you are tolerating. By reducing your irritations, you also increase your positivity – both of which can improve your ability to make progress on your goals. Taking the time and effort to fix them plugs the energy drain and helps you learn to deal with things as they occur, to “step over nothing”.
Deal with the frustrations, aggravations, and irritations you are putting up with or overlooking to begin living a life of excellence. When you deal with issues rather than blocking them out, you close the open loops and plug the energy drains. By dealing with the things you have been tolerating and resolving to become toleration free, you now have the energy and attention to focus on your BIG goal.
Take The First Step
How do you begin to become a “toleration-free zone”? [Leonard] The first step, as we discussed earlier, is to make a list of the things you are tolerating.
If you can’t deal with everything on the list at once – and chances are you’ll find that difficult – consider this approach. Keep a running Tolerations List and review it daily. If there’s something you can fix today – do that. My list contains both “one-off” items that I only have to deal with once and they’re done and recurring tasks that become tolerations if I don’t do them when they arise. Getting them out of your mind and on paper is the first step in dealing with them. Once you have your list, then you can mark things off as you complete them.
You are creating your life and your reality each day. Why not create a life where zero tolerance of energy-draining annoyances is the reality? It’s one step in embracing your Excelerated Life™!
What dragon do you need to notice before it starts growing bigger?
What step could you take to deal with it today?
Share your comments by leaving a post below.
Excelerated Response™ – dealing with the things you’ve been tolerating – is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing and well-being, and a life of meaning, purpose, and service.
Cloud, Ph.D., Henry. 9 Things You Simply Must Do To Succeed In Love And Life. New York: MJF Books, 2004.
Epictetus. Enchiridion And Selections From The Discourses Of Epictetus; Translated by George Long. Digireads.com Publishing, 2012.
Leonard, Thomas. The 28 Laws Of Attraction. New York: Scribner, 1998.
Mead, Nicole L.; Patrick, VM; Gunadi, MP; Hofmann, W. “Simple Pleasures, Small Annoyances, and Goal Progress in Daily Life”, Journal of the Association for Consumer Research, 2016, 1 (4), pp. 527 – 539.
Miedaner, Talane. Coach Yourself To Success. Lincolnwood, IL: Contemporary Books, 2000.