How To Be Toleration Free

As you name and face the things you are tolerating, you get a reflection of what is going on inside you. Small frustrations build up over time, so subtly 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. That’s why dealing with the things you’ve been tolerating is one of the steps in creating your Excelerated Life™
toleration free
Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels

The Rock

A woman married and moved into her husband’s house. The house had been built by his grandfather. His father had grown up there and, after the grandfather died, had taken the house. So, both her husband and his father had grown up in the old house.

The house and lawn were beautiful and well cared for. There was just one thing that seemed out of place and detracted from the beauty. At one corner of the house, there was a huge rock sticking up out of the ground.

“Why don’t we get rid of that rock?” she asked her husband.

“It’s impossible,” he replied. “The rock is too big. You see how much is sticking above ground. Just imagine how much more is under the ground. My grandfather couldn’t move the rock. My father couldn’t move it. Neither can we — it’s just too big.”

So, the rock stayed.

Over the years, the woman would occasionally look at the rock and think how much better the place would look if the rock were moved. But she understood her husband’s objection — it was just too big. So she put up with it.

After many years, her husband passed away. She was consumed by grief for weeks, but eventually, she began to take an interest in her home again. And her attention lighted on the Rock.

“I’m going to get rid of the thing,” she thought. “Even if it takes the rest of my life. Besides, what else do I have to do?”

So, early one bright morning, she donned her work clothes, brought the shovel and pick from the tool shed, put on her work gloves, and set to work. After a couple of hours’ work – to her astonishment – the rock was out! There was barely any of the Rock below ground, most of the Rock was what she had seen above ground. For many, many years, she had lived by the assumptions of other people, tolerating what they said was an immovable object. Her husband, his father, and his grandfather had assumed the Rock was too big to move, so they never tackled it. They simply put up with it. But once she got started, there was hardly anything to it.

Why Deal With 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. 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.

When you ignore a thing, your propensity to accept it grows. In Take Time For Your Life, Cheryl Richardson says, “By ignoring the problem, you raise your threshold for pain and make it easier to put up with more.”

That’s the trouble with tolerations. 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 because you aren’t dealing with your stuff.

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.

Tolerations are annoyances, irritations, and problems you are putting up with or putting off, condoning or disregarding, and that are less than ideal. These range from minor issues to a major problem you are ignoring, hoping it will go away. They can be small things: a missing button, never having a pen when you need one, a messy bathroom. Or they can be bigger: a “friend” that constantly cuts you down, a car that needs major mechanical work, the lack of an emergency fund.

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.

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. To borrow from The Serenity Prayer, we want to have “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

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.

These are not in our control:

  • stuff that happens in the daily news
  • 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 of.

What Dealing With Tolerations Doesn’t Do.

Dealing with tolerations doesn’t absolve you from ever having to deal with them again. When you address a specific issue, try to address it 110%. The extra 10% is making sure this particular issue doesn’t come back. You do this by addressing the root cause, not just the symptoms of the problem.

Our tendency is to believe that, once we’ve dealt with an issue, we shouldn’t have to address it ever again. 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 Dealing With 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.

Benefits Of Dealing With Tolerations.

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?

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 goals. And they can have other negative impacts. Small frustrations build up over time, so subtly 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 Dealing With Tolerations.

“First, recognize the many actual benefits of tolerating.” [Leonard]

Determine what you are getting by hanging on to the things you are putting up with. There must be a payoff or you’d already have dealt with them. It may be substantial or it may simply allow you to avoid dealing with the issue.

What’s the payoff? 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, gain perspective, 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. There are things that happen to you that you cannot 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.

Improve 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 a thing 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. 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.

Although you are the center of your universe, your universe is different from others. 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.

Gain perspective. If you have trouble letting go of the irritation or the anger, you may be stuck in rumination. This is what happens when you go over and over and over and over the same circle of negative thoughts. Stay stuck here and you’ll head in a downward spiral of negativity. [Fredrickson] Instead, have some “healthy distractions” on hand. This is something that “literally takes your mind off the problem.” [Fredrickson] Take a walk. Do a craft. Lift weights. Practice yoga. Meditate. Read that book you’ve been meaning to get to. Do whatever activity completely absorbs your attention and breaks the cycle of rumination.

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 them.

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.

Distractions are a special subset of tolerations. One way to clear up the clutter of distractions is to make them harder to engage in. Check your e-mail only at certain pre-determined times during the day. Log on to your e-mail account at those times, then log out when you are finished. Remove your shortcuts, favorites, and bookmarks for social networks, shopping sites, news and stock quote sites, or any other websites that distract you. Make it harder to get to these sites and you’ll frequent them less often.

Count the costs of what you are tolerating – the hard costs (money, time, energy) and the soft costs (space, opportunity, peace of mind). What can you save or gain by dealing with this thing once and for all? Fix what you can and let go of the annoyances you have no control over.

How To Do It.

The steps for dealing with tolerations, which I adapted from Talane Meidenar and Thomas Leonard, are:

  1. 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, “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.

Of course, just listing the things you are tolerating is not the end of the project.
Once you have your list — and there may be 100 or more items, big and small — make a plan to take care of all of these things you have been putting off or putting up with.

  1. Set aside a Saturday or Sunday and 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.

Go through the list, item by item. Remember the 3 options of 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.

Fix what you can. This is probably the easier and the more direct way to handle tolerations. These are the things you are putting up with that you have a way to correct. The missing button on your favorite shirt. The car that’s burning oil. The messy desk. The report that is always turned in late.

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.

  1. Some things will be too big to do in one day. Break them down into discrete actions and work these into your schedule.
  2. 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. Solutions for the other things will come to you.
  3. 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.

What Not To Do.

Toleration-free ≠ intolerant. 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. [Leonard]

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.

To be toleration-free means you don’t put up with situations or other people’s behavior when it is bad for you. [Leonard]

Consider the difference between being toleration-free and being intolerant. One frees up energy, the other eats up energy.

When You Don’t Deal With 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? Dealing with things we have been tolerating could improve our ability to make progress toward our goals by improving our ratio of positive to negative experiences.

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 effect. This could have an adverse influence on a person’s goal progress. [Mead]

Tolerations, says 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.

Remember, too, that you get what you tolerate. 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,” says Dr. Henry Cloud, “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 Deal With 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. The Melbourne study discovered that “daily goal progress appeared to suffer on days that were characterized by a relatively high number of small annoyances but relatively few simple pleasures.”

On the other hand, when respondents experienced a higher number of pleasurable experiences, minor annoyances didn’t seem to hinder their progress. [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”. Similarly, “tolerations make you block out a lot of life’s happiness, just because you’re trying not to be affected by what annoys you.” [Leonard]

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

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? That is embracing your Excelerated Life™!

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. I’d like to share more about the Excelerated Life™ with you. Please contact me at or 864.979.6577 and let’s meet for coffee and conversation.

Read more about the Excelerated Life™.


Cloud, Ph.D., Henry. 9 Things You Simply Must Do To Succeed In Love And Life. New York: MJF Books, 2004

Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009.

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.

Richardson, Cheryl. Take Time For Your Life. New York: Broadway Books, 1999

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