Why Do We Sweat The Small Stuff?

Sometime in the ‘90’s there was a self-help book that may be familiar to many of you –  Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. I have to admit I never read it, but I feel like I have based on the number of conversations I’ve had where the title was the core theme. On top of that, there is strong resonance  with the title for me, along with an acknowledgement that I have definitely sweated the small stuff at times in my life!

I also have to admit that I’ve been guilty of “sweating the small stuff” myself.  In fact there is a dent in the inside of my front door from a moment where the small stuff built up to a point where it was important to me to punch a very solid object!

Door 1.  Ian 0.

Note to my wife Kendra – that dent is a reason I hesitate to get a new front door.  It reminds me every time I see it to let the small stuff go.

Why do we sweat the small stuff even when we know that isn’t really going to be helpful?

Here are three reasons that come to mind for me:

  1. Because it is easier than sweating the big stuff – this might be rather obvious but it bears examination. With small stuff, it is easy to define the problem and focus our considerable powers on solving it. Here’s a personal example … we have a neighbor’s cat that uses our backyard as its playground (and other things). We can spend considerable time figuring out exactly how we want to deal with the way it scares the birds we love to watch at our bird bath! Yup … as soon as I get a moment I’ll be over to the SPCA to grab a live trap to teach that cat’s owners a lesson! What is likely happening is that my focus on the cat keeps my energy from more important things, where I might not get the same satisfaction from creating an outcome. Big stuff needs a lot of attention, and at first glance it seems daunting and we often don’t know where to start. Even when we do, the final outcome might still be so cloudy that we have some doubts around the end success of our chosen path,  so I might actually have to trust the universe that a good answer will appear when ready! Trusting the universe is the absolute opposite of sweating the small stuff!
  2. Because the small stuff usually lives outside of us – at least it does for me. The neighbor’s cat is a great source of distraction around our house. Making sure we get to enjoy the birds in the bath certainly allows me to avoid spending time on a number of things that I want to do for myself. Like creating a new habit of having great conversations with my adult children. Like coming to terms with my internal conflict between financial security and doing more to help local homelessness. Like figuring out how to facilitate an honest conversation about the impact on our family of us moving out of Calgary when we retire. It’s so much easier to worry about the cat, or the garden, or tomorrow’s meeting schedule than to actually take some of that “small stuff energy” to apply it to things that might require me to look in the mirror.
  3. Because playing small lets us hide from our greatness – perhaps this follows on from #2 above but it is worthy of its own discussion. The idea is directly borrowed from Marianne Williamson’s book A Return To Love. What I know about myself and I think I observe in many others is that we are afraid that we might actually be great and then need to live up to that every day. What I’m learning as I lose my ignorance – no wait! That’s playing small. What I am learning to acknowledge is that I am the custodian of talents that are meant to be given to my world. I am learning to believe in myself and have the courage to be vulnerable to share who I am and what I have to give. I am learning that it is important to know my impact on others, whether positive or negative, and to strive to make it more positive. Some might laugh. Others might disparage. But I might just positively affect 1 person. Or 10. 100. 1,000’s. Shall we imagine 1,000,000’s?

It seems this post is all about books but here’s another one. I’ve been reading Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations recently.  It isn’t easy to digest as the translation is imprecise and the language somewhat scholarly.  But I read a passage today that resonated with me in relation to this topic.  Roughly rephrased it said:

I am the creator of the life I am experiencing.

What if we absolutely believed that? What if we knew that every morning when we got up that the day that we are destined to experience is completely within our hands? What life would we ask for? Would we ask for a day was our greatest success was that we trapped the neighbor’s cat? Or would we ask for a day where we found the courage to take our conversation with our adult children to a new level, perhaps successfully, perhaps not? What if we spent our first moments of every day giving ourselves some guidance about our own greatness and trying to live into it?

Published by

Ian Munro @ leadingessentially.com

Ian Munro is a leadership and vitality coach with a primary passion for working with senior professionals who wish to improve their connection to and vitality in their career, or who wish to make a transition to a meaningful and rewarding retirement. His methods are focused on helping clients understand why they present as they do in day-to-day life, discover their authentic self and give themselves permission to build a meaningful and rewarding future, both professional and personal. Ian’s love for this work has developed naturally as he built his career as an executive and leader in the IT services industry, serving in many roles and facets of this industry over 25 years. As he reached the pinnacle of his career he began to search more deeply for meaning and alternate rewards from his own career and to begin to plan for his own “first retirement”.

5 thoughts on “Why Do We Sweat The Small Stuff?

  1. I love the question positioned at the end of this! If we could all just ask ourselves that one question at the start of each day, how different would our days, weeks, months, years, and lives look – great question to ponder for sure!

    Thanks for another great read, Ian!

    – Rick

  2. I always remember dad telling me that If you can’t fix whats worrying you there is no point. In addition to that I am really guilty about sweating the small stuff. That alone has been responsible for a few panic attacks and some misunderstandings (that was my entire last week). I try to guide myself into what greatness I do have.

  3. After a period of several crises in a row finally calming down I found myself ‘sweating the small stuff’ almost as if I had mastered getting ‘through’ things so went looking for things to get through. Your idea at point # 3 of focusing on what talents I may offer the world is one way of pulling out of that mind-set. Thanks.

    As an aside, Richard Carlson went on to write 20 other books, including ‘what about the big stuff’.

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