When an irritant gets into the middle of a clam shell, it can eventually turn into a pearl. But when irritants pile up in our daily lives, they can eventually drive us insane. A story from a pal we’ll call Midge shows us how.
Midge was a no-nonsense, straightforward lady who loved to laugh. But she found nothing funny about a little piece of string that was lying in the middle of her living room carpet. It was just a slip of a string, maybe even more like a thread, but it was highly visible in her otherwise clean-vacuumed carpet.
It also began to taunt her.
She sat down to relax – she saw the string.
She walked through the room – she saw the string.
She closed her eyes to go to bed at night – and still saw the string.
The little piece of string became an ongoing irritant that grew in size and scope in her mind. It mocked her cleanliness, distracted her from tasks, and began to invade her every waking thought. In short, it was pretty much driving her mad.
Then one day the solution occurred to her: Just pick up the damn piece of string!
So she did, and consequently regained her sanity as well as a good night’s sleep.
Ignoring the irritants
Getting rid of little irritants, or tolerations, is often as easy as picking up a slip of string, but that doesn’t mean we always do so. Some of us have the habit of instead trying to ignore the irritants as if they’re no big deal. But they are. Put enough little irritants together, or let a single irritant annoy you long enough, and they can have a ginormous impact on our overall sanity and serenity.
It’s not the boulders, it’s the pebbles
Early in recovery I heard it said that “It’s not the boulders, but the pebbles, that take you out.” Boulders are the huge and often tragic events, like the loss of your job, a car crash, or the death of your dog.
We learn to strengthen ourselves and get through these events – without drinking, without denying them, without hurling ourselves off the Potomac Bridge.
But the teeny little things, well, we tend to ignore them.
- The kitchen cupboard that’s always just a little bit open.
- The stupid dresser drawer that always shuts crooked.
- The paint that’s chipping off the microwave handle.
- The bare spots in the backyard in dire need of new gravel.
- The little slip of string in the middle of Midge’s living room carpet.
Eliminate the tolerations
Our brains are already packed with too much going on, and adding a layer of irritants to the load is just begging for an eventual meltdown. I know this well, as I’ve tried it more than once. That’s why I was thrilled when my life coaching training included an exercise and worksheet that helped me eliminate my irritants and tolerations.
Not only did I get a chance to list the most irritating tolerations I have been putting up with for far too long, but I had to set a due date to ensure I took action. After all, I didn’t want my overdue irritant and toleration list to become a nagging irritant in its own right.
It’s all too easy to put life’s little irritants on the back burner as something we’ll deal with on that mysterious “someday.” That someday never comes, and those little things continue to pester us, like a swarm of gnats that won’t stop dive-bombing our face.
Download the Irritants and Tolerations worksheet to deal with them NOW. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel, like Midge did, when you finally take action to eliminate the tolerations – and pick up that little piece of string.