THE SMALL STUFF - TO SWEAT IT OR NOT TO SWEAT IT.
Dee Chadwick
22 Jun 2020
That is the question. Should we always give ourselves the same answer? I used to think so, but these days I put a slightly different spin on my response, as well as on the way that I work through this with clients.

HOW WE THINK THINGS THROUGH

It’s a bit like watching one of the painting programmes on television – Landscape or Portrait Artist Of The Year. There are so many different media in which artists can work, there are also different approaches. Some like to cover the canvas, paper, with huge sweeps of paint, pastel, charcoal. When this is done, they then begin to focus in on the details. However, there are those who choose to work from the minutiae upwards. I have to say that I was fascinated to watch one artist using an old typewriter as their method of creating a picture. They literally began with a single typed digit or symbol and methodically, patiently worked on from there to create an amazing picture.

It can be similar with life in general.

Some people prefer to work from the big picture of life and go on to break this down into the elements that together make up said picture in order to resolve an issue, to make some changes. Therefore, it is important that consideration be given to how these elements interact and influence the whole scenario.  Maybe they are considering their family life and how it has been working during lockdown. The elements may include working from home, or going out to work. Then there may be childcare, changed due to schools offering of support for essential workers and vulnerable children; with some children not wanting to go to school if their friends weren’t to be there. Throw relationships into the mix – personal, extended family and also friends. Just some of the smaller elements that together  have made up the whole picture for the past weeks.  They may have been aware of the fact that there have been strains in their domestic situation. Such strains would need to be addressed by considering which of the elements is the catalyst. Then to see how this, relatively small stuff can be adjusted to enable a calmer, contented domestic situation to exist. Of course, there may be a further tier of breakdowns possible within these relatively small units.

 Without this consideration of the detail, the small stuff, a solution to any current difficulties through changes to said details can have still been difficult to achieve, but certainly more manageable a problem than throwing everything into the mix all at once.

Then there are those who work from the details to go on to formulate their bigger picture. The equivalent of that typewriter artist. Some families will have begun with scrupulously sorting out the smallest of details before going onto mesh the whole together. They may even have used a process of initially focusing on one element – say the home working – then adding in the other features – who supported the children, carried out the shopping and domestic duties – and when. One at a time. A bottom up approach.

Two different approaches to sorting problems in what may, on the surface, appear to be similar situations.

WHEN NOT TO SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF

How many times do you struggle with a song that you hear a short snatch of - then it’s with you for ages afterwards? It’s the good old earworm that niggles and refuses to depart without a struggle. Thoughts can be the same, especially if you are struggling with anxiety. You get those niggles – niggles as in small problems, rather than life changing worries, that enter your mind to seemingly take up permanent residence. They are like a hamster in its wheel churning round and round in never decreasing circles. The hamster seems to spring to a new level of activity as soon as your head hits the pillow and you endeavour to get to sleep. The small stuff is sweating bucketsful and you are drowning under its influence. In fact, now is the time to NOT sweat the small stuff. Yes, switching it off can be difficult, as this can seem to add more grist to the mill of that little rodent by giving it the attention it seeks. It has more energy to spend in its endless pursuit of getting itself, and your mind, nowhere.

 Better to apply a bit of Mindfulness.  Acknowledge the thought, the worry, the problem and then set it aside. But, don’t beat yourself up if it pops back into action again – rather repeat the acknowledgement and setting aside. I always remind myself, and clients, of a metaphor used as part of an online Mindfulness course. Such ruminations were described as being like a little puppy and to get your mind to respond to your wishes and leave you in peace, you employ the same strategy as a caring owner would use with said puppy. Say you wanted the puppy to stay in its basket. That caring owner would give the puppy a stroke as they gently returned it to its basket. Certainly far from the mental self flagellation to which it is too easy for us to resort to with our whizzing thoughts. Said puppy is likely to need the gentle returning to its basket on more than one occasion. Ditto our minds when we switch off that negative small stuff. Guess if you weren’t that caring owner, and instead gave the puppy a smack when you put him in the basket, chances are you would end up with an unhappy, disgruntled dog. I will leave it up to you to transfer this to how your mind could well react if you don’t act as its caring owner! I imagine that many have first-hand experience of said response.

WHEN THE SMALL STUFF DOES NEED FOCUSING ON

As Richard Carlson suggested in his 1998 best-selling book ‘Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff ... and It’s All Small Stuff.’; it’s positive to let little things go. For example he says ‘Your favourite cup just broke? Everything has a beginning and everything has an end—it was your cup’s time.’ Things like that are relatively easy not to even mildly perspire over. Though I would struggle with the spin of it being my cup’s time rather than my clumsiness as the main focus of my thinking!  In fact, for such happenings, I always say out loud – ‘if that’s the worst thing to happen today, it’s a great day.’ I admit that over the years, more and more happenings in my life seem to be followed by these words. They have prevented feelings of disappointment, let down, frustration when I have made a gaff. They have served me well.

Other areas may call for some self-reflection around my attitudes before I am able to prevent that perspiration. I quote another example from the book - “When we judge or criticize another person, it says nothing about that person; it merely says something about our own need to be critical.”  I say no more other than this is on-going work for me.

WHEN OTHERS ARE  AFFECTED

A gripe of mine is that I don’t like people being late. OK, we can all be delayed on occasion, but I am talking about those who are perpetually late. To me, a cause for overheating whilst the other person simply doesn’t see it as a matter for a single bead of perspiration. I admit that their attitude doesn’t help me, and I wonder how such people manage in business, in life. For them, not being bothered by such a seemingly minor thing as keeping others waiting is apparently seen as not worth considering. They certainly don’t sweat such a small thing.

 Is it then down to a need to set boundaries between individuals to decide just what falls into the small stuff that can be ignored, glossed over, forgotten about  and that which one of the parties considers is far from small and insignificant. Maybe it comes down to the fact that size is comparable and for some of us, said size does matter, with small stuff being as needing of consideration as bigger stuff. Small does not always equate with insignificant, especially when consideration of others is an issue. Is it back to what my Mum used to assure me was important – ‘It’s down to standards Denise – don’t forget that.’ Is it also down to an acceptance that others have their own standards which could be very different to our own; and that we don’t always know what is going on by way of paddling under their water?

So it’s probably a good idea to endeavour not to sweat the small stuff when said small stuff is insignificant, especially if it could very well shortly seem insignificant. However, spending time focusing on small stuff that is important to you can be time well spent, especially if you are considering that small stuff as an important part of a bigger picture. A part that needs focusing on in order to bring that picture to be the way you want it to be. Just a matter of making the decision and differentiating between important to you stuff and not important stuff...seemingly  simple, but this is not always so.

As for the picture, it just looked like a case of asking the question – ‘Does my bum look big in this?’ For this cat – small stuff obviously not worth bothering about, as after minimal consideration and a bit of shuffling, it’s relaxation rules – ok? No sweat!

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