Somedays I feel like the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…” Guy can go ahead and kiss my ass. Okay, technically I haven’t even read this book. I’m just getting grumpy at the title and pretending I know what the book is about. I’m like the first person ever to do that. Heck I’ll probably get my share of this from people that get grumpy at the title of the book I'm writing, without even reading it. I probably even agree with stuff that’s in the book that I haven’t read called “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. Oh, “it’s all small stuff” he says. I get it. I completely get it, but here’s the thing - Sometimes the small stuff is freaking aggravating and totally sweat-able.
And I know that it’s all just in my head. But sometimes, it’s wrapped around my feet. Sometimes it’s bed sheets and it’s wrapped around and it’s trapping my feet and how the fuck, and oh my god, and are you fucking kidding me right now?! Because, I thought somehow that bedsheets would get easier the older I got. And I’m getting older, as sure as I wake up in the morning with trapped feet, I’m getting older. But the sheets aren’t necessarily getting easier. I bet there’s even something special about sheets. I don’t really even move when I sleep, but the sheets move, I swear. I bet there’s a physics-y explanation for the movement of sheets, something about friction or sheet inertia or the earth’s rotation that could explain this stuff. I bet Christine McKinley would know. I mean I do things, but she’s just knows stuff about things.
And while we’re at it, aren’t most of us paid for the small stuff? No really. Raise your hand if paying attention to the small stuff is why you get to do whatever it is you do, for a living, for fun, for the sake of other people... for the love of god, it’s all small stuff. Small stuff is important, isn’t it?! I’ve actually trained my brain to pay attention to a fuck ton of all kinds of the small stuff because it makes a difference. (Specifically a fuck ton. Not a shit ton or a crap ton, more than both combined = a fuck ton. I’ll make a chart some day.)
So the small stuff. There’s a good chance that I’m more sensitive than other people, especially the imaginary people I can easily conjure and compare myself to in my head that never have any of the troubles that I have. You know, “those” people. There’s an even better chance that I’ve found ways to utilize my sensitivities and honed them into parts of my vocation. I don’t know, pick a thing I do; music, acting, coaching, athleticing, writing, thing-ing, all of these are improved by my ability to pay attention to small changes or make rapid and small adjustments. Paying attention to the small stuff is totally useful. Yet, some days all of my sensitivities wake up on high alert and I find that even though I’m packing for what should be a relaxing week long trip to the beach I’m suddenly yelling at my luggage. Not my metaphorical luggage/baggage, my actual suitcase on the loveseat. Yup ironic, that - loveseat…
Okay, perhaps there were a bunch of little events that led to that bigger event of yelling at my luggage. And perhaps you’re wondering, “yelling at inanimate objects, don’t you have a technique for that?!” Yup. I do. I actually have several techniques for all kinds of things including all of the things that could lead up to yelling at luggage. And, it turns out, yelling at my luggage is one of my techniques. It’s not one of my most useful techniques. It’s a really really old technique. It’s something I learned a really long time ago before I had language, from people that probably had better techniques but weren’t able to get to them quickly enough either. I remember my mother effectively used the yell and throw something technique to keep me from choking and dying on an orange when I was five. These old techniques can work, kinda.
I will admit there was a moment just before I lost the top of my head and yelled “fucker” at my luggage where I knew I had choices. I had the choice to leave the room and not lose my head. I had the choice to not only lose my entire head, but to pick up the luggage and shake the shit out of it all over the room screaming a bunch of whatever stream-of-conscious cursing wanted to come out and then flop and kick and collapse to the floor. Instead, I stopped whatever I was doing and I crouched down and I clenched my fists and half yelled “fucker.” And then I felt not really all that much better. I felt slightly better, mostly a little ridiculous, and then I joked with myself, “don’t you have techniques for this?!”
It’s true that I have some brilliant ninja tricks and techniques for letting go of decades of anger, sadness, fear, guilt, shame, frustration, etc. I have techniques for all kinds of triggers and habits. I can totally utilize these sledgehammer Jedi techniques anytime I want to, but there are also smaller easier techniques available to everyone, yes, even non ninja Jedi’s, for instance, and I’m going out on the edge here; pay attention to the small stuff.
Yup, it turns out that one of my techniques for handling stress is to take care of small things when I think of them. To prepare for them and to maintain systems that keep my world mostly manageable. This includes making my bed each day so that there are fewer mornings when I’m beeing foot strangled by sheet monsters. This also includes eating well, drinking water, stretching and maintaining my health. This includes going to the doctor when stuff goes awry so that I’m not anemic and adrenally fatigued and yelling at inanimate objects. Another one of my techniques is to be incredibly nice to myself and forgiving when I’m not behaving or responding to things as beautifully as I’d like. It happens to the best and worst of us. Usually we’re doing what we can with the resources we have at the time. Another of my techniques is to call upon my humor whenever possible. If I’m laughing I’m probably on my way to breathing and relaxing.
Relaxing and breathing is something I actually have to remind myself to do. Can you relate? I remember many years ago I had a therapist ask me what I did to relax. I remember that it took me a while to come up with something and I’m pretty sure my response was,
“Sometimes I find myself zoning out staring at the wall or off in the distance and I don’t know how long I’ve been doing it. That feels kind of nice. Occasionally I get completely done, just...so done with however things are going that I just lie down on the floor and give up for a while until I can feel that something has shifted and I get the sense that I can kind of maybe at least a little bit continue living and pushing against gravity.”
I don’t think that’s what my therapist was looking for, but it was surely an indication at the time that I could use a few more strategies for relaxing. I still zone out and lie on the floor sometimes. But I also have a bunch of other strategies for relaxing. Like going for a walk. Walks are nice. Sometimes I sit and do a relaxing technique that starts with tensing every one of my muscles as tight as I can and then letting go of that tension so that I can tell the difference between tense and relaxed. Because some days, I’m not really sure what relaxed feels like without getting more tense first.
And then there’s music. You know the saying about savage beasts and music. I can do that with my own savage beasts. Heck, I write songs. I play the guitar. I sing. That’s totally one of the things that I could do to relax or change my state of mind. Except if I’m already yelling at things I should probably just leave my guitar at a safe distance from my crazy. More frequently I find that it’s best to change my mood by listening to something that always gets me feeling better. It is in this vein that I leave you with Journey’s video for “After the Fall.” It’s just not possible for me to stay grumpy while watching this video. In fact, when I think of all the small choices Journey made to create this delightful masterpiece I realize that sometimes sweating the small stuff isn’t just necessary, it’s just good for the soul.
(Catalyst, Breakthrough Specialist, Baggage Assassin, Quit Smoking Specialist, Idea Consultant, Force of Nature)