Monday, April 26, 2010

Petty Irritations and Control

Do you have any little things that annoy you? You know, something like a squeak in the floor of the kitchen when you step on it. It happens every time you go to get a glass from the cabinet but you never get around to doing anything about it.

Maybe it's some little thing your spouse does, like squeeze the toothpaste tube from the middle (I do that!) or forget to close a particular door every time he goes into a room (my husband often forgets the door to the garage and I worry about animals getting into it--we had a possum once). Maybe it's the "idiot" who cut you off in traffic or the seemingly inconsiderate traveler at the airport who hit you with his shoulder bag. Or the mean man at the library who gave you such a hard time because you didn't recognize that the little sheet of blank paper left next to a machine was, in fact, a signal that he was still using the machine and would be back in a few minutes.

I think we all have little petty irritations or grievances which fill our days, some days more than others.

I've been thinking about the ones that have bothered me lately:

1. Never hearing back when I've applied for a really great job I'm qualified for, as if I'm not worth the time.

2. Noisy teenagers from the local high school peeling leaves off our bushes (making one completely stunted since it gets the most attention from several different students each day as they pass by). Why do they do this?

3. Two floor areas in the house have squeaked when we walk on them since we moved in 11 years ago. They are starting to annoy me but we've not gotten around to fixing them.

I have the usual run of other petty annoyances: snoring, cats which wake us up in the middle of the night, noisy neighbors, spam email, the fact that honey almost always crystallizes before you can finish the bottle, etc.

It's all minor, silly stuff really, but I've been thinking about how many of the things that get on my nerves are probably really about a feeling of a lack of control.

That's right--probably most things that annoy us are things which we can't control. I can't stop the teenagers from taking leaves off our bushes or make our neighbors be quieter. I certainly can't stop spam email or any of the other little annoyances which can pound at a person like the torture of dripping water. We could probably fix the squeak, but considering how long it's been and how many other small household projects need to be done, that can basically go in the same category.

My railing against these things in my head is really my frustration at dealing with a lack of control. I don't think any of us like to admit how much is out of our life is outside our ability to control.

What can we do? One, recognizing the problem might help. I need to recognize that these things sometimes get on my nerves more because I feel more out of control than usual. I may blow up over small things or be driven crazy by a squeaky floor that has been there for 11 or more years because other things seem out of control and I feel helpless.

Two, taking control of some aspects of life which can make a difference might help. I use To Do lists and posts like this to think through what I want to do and how to proceed. This at least gives me an illusion of control.

Three, the one thing we can control is our reaction to these annoyances. I can chose whether to let it drive me crazy or take it calmly. My own reactions to these irritations is the one thing of which I am in complete control. I need to remember that and take advantage of it.

Of course, I can also think about getting rid of some irritations. For a long time, some of the kitchen cabinets would not shut properly. About a year ago my husband spent an hour fixing the doors and now they all shut wonderfully. I enjoy being able to close the doors and have them stay closed. One irritation down, with little effort. We should all try to identify the little things like this which can be fixed and get them done when we can. It can make a startling difference in attitude.

There is some justification to sweating the small stuff and paying attention to those little irritations, especially the ones we can fix. Some we can fix, and for those we can't we need to recognize the larger problem and control our reactions.

I think the squeaky floor just went on to my long to do list. :) For the rest, I'll just have to work on my patience.

1 comment:

  1. Good post. Getting annoyed by small things definitely has a lot to do with wanting to be in control - and behind that, with fear of not being in control. I find it a lot harder to calm down and let go of the small stuff when I'm feeling insecure.

    I think there can also be simpler, psycho-physiological factors to this which are worth considering. When my irritation levels are mounting, I try to remember to ask myself these questions: 1) am I hungry? 2) am I tired? 3) am I trying to do too much just now? 4) where am I in my menstrual cycle? 5) is my environment noisy / crowded / airless / bothering me in some other way? I've noticed that things like this can make a lot of difference to how easily I succumb to petty irritations, so I try to solve them or make allowances for them, then look at what else might be going on.

    And you're absolutely right: simply fixing faulty floors, doors, and so on really helps.


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