This title (or variants of it) has been in my drafts list for a little while. I don’t claim to be any kind of expert on positive thinking or controlling how one responds to other people and situations, but it is something I’m actively trying to conquer.
If for no other reason than I can get annoyed quite quickly and it has the potential to knock me off balance.
As I sit here finally trying to write and publish this, the young woman next door is playing her dance music quite loud. Not as loud as it has been in the past, and not so loud that it manages to vibrate through not only our walls but also our garden fence (yes, that has happened), but still loud.
Loud to me, anyway, as a 40-something who—whilst in the right mood likes loud music that I’ve chosen to listen to—appreciates a little peace and quiet, particularly in the middle of the night.
Neighbours have often proved to be sources of irritation, usually for issues around noise but also for other actions I deem antisocial.
Yet I’ve come to realise that getting annoyed and uptight about it all makes no difference to them, doesn’t change the situation, and simply makes me mad.
In fact, what I dislike most about the situations is not the situation itself, but how I end up feeling.
There are plenty of other things which can and do annoy me—I am sure I don’t need to produce a list for you—and yet what is clear is that the same thing can be maddeningly infuriating on one day, and yet hardly bother me on another. Usually, it’s not the situation itself which has altered, but my mindset. How I am feeling and responding to external things on that particular day (or night).
So what I need is a method of taking those annoying situations — embracing them, even — and turning them to my advantage.
I’ll take noise as my example as it’s the thing that winds me up the most.
Unless music is so eardrum-splittingly loud as to be physically painful (which, thankfully, is a rare occurrence) it’s fair to say that the main reason I find it hard to sleep is that my mind is churning with frustration, even anger, at the people who are keeping me awake.
Yes, they may well be selfish, but there’s really not much I can do about it in the moment — not without getting into trouble, anyway.
Instead, I have to take a more positive attitude. If I can’t see fit to bless the perpetrators, at least I can bless myself by engaging in techniques to relax myself and tell my body that I can sleep.
The fact is, I’ve slept through hurricanes.
Although I find the sounds of nature (even forceful ones like strong winds and storms) somewhat restful, and they’re very different from manmade rumblings, I believe the main difference is my attitude towards the source.
There’s absolutely no point getting angry at the wind or the thunder. They’ll carry on regardless. So long as I’m not in any danger, I can simply let the storm rage on around me. It will pass soon enough.
Yet I allow my negative thoughts towards those who I feel are wronging me, by living their lives in a way that clashes with me, to consume me.
Of course there are physical methods of reducing the problem of a noisy environment, too, but without a positive attitude, even those can be a source of annoyance. For example, I dislike earplugs. They make my head feel ‘full’. I also worry that I won’t hear important noises, like my children crying, so for me they’re a last resort.
I’ll even try and take things a step further and imagine that the sounds coming from a neighbour’s music are the backdrop to my own music. I can already create and ‘hear’ music in my head, even when nothing’s playing, so having an actual beat running along—which is usually all you can hear clearly though an internal wall—simply becomes part of that.
Admittedly, this can be a struggle, but I’ve found that it can be enough to jog my mind into a more positive frame and allows me to drift off.
If the annoyance happens during the day, I have more options for changing my own environment and minimising the external disruption.
It’s also fairly plain to see that having an underlying and ongoing level of stress and anxiety in life will allow frustration and anger towards others to well up far more quickly.
To this end, I need to make sure I’m looking after my general wellbeing. Without this, it’s much harder to deal with specific situations when they occur.
The hardest annoyances to deal with are the ones that are closest to home (both literally and figuratively). While I may assert that I have a right to peace, quiet and freedom from disturbances in my own territory, I also need to take a more realistic view.
Practicing gratitude and simply getting out, seeing and appreciating more of the world and its people — both friends and strangers — is also a key factor in beating my small-minded hangups.
I know I won’t always get it right, but I need to remember that I probably harm myself more by how I handle my bugbears, than the situation or person itself could ever cause.
Do you have any tips for handling the stress of situations and people you can’t control and can only live with? Share in the comments below.