Imagine yourself walking on a gentle path on a hill beside the sea. It’s a glorious sunny day, warm but with a slight cooling breeze, puffy white clouds drifting across the bluest of blue skies. Your destination is a seaside cafe where a dear friend awaits. Perfection.
You get a tiny little pebble in your shoe. All of your focus immediately shifts to the pain in the ball of your foot and the need to not have it hurt. You might try to ignore it and hobble along, hoping it will shift or somehow just disappear. After all, it’s a bother to stop and take off your shoe to deal with it, and your friend is waiting. There’s no time to deal with this, and it’s so annoying to have this intrude on what was a perfectly good walk. Darn it all!
Of course, it doesn’t go away but just gets lodged more firmly. Unicorns and rainbows might suddenly appear for all you know, but you won’t notice because you’re so distracted.
You limp along, getting more frustrated until you just do what needs to be done. Take off the shoe, remove the offending pebble, and walk on. The day is pleasant again, the view comes back into focus, all feels well. And you ask yourself, “Why didn’t I stop the minute it happened instead of getting all worked up and annoyed?”
Most of us can identify a whole bunch of “pebbles” in our daily lives. It’s funny how these small things can have a bigger effect on us than we even realize. When a major crisis happens, we rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. We tend to let the small things go because they seem, well, small. It’s not a crisis situation that the sink drains slowly, but it sure is annoying every morning to watch that swamp of toothpaste-water burble. It’s the small things that chafe and rub and make us irritable, and being irritated is completely incompatible with enjoying the present and savoring our daily lives.
As a coach, I encourage my clients to take an inventory of the pebbles they can immediately, and often easily, remove. That hall closet with the burned-out lightbulb that makes the morning search for your daughter’s mittens take 5 more minutes than it needs to. Running out of toilet paper because you don’t have a package on reserve at all times. Catching your clothes yet again on that rough corner in the hallway that just needs a quick sanding. You get the idea!
Gretchin Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, has what she calls her Twelve Personal Commandments, and one of them is “Do what ought to be done.” Got a pebble in your shoe? Don’t delay! Do what ought to be done and take that pesky thing out on the spot, and voila! You’re moving on happily without having let yourself get all bothered for a quarter of a mile when the end result is the same – either way, you stop and take it out. Doing it sooner than later creates happiness by reducing irritation.
So go ahead and make a list of the pebbles in your life, and start knocking them off one by one each day. I find it incredibly satisfying to do this, and my home, car, and work space are far more pleasant to be in as a result. A strategy I use to maintain my momentum is to apply the “touch it once” philosophy. This means that when I get out of my car, I take my travel mug in with me now instead of thinking, “Oh, I’ll come out and get that later.” When I get the mail, the junk goes immediately in the recycling, and I either respond to what is important on the spot if I can, or put it in the “to do” box on my desk. I keep my email Inbox to 9 emails or less by answering things immediately, and then using Folders to keep what is worth keeping and invoking the glorious “Delete” key whenever possible.
Experiment and see what works for you! You might find that simply paying attention helps you see not just the pebbles, but the rainbows and unicorns, too.
Got helpful hints or your own take on this topic? Share your ideas by clicking “Leave a Comment” at the top.
Additional information: Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project Website