The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

Entertainment on the cheap

I hung out with my daughter for about an hour today while she happily ran up and down carpeted stairs. We conversed a bit, sang a bit, and mostly just went up and down those stairs. Times like this are a great reminder that there’s so much entertainment available on the cheap.

As we journey through life, we get exposed to many forms of expensive entertainment – fancy gadgets, expensive sports, and so on. And, while many of these are great, it is easy to forget how little it actually takes for us to have a good time.

As I was taught this morning, a combination of some physical activity, outdoors or a bit of novelty in the location (in this case, carpeted stairs), and folks you like hanging out with is all it takes for a good time.

I wish you plenty of that over the weekend. :-)

Looking outward

There’s a lot written these days about millennial employees looking to find purpose at work. These discussions are interesting and speak to the challenges executives and HR professionals face as they seek to combine monetization with collaborative and inspiring workplace.

That said, I do find myself wondering how much of this is actually about the desire to find purpose at work versus seeking those powerful and elusive intangibles like happiness, equanimity, and peace of mind.

If it is the latter – and, in many cases, there’s reason to believe it is – seeking fulfillment at the office is just a distraction. Regardless of how wonderful the values might be, workplace cultures are built around incentives like pay, promotions, and performance reviews that encourage us to look outward. The powerful intangibles that we tend to seek, on the other hand, only exist when we look inward.

No amount of effort will help us find them if we spend it looking in the wrong places.

Find them within ourselves, we must.

Get more vs. appreciate more

A delicious custard cake – the kind that melts in your mouth – is wasted on someone who doesn’t take the time to appreciate it. So are beautiful beaches, good teammates, the smell of flowers, supportive partners, good health, and thoughtful managers.

Lacking appreciation, it turns out, makes getting more a leaky bucket problem. It doesn’t matter how much effort you put into getting more – it won’t count for much.

We spend large swathes of our day working on skills (productivity, skills that make us better at our jobs) that are directed at helping us get more.

What if we siphoned off a portion of that effort to develop our appreciation skills instead?

Throwing money at problems

In the past 2 seasons, Jose Mourinho, the manager of Manchester United Football Club, has spent upwards of $400M in recruiting new players. And, his predecessors had spent an additional $400M over 3 seasons (take a moment to let those numbers sink in). But, he wanted to set things right.

While there has undoubtedly been some progress in the past two seasons, watching the team play has often been a joyless affair of late. A recent article described this well – If a team reflects the personality of its manager, then United need help because Mourinho’s demeanor and personality since arriving at Old Trafford has been anything but the bold, courageous and charismatic that the club demands. It has been downright miserable and tetchy.

After a relatively mediocre season, he has reportedly asked for an additional $250M to spend over the summer. His response is simply to throw more money at the problem to make it go away.

However, money doesn’t make all problems go away. Having a certain amount can help with a few problems, sure. But, throwing money at your marriage doesn’t a happy marriage make. And, good luck trying to spend your way into happiness.

And, more importantly, money can never be a substitute for good leadership and a great attitude. Some of the best funded teams fail because they approach problems with poor intent and attitude.

Improving our attitude remains one of the best ways to improve our performances.

Unglamorous moments

I was thinking of a whole host of unglamorous moments today.

Listening to the radio while stuck in traffic.
Attempting to calm your hysterical kid in the middle of the night.
Having to make an emergency run to the grocery store because your partner forgot to get something.
Going through an ordinary day of work.
Eating your staple food for dinner.
Recovering from the flu.
Working through a thousand cell spreadsheet one cell at a time.

You’ve been through most or all of this. So, you know exactly what I’m talking about. And, yet, when we think of our lives, the movies tell us that the list of moments should probably look something like the following.

Winning a prestigious award in front of family.
Getting promoted to <insert fancy title> in <insert famous company>
A happy, all smiles, re-union with friends in a beautiful island somewhere.
Watching your kid/partner/family member do something awesome.
Etc.

You may be lucky to have a few of those glamorous moments come by a couple of times in your life. But, for the most part, you are going to live a life full of unglamorous moments. And, here’s the amazing part, if you have the privilege to go through these unglamorous moments without having to worry about your health, safety or shelter, you have everything in place to earn your happiness.

How do you that? By developing a perspective that helps you constantly experience gratitude. And, I mean constantly. If you are stuck in traffic, it means looking around and being thankful for everything in your life that enables you to be stuck in that traffic. Your car, your home, your people, your job, this planet, etc., etc. There’s always plenty to be thankful for. But, it requires perspective and an appreciation for those unglamorous moments.

That matters because of two truths. First, the occasional glamorous moment that gets consigned to the highlight reel is a result of millions of these unglamorous moments well done. And, second, the ratio of unglamorous moments to glamorous moments is probably in the range of a billion to one. So, if you’re wasting these moments in the search for glamour, that’s a real pity.

We earn our happiness, one unglamorous moment at a time.

Roads not taken

Our ability to reflect and see ourselves from an outside point of view is a big part of what makes us human. A side-effect of that ability is to dwell on roads not taken. We could spend days wondering about “what if I had..”

I’ve noticed two patterns whenever I think of roads not taken. First, I only consider the best outcomes from that road I didn’t take. If I’m thinking about an opportunity, I focus on the best case situation if I’d taken the opportunity and ignore any negative scenarios. Second, I neglect all the thought I’d put into making the decision.

Hindsight is always 20:20, of course. There is definitely a lot to be learnt from observing our past behavior. But, we must only move to correct something if we see a distinct pattern. For example, if we find ourselves repeatedly over-weighting risk in our decisions, there’s good reason to be mindful of that the next time we find ourselves making an important decision.

Beyond that, fantasizing about roads not taken is a pointless exercise. We must learn to build a solid decision making process and then trust that process. To do otherwise is just to invite unhappiness. Besides, it is worth remembering that our current state is a result of the best decisions we could have taken given what we knew. So, in theory, we did our best with the cards we were dealt. That’s all we can do.

We just have to keep the faith that we’ll push ourselves to learn from what is happening to us and, over time, to know better. And, when we know better, we will do better.