Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff

New Year’s is always a really fun time for me. I have family and friends around, and for the last few years I’ve been able to celebrate with them in Africa.

Last night I went to a national gala in Uganda. The king, the ministers, and all of the Ugandan entertainment stars were there. I’ll tell you more about it soon.

Tonight I’m going to a big family holiday dinner we have on New Year’s Eve. Before then, I have some down time. So I’m writing to you, and then I’m going to do nothing and allow myself to be a little bored.

Let me tell you what I mean by that and how I think it can help you too.

I brought with me a little book a friend gave me. It’s Robert Carlson’s Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and It’s All Small Stuff.

It’s filled with 245 little pieces of useful, helpful advice about how to be more in tune with the present and with your life as you’re living it. There are so many good tips in it I like to pick it up and remind myself of them occasionally.

I like the book because it jibes with my belief that we can and should take back control of our bodies from all the distractions forced on us.

Because the fact is, distractedness has gotten very bad in the modern world. We use our brains to disconnect from what our bodies are feeling. We take our brains somewhere else through TV, or music, or “busyness.”

Carlson has lots of good advice about this. But he says two things in his book that were particularly helpful. For me, they are not intuitive. In other words, I would not have gotten to them without the book.

The first is allow yourself to be bored.

We think of being bored as a negative thing, and we’re told that allowing yourself to be bored is kind of a step toward laziness, so you want to resist that before it happens.

You come home, and as soon as you get home you start opening the mail. Then you say, “Oh, I have to clean these dishes from this morning,” and then you go flip on the TV, and then you go look and see what’s in the paper…

You sequence things to occupy yourself and think you have to have something to “do.”

But Carlson has a surprise. He says to just try it, and see what happens when you say, “OK, well, I’m just going to do nothing and not worry if I’m going to be bored, just to feel the feeling of being bored and see how long I can take it.”

A funny thing happens. You’re only bored for an instant, and then that transforms into relaxation.

He says that if you get past that thing that tells you, “Don’t have nothing to do,” you’ll allow yourself to just sit. It doesn’t require anything except that you just stop.

Don’t do one thing after another, don’t try to think about too much. Don’t try to do anything. Just stop. And the benefits are extreme.

When I tried it, sure enough, I never really got bored. I flirted with the thought of being bored, but it instantly transformed into an entry point that allowed my mind to stop. I was completely at ease.

It was very useful.

The other thing I learned from his book that I wouldn’t have thought of was that he said to become comfortable not knowing.

He tells the parable of a farmer who goes to his village wise man and tells him frantically, “My ox has died and I have no animal to help me plow my field! Isn’t this the worst thing that could have happened?”

The wise old man replied, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

He went back to the wise man to apologize. “You were right. Losing my ox wasn’t the worst thing. Otherwise, I never would have gotten my new horse. Now I see that losing my ox was the best thing that could have happened.”

The wise man replied once again, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

The farmer thought the wise man was surely crazy now.

A few days later the farmer’s son was riding the horse and was thrown off. He broke his leg and would not be able to help with the crop. Oh no, thought the man. Now we will starve to death.

The farmer went to the wise man. This time he said, “How did you know that capturing my horse was not a good thing? You were right again. I’m sure that this is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. You must agree this time.”

The wise man calmly looked at the farmer and in a compassionate tone replied once again, “Maybe so, maybe not.”

Enraged that the wise man could be so ignorant, the farmer stormed back to the village. The next day troops arrived to take every able-bodied man to the horrendous war that had just broken out. The farmer’s son was the only young man in the village who didn’t have to go. He would live, while the others would die.

The farmer wanted to force the wise man to tell him that he knew the consequence of what happened each time was the absolute best or worst thing. But the wise man knew that you can’t do that because you never know what’s coming next.

We often try to force what we think we know on a situation, when we really have no way of knowing. Just be comfortable with not knowing and make the best of it.

What we do have is the capacity to feel what’s happening inside of us in a much more complete and detailed way than most of us imagine. Only usually we can’t, because we’re so distracted.

I think if you can allow yourself to slow down and be bored, and be comfortable not knowing, you’ll have a happier, healthier New Year.

To Your Good Health,
Al Sears, MD
Al Sears, MD