How To Not Let Things Bother You

I used to be easily bothered by other people (and sometimes still am).

On my worst days, it would take one bad ten-second interaction and for the rest of the day, I would obsess about how that person could be so ignorant.

I would play an endless movie in my head, imagining what I should have said, coming up with reasons why they were wrong, making threats, etc.

But a couple of years ago, I made a conscious decision to do something about it. I would reclaim that emotional energy and use it for something worthwhile.

The strategies in this article are the result of that project. They have helped me tremendously.

And you, too, can learn how to not let things bother you.

Let’s get started.

What Should and Should Not Bother You

There are some truly tragic events that should bother you, like a loved one getting very sick or dying in an accident.

That’s not what this article is about.

We are talking about the little things needlessly ruining your day. Specifically, these two scenarios:

  1. People not meeting your expectations
  2. Inanimate objects not meeting your expectations

This first one is almost always due to differences in values. If person A values one behavior, and person B values another behavior, they will eventually clash. Examples include:

  • A person not saying “Thank you” when you hold the door open for them
  • A colleague taking credit for something you did
  • A friend who is always boasting
  • A stranger answering the phone during a movie
  • A romantic partner expecting you to babysit them
  • A business partner chewing with their mouth open

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master.

Epictetus

With inanimate objects, typical examples include:

  • The tap dripping in the kitchen
  • The Wi-Fi in your apartment not working
  • The street noise outside the window disturbing your sleep
  • That new gadget not doing what it’s supposed to do

None of these examples compare to a truly tragic event like a loved one dying. In the grand scheme of things, they are absolutely trivial. Yet, we allow them to sap us of emotional energy as if they were tragic.

26 Strategies To Not Let Things Bother You

These 26 techniques will help you to remain calm when you find yourself in an irritating situation.

1. Fix It

Some things are easy to fix. If it bothers you that someone left the door open at the coffee shop on a winter day, just get up and close it. It is not worth getting worked up about something that takes 10 seconds out of your day.

But if the issue is of a systemic nature, you need to choose a different approach. E.g., if a team member keeps turning in sloppy work expecting you to fix it, you must confront him. Don’t become a fixer as your default.

2. Don’t Complain

When you complain, you focus even more on what is bothering you. You are feeding the stressor more emotional energy, reinforcing its grasp on you.

Complaining is also a form of lowbrow self-entertainment. It’s fun to bitch about your boss or David from Accounting. But in the process, you inevitably pull yourself down.

For these reasons, stop complaining. By not complaining, you will not make the root cause go away, but you will improve the symptoms.

3. Don’t Be There

If you know that a certain situation triggers you, avoid that trigger. That annoying coworker is coming along to a night out? Stay home. The best way to not get upset is to not be there:

The distance between you and your trigger

Someone might argue, “But I can’t avoid my boss or my spouse.” But you can. You can quit your job and you can get a divorce. The real message is: “I’m not willing to pay the price for that.” That’s a legitimate choice, but then we should accept the trade-off.

4. Hit the Brakes

When you find yourself in an argument that is getting out of hand, your best option is to hit the brakes.

So next time you are having an argument with your boss or your spouse, tell them: “I am feeling very upset right now and that won’t solve anything. Let me calm down and get back to you.

Then do something relaxing, like taking a walk. Once you have regained your composure — and only then — do you return to the situation to resolve it.

5. Let Go of Perfectionism

Oftentimes, we expect too much, both of ourselves and of other people. This disappoints us when reality doesn’t live up to our high hopes.

Instead, try to look at things as they are: imperfect. Incompetence grows faster than competence.

Learning to accept that imperfection will go a long way to not let things bother you so much.

Try to remember this next time your shopping bag rips or someone hits your bumper. Such is life.

6. Never Hate

No matter how unfairly some people might treat you, never hate. Hate will keep you distracted. You will have no energy left to focus on your own advancement.

Living well is the best revenge.

George Herbert

This is the reason why so many people indulge in hate, e.g., fixating on minorities. It keeps them from doing the hard work on themselves.

7. Remember, It Could Be Worse

No matter how annoyed you feel, it could be worse. You could be in a wheelchair. Someone you love could have died. There could be war.

In comparison, most of our everyday nuisances are trivial. And we do well to remind ourselves of it.

8. Focus on What You Control

Feeling bothered by another person is a sign that you are not taking ownership for yourself. The person is who he is. Railing against him is as useless as railing against the weather.

The only thing you truly have control over is yourself. Therefore, focus on your choices. Walk away. Find a more compatible person. Become better at influencing people.

9. Put Things Into Perspective

One of the best strategies for how to not let things bother you is to put things into perspective.

Me gazing into the distance

Ask yourself: How much will this annoying situation still affect you in 5 years? In 10 years? You probably won’t even remember it.

Most day-to-day issues have zero impact on your future. So there is no reason to get hung up on them.

10. Adopt a Historical View

Oftentimes, when we are confronted with a bothersome situation, what upsets us the most is the seeming singularity of the event. “How could they have just done that?”

But the reality is, it has all been done before — and much worse.

Think back to history: the power mongering, the political backstabbing, the financial scams, even the war crimes and the genocides.

In the grand scheme of things, whatever affront you experienced is minuscule. Shrug it off.

11. Don’t Exaggerate

When we feel wronged, we tend to exaggerate the situation, usually to persuade other people to agreeing with us. But by distorting reality, you rob yourself of the chance to learn from it.

Exaggeration is a branch of lying.

Baltasar Gracián

Instead, play the situation back in your head. Substitute yourself and the offender with strangers. It helps to create emotional detachment to better see your own mistakes.

12. Don’t Assume the Worst

Sometimes, you need to cut other people some slack. The waiter messing up your order? He just learned he won’t get into art school. That woman being rude to you at the checkout? Her child was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease.

The small fraction you know about someone else

You can never know a stranger’s story. So don’t automatically assume they are out to get you.

13. Focus on the Positive

It is a cliché but true: With every bad situation, there is also a silver lining. Yes, your flight got canceled and you had to wait around at the airport for hours. But while waiting, you also met this fascinating new person and made a friend for life.

You might even profit from a negative situation without realizing it. Catching the flu might have prevented you from going on that day-trip, but unbeknownst to you, you also avoided a mugging.

It is only smart to focus on the positive aspects that will improve your life, instead of dwelling on the negatives, which will pull you down.

14. Consider Your Own Fault

No matter what negative situation we find ourselves in, on some level, we always contribute to it.

I see this with bargain hunters a lot. If you pay for a cheap copywriter, don’t be surprised if your business website doesn’t perform well.

Likewise, many people suffering from cardiovascular disease fail to recognize how their poor lifestyle choices led up to this. They keep blaming their bad luck instead of themselves.

Frame bothersome situations as what they really are: an opportunity to learn about your faults and improve on them.

15. Understand Where People Are Coming From

To an extent, we are all products of our circumstances. Our identity is based on what we have experienced up to this point in life. If you come from a family of substance abusers, your starting position in life is different from someone with stable roots.

This is no excuse to play the victim card. But it does explain a lot. And it helps to find compassion in yourself, when other people are acting annoyingly.

16. Practice Mental Jiu Jitsu

Instead of being bothered by a certain situation, look at it as a playful challenge: How can I get what I want, as fast as possible, with the least amount of energy spent? I call this mental jiu jitsu.

Me in a jiu jitsu stance

An example. Your neighbor at your co-working space is very noisy. She will talk on her phone, chat up her neighbor, etc. You could confront her, but that won’t change anything. She is who she is.

Or you could buy a pair of noise-canceling headphones to block her out. You could also introduce her to someone else on a different table that she will want to sit next to. You could work from home.

There are always direct alternatives which depend solely on you. Become good at finding them, and you can out jiu jitsu anybody.

17. Transform the Negative Energy

Every time you are upset, there is a lot of emotional energy generated, usually in the form of agitation. That’s a powerful reservoir. If you can tap into that energy and use it for something productive, you will get things done.

If someone cheated you, use that for your next workout. You will push yourself to new limits. Business is another good place to redirect these negative energies. If you can channel your anger into competitiveness, you will work harder and longer.

18. Learn To Laugh About It

Take a step back and look at all the petty grievances we carry, the posturing, the gestures of self-importance. It’s either very depressing or extremely amusing.

Choose the latter one. Find it in yourself to laugh about yourself and others. Not a derogatory laugh, but genuine amusement. Like when you watch puppies being clumsy.

Tip: Imagine you are looking at yourself on a screen, starring in a sitcom. It helps.

The most certain sign of wisdom is cheerfulness.

Michel de Montaigne

19. Talk to Someone About It

I said earlier that you shouldn’t complain. But you should talk to people you trust about what bothers you.

Here, you are not putting someone else down. Rather, you are trying to understand yourself better. What patterns do you fall back into? And why? What hidden agendas drive you? This will both provide relief and spurt growth.

If this sounds a lot like therapy, it is because I recommend therapy/coaching. But a smart, balanced friend might serve a similar role. And you in turn should try to serve other people in that. It’s not only the talker who becomes more self-aware, but the listener too.

20. Journal About What Bothers You

One of the best ways to let go of a difficult situation is to journal about it. The idea is simple: what gets written about gets analyzed. As a by-product, your annoyance fades away.

Take 15 minutes each morning to jot down whatever negative thoughts occupy your mind. This will keep your annoyance level at a manageable baseline. Whenever an acute situation arises, do additional intervention journaling.

21. Be Thankful

If you regularly remind yourself of all the good things in your life, you are less likely to get upset about the bad things.

Ideas for a gratitude practice include (choose which apply):

  • Look at the important people in your life and how they enrich your existence.
  • Appreciate your physical health.
  • Appreciate your financial status.
  • Think about the level of freedom you enjoy, how you can speak your mind, travel anywhere, and start whatever venture.

22. Manage Your Expectations

People who easily feel bothered tend to suffer from entitlement. For some reason, it has gotten into our heads that we deserve special treatment. When that doesn’t happen, we get upset.

Me looking exasperated

Make this your new mantra — nobody owes me anything. Not your parents, not your lovers, not your government. It’s your job to please yourself.

23. Switch on the Extrovert in You

There are two modes of interacting with your environment. You can be inside your head (introversion) and you can be outside your head (extraversion).

People inside their heads tend to be easily bothered by their environment. That is due to an overload, as a never-ending flow of information keeps coming their way.

As an extrovert, you are constantly sending out information. Not only does that prevent overload, it also makes you actively engaged with your surroundings.

An introvert vs. an extrovert

But it’s possible to learn to be both, as needed.

When you are by yourself, be an introvert: reflect, write, talk to yourself. But as soon as you leave the house, you make a conscious effort to be outside your head. This means smiling at people, saying “How are you doing?”, and starting conversations with strangers.

It’s hard to recondition yourself like that. It will take months or years. But it’s worth it. Of all the strategies in this article, this one is only second to meditation.

24. Understand the Deeper Issue

If you are someone easily bothered, you could just shrug it off as a minor flaw. Or you could start looking for the deeper issue.

For example, I get very annoyed with people who are unable to prioritize. They jump from one interesting project to the next, never accomplishing anything.

But in truth, that’s my own tendency. I cannot prioritize. And by projecting onto others, I keep myself busy instead of addressing the problem.

By understanding the deeper issue, you stop tinkering with the symptoms — feeling bothered — and start getting to the root of the problem.

25. Examine Your Past

Oftentimes, the deeper issue is an event from your past. You might get upset with someone because they unconsciously trigger a childhood trauma.

It is tricky to discover these triggers by yourself. Really consider getting the help of a therapist or a coach for that.

But at least be open to the idea that there might be an infantile component to your anger. This openness will eventually bring some of your injuries to light and allow you to deal with them.

26. Try Meditation

All the strategies mentioned in this article so far require you to step deeper inside your rational mind, to come up with a solution. Meditation does the opposite. Here, you exit your rational mind.

Think of it like a mansion that you live in, but where you only occupy one room. The rational approach will help you to explore the other rooms. But meditation will make you leave the house altogether and look at it from the outside.

The few times this has happened to me, I experienced a level of joy I can only compare to a drug trip. In that space, the things that used to bother you will not register anymore.

How To Practice These Strategies

If you want to learn how to not let things bother you, you need to look at this like a skill set. Just like learning a new language or an instrument, it takes focus and practice. This four-step approach will help with that.

Step 1

Take each of the aforementioned strategies and try them out for one day. If the initial test is promising, put that strategy on a to-keep list. If it didn’t do much for you, disregard it.

Step 2

Let’s say, at the end of step 1, you picked out seven strategies that seem to work well for you. Now, during the next seven days, try each of these strategies again to gather further data.

This time, take detailed notes for each day:

  • Analyze what tactic worked well for you in what situation, and what didn’t work well.
  • Speculate about why a certain strategy might appeal to you, how it plays into your personality.
  • Think about the cost of implementation, how easy or how difficult it would be to make this an everyday thing.

This will help you to further make these tactics your own.

Finally, sort your seven strategies by effectiveness.

Step 3

Now, take the top three and practice each of these strategies for a month straight to perfect them. Put up signs in your apartment to remind yourself of them. Tell the people you surround yourself with about your project to create some peer pressure. But more than anything, apply.

On any given day, you should try out your current tactic in the field at least 5–10 times.

Step 4

After those three months are over, revisit your top three in writing. Ask yourself:

  • Does the top-ranking strategy still hold true, or did one of the lower-ranked strategies prove more effective?
  • Did one of the strategies prove so ineffective that you should exchange it with a new one?
  • Has one strategy emerged as so powerful that you can disregard the other two completely?

Your answers will determine how to proceed. But you get the idea: Field-test different methods, put in the time, analyze your progress. In short: Engage in deliberate practice.

Why You Need To Take Care of This

There are five major reasons why you need to learn how to not let things bother you.

1. Reclaim Your Productivity

Being annoyed with the little things is a major productivity killer.

If you don’t believe me, as an experiment, write down whenever you feel bothered with something for one day straight. Don’t just note down outright conflicts, but record every little negative thought. It will be a long, long list.

How can you expect to achieve your goals, if you are constantly spending your emotional energy on nuisances?

Even if this just wastes 20 percent of your emotional “battery” for the day, the long-term cost is significant. Those 20 percent accumulated over time would have been the business you never started or that creative skill set you never acquired.

But if you learn how to not let things bother you, you will gain access to new reserves. You will achieve goals that you previously had no bandwidth for.

2. Experience Emotional Freedom

The better you get at how to not let things bother you, the more emotional freedom you will gain. Other people will no longer hold any power over you.

Not my circus, not my monkeys.

Polish Proverb

Think of all the fights you had with your parents, your teachers, your partners and your bosses over the years. Think of how upset you got. How it disturbed your sleep. How even your health suffered.

All of that — gone.

3. Enjoy Clarity

With fewer distractions, you will discover what is important to you. You will enjoy more clarity.

4. Seize Opportunities

By clearing your internal RAM, you will be faster to react. While your old self would still be busy mulling things over, you will now seize exciting opportunities when they arise.

5. Improve Your Social Environment

There is also a global advantage to learning how to not let things bother you.

If we indulge in loathing, a spiral of negativity is started: 1) Your boss treats you unfairly. As a result, you get angry. 2) You go home to your spouse and unload on him/her. 3) He/she in turn yells at your kids. 4) Your kids will now harass the neighbor’s dog. And so forth and so on.

By breaking this bother spiral, we can improve the lives of the people we care about.

To Confront or To Evade

When you decide not to let things bother you, you have two options: you can either choose a confrontational or an evasive approach. Each approach has two upsides and two downsides.

Comparing the confrontational with the evasive approach

The Confrontational Approach

When you confront other people about what is bothering you, you unburden yourself. You refuse to carry certain stings around forever.

You also show yourself as who you are, and what values you stand for. It will potentially attract people with similar values who would otherwise not have noticed you.

The downside is that every confrontation costs you. There is a huge loss in emotional energy that could have been used more productively.

Confrontations will also make it unlikely for you to get what you want. People will not change their behavior because you demand it. Instead, they will secretly resent you.

The Evasive Approach

By choosing a non-confrontational approach, you preserve your energy for the important projects in your life. You retain your inner peace.

Also, instead of drawing battle lines, you can try to outsmart the other person. This way, you might actually get what you want.

The downside is that you will have to take some punches without retaliating. That is difficult to do for the ego.

There is also the danger of you not speaking up because you are afraid of confrontation. By keeping quiet, you might, over time, create a prison for yourself.

Which one is better?

In most cases, it’s better to choose the non-confrontational approach. That’s the topic of this article. But it is also vitally important to recognize the few instances where it’s better to draw a line in the sand.

There are two benchmark questions to ask. The first one is, “Am I avoiding important work by engaging in pointless battles?” If the answer is “Yes,” don’t engage.

The second benchmark question is, “Am I afraid to speak up?” If the answer is “Yes,” then you might have to.

We Were Never Meant To Be Bothered

We are surrounded by stressors in the modern world:

  • We live in densely populated cities, constantly invading each other’s space.
  • We work 9-to-5 jobs that require us to be in a certain place at a certain time, doing something we dislike, listening to someone we don’t respect.
  • We are constantly bombarded with negative world news, even though hardly any of it directly applies to us.
  • Through advertising and social media, we are exposed to a never-ending stream of make-believe, which makes us jealous and doubt ourselves.

It’s no wonder that we are constantly irritated by the little things. But that isn’t our natural state of being. From an evolutionary point of view, stress acted as an emergency survival mechanism. It was supposed to get us ready when we had to fight something big or run from something big. It was never meant to be chronic.

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3 thoughts on “How To Not Let Things Bother You”

  1. Great and helpful!

    But, how would you work on my problem? Next to my property to large houses were build. I never thought that could happen to the crisis. Boom 2 loud families, construction noise for 2
    Years now. Yes, I cannot change it! But it will affect my whole life! It is ugly, loud an this was not my expectation. I am upset every single day. What should I work on?

    Reply

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