- Children who are whining or fighting
- Issues with your spouse
- Hassles over household chores
- Difficult teenagers
About the Author
Place of Birth:Northern California
Education:San Jose State University, Pepperdine University; Ph.D., Sierra University
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Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family
Simple Ways to Keep Daily Responsibilities and Household Chaos from Taking Over Your Life
By Richard Carlson
HyperionCopyright © 1998 Richard Carlson
All rights reserved.
SET A POSITIVE EMOTIONAL CLIMATE
Just like a garden that flourishes best under certain conditions, your home operates more smoothly when the emotional climate is well thought out. Rather than simply reacting to each crisis and circumstance as it arises, setting an emotional climate gives you a head start in fending off potential sources of stress and conflict. It helps you respond to life rather than react to it.
When trying to determine the ideal emotional environment for yourself and/or your family, there are several important questions to ask yourself: What type of person are you? What type of environment do you enjoy and thrive in? Do you wish your home were more peaceful? These types of questions are critical in order to set the optimal emotional climate.
The creation of an emotional climate has more to do with your inner preferences than your external environment. For example, the placement of your furniture or the colors of your walls or carpet can contribute to the emotional environment but are not the most critical ingredients. Your emotional environment is primarily made up of things like noise levels, the speed of activity (is everyone rushing around like a chicken with its head cut off?), the respect of one another, and the willingness (or lack of willingness) to sit still and listen.
In our home, for example, we have determined that our goal is to create and maintain an environment of relative calm. Although we often fall short of our goal, we do take steps to put the odds in our favor. For example, although we all love spending time together, and we very often do, each of us also enjoys spending time alone in our home. The simple recognition that being alone is thought of as positive, rather than as negative, makes it easier for all of us to be sensitive to the noise, activity, and chaos levels that are occurring at any given moment. We have learned to sense when one of us needs a quieter environment or the space to be alone.
Another thing we try to do is to keep unnecessary rushing around to a minimum. Even though our children are only eight and five years old, we have discussed this issue many times. As a family, we have agreed to work on this tendency as individuals as well as in our interactions together. For example, if I fall into my habit of rushing around, trying to do too many things at once, I've given my children permission to gently remind me to slow down. They know that keeping a sane pace is important to the quality of our life at home and they feel comfortable reminding me when I'm interfering with this goal.
Obviously, the ideal emotional environment is going to be different from home to home. However, I think you'll find that if you spend a little time reflecting on what type of environment you would most prefer, you'll see relatively simple changes that you can begin to implement. Be patient with this one. It may have taken many years to create your current emotional environment, so it may take a little time to create a new one. Over time, I'm fairly certain you'll find this strategy extremely rewarding.
GIVE YOURSELF AN EXTRA TEN MINUTES
When you ask a typical person or family about what stresses them out the most, it's rare that someone doesn't include the fact that they are almost always running "a few minutes behind." Whether you're off to a soccer match, work, the airport, a neighborhood picnic, a typical day at school, or church, it seems that most of us almost always find a way to wait until the last possible minute to leave, thus running a little late. This tendency creates a great deal of unnecessary stress as we're constantly thinking about who is waiting for us, how far we are behind schedule, and how often this occurs. Invariably, we end up clutching the steering wheel, tightening our neck, and worrying about the consequences of being late. Running late makes us feel stressed out and encourages us to sweat the small stuff!
This ever-so-common problem is easily solved by simply giving yourself an extra ten minutes to get yourself and your family to your appointments. Irrespective of where you're headed, tell yourself that, no matter what, you're going to be ten minutes early instead of waiting until the last possible moment to rush out the door.
The key, of course, is to start getting ready a little earlier than usual and to be sure you're all-the-way ready before you start doing something else. I can't tell you how much this simple strategy has helped me in my own life. Rather than constantly scrambling to find my daughters' shoes or my wallet at the last possible moment, I'm now usually ready with plenty of time to spare. Don't kid yourself that these extra ten minutes aren't significant—they are. The extra few minutes before and between activities can be the difference between a stressful day and a joyful day. In addition, you'll discover that when you're not running late you'll be able to enjoy rather than rush through the different things you do each day. Even simple, ordinary events can be great fun when you're not in such a hurry.
When you're done with one activity, leave a little earlier for the next one. When possible, try to schedule your activities, work, play, and everything else a little further apart. Finally, don't overschedule. Allow for some downtime, time where absolutely nothing is scheduled.
If you implement this strategy, you'll be amazed at how much more relaxed your life will seem. The constant sense of pressure, of rushing around, scrambling, will be replaced with a quiet sense of peace.
KEEP IN MIND THAT A HAPPY SPOUSE IS A HELPING SPOUSE
This is such an obvious concept that I'm almost embarrassed to write about it. Yet, I've found that very few marriages take advantage of the truly remarkable ramifications of this strategy. The idea, of course, is that when your spouse is happy and feels appreciated, he or she will want to be of help to you! On the other hand, when your spouse feels unhappy and/or taken for granted, the last thing in the world he or she will feel like doing is making your life easier!
Let me make it perfectly clear that I'm not suggesting that it's your responsibility to make your spouse happy. It's ultimately up to each person to make that happen for himself or herself. We do, however, play a significant role in whether or not our spouses feel appreciated. Think about your own situation for a moment. How often do you genuinely thank your spouse for all the hard work he or she does on your behalf? I've met hundreds of people who admit to virtually never thanking their spouses in this way, and almost no one who does so on a regular basis.
Your spouse is your partner. Ideally, you'd treat your partner as you would your best friend. If your best friend, for example, said to you, "I would love to get away by myself for a few days," what would you say? In most cases, you'd probably come back with something like, "That sounds great. You deserve it. You should do it." But if your spouse said exactly the same thing, would your reaction be the same? Or would you think about how his or her request would affect you? Would you feel put out, defensive, or resentful? Is a good friend more concerned with himself or herself, or with the happiness of the other person? Do you think it's a coincidence that your good friends love to help you whenever possible?
Obviously, you can't always treat your spouse in exactly the same way you would your other good friends. After all, running a marriage and/or a household as well as a joint budget carries with it a great deal of responsibility. However, the dynamic can be similar. For example, if a good friend came over and cleaned your house and then took the time to make your dinner, what would you say? How would you react? If your spouse does the very same thing, doesn't he or she deserve the same recognition and gratitude? Most certainly. Whether our jobs involve staying at home, working out of the house, or some combination of the two, we all love and deserve to be appreciated. And when we don't feel taken for granted, our natural instinct is to be of help.
Almost nothing is more predictable than the way people respond when they feel appreciated and valued. Both my wife and I genuinely appreciate each other and try to remember to never take each other for granted. I love it when Kris tells me how much she appreciates all my hard work, and she continues to let me know, even after more than thirteen years of marriage. I also try to remember to acknowledge and express my gratitude daily for her hard work and for her enormous contribution to our family. The result is that we both love to do things for each other—not just out of obligation but because we know that we are appreciated.
You may be doing the same thing already. If so, keep it up. But if not, it's never too late to start. Ask yourself, What could I do to express my gratitude toward my spouse even more than I already do? Usually, the answer is very simple. Make an ongoing effort to say "Thank you," and do so genuinely. Keep in mind not so much what you are doing for the relationship, but what your spouse is doing. Express your gratitude and appreciation. I bet you'll notice what all happy couples do—that the happier and more appreciated your spouse feels, the more often he or she will reach out to help you.
LEARN FROM KIDS AS THEY LIVE IN THE MOMENT
This strategy is workable whether or not you have children living at home, or even if you've never had kids of your own. You can spend time around other people's children, or simply observe them at a local park. While it's certainly not always true, for the most part children naturally live in the moment. This is especially true for younger kids.
To experience life in the "present moment" is not a mysterious endeavor, nor is it any big deal. Essentially, all it involves is putting less attention on worries, concerns, regrets, mistakes, "what's wrong," things yet to be done, things that bother you, the future, and the past. Living in the present simply means living life now, with your attention fully engaged in this present moment, not allowing your mind to carry you away to experiences removed from this moment. When you manage to do this, you not only enjoy the moment you are experiencing to the fullest extent possible, you also bring out the best in your performance and creativity because you are far less distracted by your wants, needs, and concerns.
Happy people know that regardless of what happened yesterday, last month, years ago—or what might happen later today, tomorrow, or next year—now is the only place where happiness can actually be found and experienced. Obviously, this doesn't mean you aren't affected by, or that you don't learn from, your past—or that you don't plan for tomorrow (or for retirement and so forth), only that you understand that your most effective, powerful, and positive energy is the energy of today—the energy of right now. When you're bothered or upset, it's usually over something that is over or something else that is yet to be.
Children intuitively understand that life is a series of present moments, each meant to be experienced wholly, one right after another, as if each one is important. They immerse themselves in the present and offer their full attention to the person they are with. I remember an endearing incident that occurred five or six years ago. My wife and I had hired a baby-sitter to watch our then two- year-old while we went out for the evening. My daughter and I were playing in her sandbox, having a great time together, when the sitter arrived. As I stood to leave, my daughter let out a fierce scream of disapproval. It was as if she were saying, "How dare you interrupt our fun together!" She yelled and screamed and complained that she didn't want the sitter—it had to be me. But, shortly after we "escaped," I realized that I had forgotten my car keys and I went inside to get them. I peeked out the back door and saw that my daughter was all smiles and laughter, playing, once again, in the sandbox. She was absorbed in her beautiful present moments. She had completely let go of the past—even though the past was only a few minutes old.
How often does an adult effectively do that? A psychologist or cynic might say she was being manipulative toward me—and there may be a grain of truth in that assumption. However, a happy person would recognize that she was simply voicing her strong objection in one moment and then moving on to the next. Once I had left the scene, she freely returned her focus to the here and now—an excellent lesson for us all.
As you take this strategy to heart, you will discover that being able to immerse yourself in the present moment is a worthwhile quality to strive for. Doing so gives you the capacity to experience ordinary events in an extraordinary fashion. You will spend far less time being bothered by life, while spending more time enjoying it. You'll spend less energy convincing yourself that right now isn't good enough and more time enjoying the special moment you are in—this one.
PROTECT YOUR PRIVACY
Your home is your haven, an escape from the outside world. When you allow too much of the craziness from the outside to enter your home, you eliminate, or at least reduce, a potential source of peace. While most of us are concerned with protecting our physical safety, and will take steps to secure it, we often forget or even neglect our emotional and spiritual "safety." We can do this, at least in part, by honoring our need for some degree of privacy.
Protecting and respecting your own privacy is a statement to yourself and others that you value yourself and your own peace of mind. It suggests that your sanity and happiness are extremely important. Your home is one of the few places where, in most instances, you have some degree of control over what enters and what doesn't. Home is often a place where you have the power to say no.
Protecting your privacy can involve many things. It might mean letting your answering machine pick up your messages or screen your calls so that you don't have to. Often, out of pure habit, we rush to pick up the phone when we really don't want to talk to anyone. Is it any wonder we feel overwhelmed or crowded? I have a general policy that I won't answer the phone when I feel like being alone or when I'm already with someone in my family who wants or needs my attention. Why is it that we interrupt the ones we love to answer a call from someone we may not even know?
If you have children, you might try putting a cap on the number of friends you invite to come over in any given week. You do this not to create an antisocial environment but to create a sense of balance and harmony within the home. At various times over the years, my wife and I have felt that our home has seemed more like a train station or busy bus stop than it has a retreat. By simply acknowledging our desire to create a more peaceful environment and by making a few minor adjustments to protect our privacy, we have been able to bring that balance back into focus.
You can learn to say no more often to requests that would bring you away from your home, and you can learn to reduce your invitations to friends and others to enter your home. Again, you do this not to become a hermit or to alienate your friends and family but to protect and honor your need for privacy. When you do so, you'll notice a significant difference in the way you feel. You'll feel more nurtured and peaceful. And when you do invite others into your home, and when you accept those gracious invitations from others, you will do so knowing that you are doing so from a place of genuine desire rather than because you feel pressured to do so, out of obligation.
We all need some degree of privacy. When you enter your home, know that it is your own. Whether you rent a small room in someone else's house, occupy an apartment, or own your own home, honor your need for privacy. Before too long, things won't get to you as much.
Excerpted from Don't Sweat the Small Stuff with Your Family by Richard Carlson. Copyright © 1998 Richard Carlson. Excerpted by permission of Hyperion.
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