I picked up a book that I had heard a lot about but had not got around to reading – it’s called “Don’t sweat the small stuff… and it’s all small stuff”. I generally consider myself to be good at doing this but I wanted to see what I could learn from the author (and I also picked it up from Books with Friends in Calgary which is a nice little shop that allows you to donate books and buy books with all the proceeds going to charity which certainly can’t hurt).

Richard says that the key lessons from this book are:

  1. Don’t sweat the small stuff; and
  2. It’s all small stuff

But I actually think there are a few meta lessons from reading the 100 tips of not letting the little things take over your life which I’ll cover at the end. First, here are the key lessons that resonated with me:

Let go of the idea that gentle, relaxed people can’t be superachievers

Wow – this one hit home for me. I had always thought that superachievers are the ones that are always on the go, always hustling, always working on the next big thing but Richard argues that people that are always on the go, always thinking about the next big thing expend a lot of energy and it takes away from your success. When you have that inner peace, you are less distracted by the next shiny thing and therefore, it is easier to focus on your goals and give back to others. In fact, I’m trying to see if an idea like this can work in the world of management consulting where everybody is on the go, everybody is working 50-60 hour work weeks but wear it as a badge of honour and I’m doing something that one of my friends and who I consider to be a mentor, Shawn, does, trying to not say that I’m busy because busy can be another way of saying that I don’t have my priorities in order.

Do something nice for someone else – and don’t tell anyone about it

I love this idea and I have done a few nice things for others without telling anyone about it but it can be so difficult not to share with others! I’m not sure if I agree with the author here that by telling others about your acts of kindness, you dilute the positive feelings and if you keep it to yourself you get to retain all the positive feelings but I do like the idea that acts of kindness should be about being kind and not about getting something back or in return.

Ask yourself the question, “Will this matter a year from now?”

This is a great question to help you reframe your perspective on the things that do not really matter. Made a small mistake at work in front of a big client presentation? Probably not that big of a deal a year from now (and yes, I know it is difficult not to think that your world won’t end right now but trust me, it doesn’t). I remember that in university, all the students were stressed out about the organic chemistry final. The professor was talking about all the different topics that would be covered and since it was organic chemistry (i.e., the course that weeded out potential medical students), it was going to be tough. The professor then dropped down into a whisper as he saw all the students stressed out and in panic about the final exam – he provided this advice: don’t worry, you won’t die. Again, it was a similar reframe – just because you fail the exam does not mean your life is over. And just because something negative happens does not mean you cannot take a step back and laugh at the situation.

Set aside quiet time, every day

I’m an introvert – I get drained whenever I go and hang out with other people for too long of a time. Sometimes, I’ll just decline all things that I am invited to so that I can sit at home, read and write. It sounds like a fairly boring weekend and I’ll admit that yes, it is sometimes quite a conversation stopper to say to colleagues that I really did nothing all weekend but it suits me just great. Sometimes, I do have to be on my game, social or with others for long periods of time though. So what I’ll try to do is set aside time in the morning every day to just be quiet. Many times, I’ll meditate but other times, I’ll just be silent, be grateful I get to experience another day and then think about what a great day I’m going to have. I’ll do the same thing at night – just before going to bed, I’ll think to myself “Man, I’m going to have such a great night of sleep tonight” and it has done wonders, even when I’ve only gotten a few hours of sleep and know that the next day will be rough.

Choose being kind over being right

How many times either in work or in your personal life have you stubbornly, adamantly, decidedly chosen to be right? You argue, you make excuses, you try to reason logically or appeal emotionally to the person. Honestly, you burn up so much energy trying to be right that after a few sessions of this, I find myself thinking “what did I win by being right?” Think about it this way, how many times have you argued with a co-worker that you were right, or your view was right and then the co-worker, after realizing that you are right says “oh wow, thank you, you have shown me the light and you were right. You’re so wonderful”. Yes probably about the same number of times that I have experienced this situation 🙂

Agree with criticism (sometimes?)

As an experiment, I want you to try something. The next time that someone criticizes you, says that you dominate the conversation or that you are rude or that you are not as loving to your partner as you should be, agree. Say it out loud to the other person “I agree”. Watch what happens to you. I think you’ll find that instead of having that knee jerk reaction of being defensive, thinking of different situations where you do NOT do those things or feeling your face go red, you’ll shift your perspective slightly and focus on the situations where you do those things. It’s like that feeling you get when you see a movie and get that twist in the end that reveals how the detective escaped death or how a criminal got away with murder – you focus in on those activities and see that maybe you really are doing something wrong.

Read articles and books with entirely different points of views from your own and try to learn something

I think I’ve been guilty of not doing this – I see authors or topics that I like, I read the books, and then I think that what those books say is gospel. To be honest though, it is so hard to understand what in the world is ‘true’ because I actually think information these days have different levels of truth – the ultimate one being true for yourself. For example, I have gotten into different diets and I see others that swear by specific diets but I am not sure that any particular diet will work for everyone – I believe that the only sure way to really know if it will work for you is to try it out for yourself and to see the results.

A while ago, I thought that everything Nassim Taleb wrote was fantastic but I read this lengthy review of Taleb’s recent book “Skin in the Game” and it really made me re-think the notion that what authors write about is gospel or the truth. I find that sometimes I am lazy and I don’t actually think critically about something and I think that’s what books are good at doing – exposing or providing a view and letting you test your thinking and assumptions against it.

Remember that you become what you practice most

Long ago, in high school, I was an extremely negative person. I thought the worst about my life, about my situation, how I wouldn’t get into a good university and on and on it went. Now, my close friends are telling me about how positive I am – which I find really weird given the situation that I was in years ago. How did I go from being super negative about things to being a positive person? Honestly, I think I just practiced being more positive about things. I found that being positive about things, especially as a leader, has a great affect on the people around me. I think about one of the Partners that I worked for and after every weekend, one of us would inevitably ask the Partner about his weekend and he would say “Fantastic!” or “Awesome!” or “Oh man it was so good that I hurt” and while we made fun of him secretly behind his back, at the same time, I envied how positive he was. Was it that great? I’m not sure. But saying it like that certainly made others feel envious of his great weekends. I also found something interesting – when people ask “How are you?” and you say “Fantastic!”, you actually feel much better than if you said “Okay” or “Not bad”. Try it next time and see!

Okay, now for the meta lessons that I took away from reading this book:

  • Be kind
  • Think positively
  • Practice patience
  • Reframe your perspective by asking yourself different questions

If you have a chance to pick up the book, it’s a really easy read with one or two pages in every chapter and while not everything was applicable to me, I did pick up a few tips (as you can see above) which helps me to continue to grow and develop into a better person.