One of the major contributing factors to self-created stress is the tendency that most of us have to hold on to battles that we have virtually no chance of winning. For whatever reason, we keep alive unnecessary arguments and conflicts, we insist on being right, or we try to get someone to change when there is almost no possibility that we will succeed. We bump up against stone walls, but instead of backing off and taking the path of least resistance, we keep right on struggling.
Perhaps you’re frustrated by the complaining of a coworker. You may spend countless hours and a great deal of energy attempting to share with her why she shouldn’t be so upset. But try as you might, she just keeps on complaining. For every valuable insight you share with her, she comes back with yet another, “Yeah, but . . .” and never, ever takes your advice. If you’re frustrated by this type of typical interaction, it’s because you’re fighting a battle that can’t be won. She’s probably going to be complaining for the rest of her life. Your involvement, caring, ideas, and insights have zero effect. Does this mean you should stop caring? Of course not. It simply means you can dismiss the idea that you are ever going to convince her to stop complaining. Case closed. You can wish her well and be there for her as a friend, but if you want less stress in your life you’re going to have to let go of the battle.
We fight these silly battles (and so many others) sometimes out of stubbornness or out of our own need to prove ourselves, other times out of pure habit, and sometimes simply because we haven’t thought through exactly what it is we are hoping to accomplish or where our efforts are likely to lead. Whatever the reason, however, this tendency is a serious mistake if your goal is to stop sweating the small stuff. The great football coach Vince Lombardi was known to have said, “When you’re doing something wrong, doing it more intensely isn’t going to help.” I couldn’t say it any better.
I’m certain that one of the major reasons I’m a happy person is that I’m usually able to differentiate between a battle worth fighting and one that is better left alone. I’ve always felt that my personal sense of well being is far more important than any need I might have to prove myself or participate in an irrelevant argument. That way I can save my love and energy for truly important things. I hope you’ll take this strategy to heart because I know it can help you stop sweating the small stuff at work.