Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff ... and it's all small stuff. By Richard Carlson


"The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitude." - William James

This book is a self-help classic. It neatly packages Buddhism, psychology and broader self-help advice into tiny, easily digestible chapters, and doesn't over analyse or delve into the New Age mumbo jumbo that pervades the genre. That said, I did have to fight myself to get over the off-putting cover quote from Deepak Chopra, who is the king of New Age gumpf.

The theme of the book is simple:“There are two rules for living in harmony. #1) Don’t sweat the small stuff and #2) It’s all small stuff”. It's a useful phrase to land on when putting things in perspective.

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Quotes and Notes

- ...when you let go of your expectations, when you accept life as it is, you're free.To hold on is to be serious and uptight. To let go is to lighten up.

- True happiness comes not when we get rid of all of our problems,but when we change our relationship to them, when we see our problems as a potential source of awakening, opportunities to practice, and to learn.

- We deny the parts of ourselves that we deem unacceptable rather than accepting the fact that we're all less than perfect.

- Try to maintain the perspective that, in time, everything disintegrates and returns to its initial form.

- Many people live as if life were a dress rehearsal for some later date.

- A low mood is not the time to analyze your life. To do so is emotional suicide. If you have a legitimate problem, it will still be there when your state of mind improves. The trick is to be grateful for our good moods and graceful in our low moods—not taking them too seriously. The next time you feel low, for whatever reason, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.” It will.

- To a large degree, the measure of our peace of mind is determined by how much we are able to live in the present moment. Irrespective of what happened yesterday or last year, and what may or may not happen tomorrow, the present moment is where you are—always! 

- Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around. As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing on where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present. Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you. It's absolutely true that, "Wherever you go, there you are.” 

- Effective listening is more than simply avoiding the bad habit of interrupting others while they are speaking or finishing their sentences. It's being content to listen to the entire thought of someone rather than waiting impatiently for your chance to respond.

- The need for perfection and the desire for inner tranquility conflict with each other.

- I am certain that a quiet mind is the foundation of inner peace. And inner peace translates into outer peace.

- Make Peace With Imperfection. ...Rather than being content and grateful for what we have, we are focused on what's wrong with something, and out need to fix it. We we are zeroed in with what's wrong, it implies that we are dissatisfied, discontent.  Whether it's related to ourselves - a disorganised closet, a scratch on the car, an imperfect accomplishment, a few pounds we would like to lose - or someone else's 'imperfections' ... the very act of focusing on imperfections pulls us away from our goal of being kind and gentle.  ...The solution here is to catch yourself when you fall into your habit of insisting that things should be other than they are. Gently remind yourself that life is okay the way it is. (thought: it is a natural impulse to keep changing for the better, moving forward to an improved state vs "To". Perhaps the trick is to focus on the +ve aspects of conditions at To, thus maintaining a positive, growth outlook, vs being immune).

- Be Aware of the Snowball Effect of Your Thinking. When you have what you want (inner peace), you are less distracted by your wants, needs, desires, and concerns. It's easier to concentrate, focus, achieve your goals, and to give back to others. (thought - have you set your inner emphasis or are you driven by the winds of distraction and manufactured wants). .Needless to say, it's impossible to feel peaceful with your head full of concerns and mental annoyances. The solution is to notice what's happening in your head before your thoughts have any chance to build up momentum. ...the sooner you catch yourself, the easier it is to stop.

Remind Yourself That When You Die, Your 'In Basket' Won't Be Empty. ...we often convince ourselves that our obsession with our 'to do' list is only temporary - that once we get through the list, we'll be calm, relaxed and happy. But in reality, this rarely happens. As items are checked off, new ones simply replace them.

- Let Others Have the Glory. Ironically, when you surrender your need to hog the glory, the attention you used to need from other people is replaced by a quiet inner confidence that is derived from letting others have it. (thought - maybe so, but don't do it with this motive in mind, do it because you want to see them enjoy it).

- Learn to Live in the Present Moment. John Lennon once said, 'life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.' Mark Twain said, ''I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.'

- Imagine That Everyone Is Enlightened Except You. (thought - or at least that they have something to teach you).

- Let Others Be 'Right' Most of the Time.  One of the most important questions you can ever ask yourself is, "Do I want to be 'right' - or do I want to be happy?" Many times the two are mutually exclusive.

- Become More Patient - The quality of patience goes a long way toward your goal of creating a more peaceful and loving self.

- Surrender To The Fact That Life Isn't Fair. ..recognising this sobering fact can be a very liberating insight.

- Repeat to Yourself, 'Life Isn't An Emergency'. Although most people believe otherwise, the truth is, life isn't an emergency. We take our own goals so seriously that we forget to have fun along the way...we take simple preferences and turn them into conditions for our own happiness. (thought - it's like doing a sales and marketing trick on yourself - e.g. clean house = happiness)

- The back burner of your mind works in the same way as the back burner of a stove. While on low heat, the cooking process mixes, blends and simmers the ingredients into a tasty meal. ..Often the less you interfere, the better the result.  Use it when struggling with a problem, not about procrastination and denial but about letting it stew away in the background. (thought - add a back burner to my to do list, in between the 'some day/maybe' tab and the 'to do' tab).

- if you think of strangers as being a little more like you and treat them not only with kindness and respect but with smiles and eye contact....you'll probably notice some pretty changes in yourself.

-..when I set aside some quiet time for myself, it makes the rest of my day seem manageable.

- Become a Better Listener. Not only will becoming a better listener make you a more patient person, it will also enhance the quality of your relationships. Everyone loves to talk to someone who truly listens to what they are saying.

- Choose Your Battles Wisely. The truth is, life is rarely exactly the way we want it to be, and other people often don't act as we would like them to. ...If you fight against this principle of life, you'll spend most of your life fighting battles.

- Become Aware of Your Moods and Don't Let Yourself be Fooled by The Low Ones. When you're in an ill mood, learn to pass it off as simply that: an unavoidable human condition that will pass with time, if you leave it alone. A low mood is not the time to analyse your life. (thought - moods are erratic and passing).

- Practice Random Acts of Kindness

- Practice Humility. Proving Yourself is a dangerous trap.  Ironically, the less you care about seeking approval, the more approval you seem to get. ...The way to develop genuine humility is to practice.

- Avoid Weatherproofing. Essentially weather-proofing means that you are on the careful looking for things that need to be fixed or repaired. ..It encourages you to think about what's wrong with everything...Nothing is ever good enough the way it is.

- Become an Anthropologist (vs seeing things from the perspective of your own tastes, preferences, senses of right and wrong, good and bad, etc.). There's a fine line between being 'interested' and being arrogant, as if secretly you believe that your way is better.

- Understand Separate Realities. ...expect to see things differently, when we take it as a given that others will do things differently and react differently to the same stimuli.

- So often we are immobilised by the slightest criticism We treat it like an emergency and defend ourselves as if we were in a battle. In truth, however, criticism is nothing more than an observation by another person about us, our actions, or the way we think about something, that doesn't match the vision we have of ourselves. Big deal!

- See the glass as already broken. The essence of this teaching is that all of life is in a constant state of change. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. ... There is peace to be found in this teaching. ...Obviously no one wants their favourite drinking glass, or anything else, to be broken. The philosophy is not a prescription for becoming passive or apathetic, but for making peace with the way things are. When your drinking glass does break, this philosophy allows you to maintain perspective.

- Know that if you don't fight your negative feelings, if you are graceful, they will pass away as surely as the sun sets in the evening.

- Read Articles and Books with Entirely Different Points of View from Your Own and Try to Learn Something. A closed mind is always fighting to keep everything else at arm's length.

- Do One Thing At a Time.

- Be Flexible with Changes to Your Plans

- Think of What You Have Instead of What You Want. If you focus on ways to enjoy yourself around the home rather than waiting to enjoy yourself in Hawaii, you'll end up having more fun. If you ever do get to Hawaii, you'll be in the habit of enjoying yourself. And if by some chance you don't, you'll have a great life anyway.

- The important question in terms of becoming more peaceful isn't whether or not you're going to have negative thoughts - you are - it's what you choose to do with the ones that you have. ..you have a choice which thoughts to pay attention to. (thought - an emotional state doesn't knock on the door and ask if it can come in but it make a sudden, sneaky attack, catching the mind off-guard, and sometimes it enters and exits without ever getting caught by the conscious mind)

- The truth is, there's no better time to be happy than now. If not now, then when?

- Remember that You Become What You Practice Most. It makes sense then, to be careful what you practice (washing car, watching reruns, etc vs creative pursuits, exercise, meditation, etc).

- Quiet the Mind. A quiet mind is the foundation of inner peace. ..you can train your mind to be still and quiet.

- Get Comfortable Not Knowing. The truth is we don't know what is going to happen - we just think we do. ...Most of the time we are wrong. If we can keep our cool and stay open to possibilities, we can be reasonably certain that, eventually, all will be well.

- Acknowledge the Totality of Your Being. ...when you no longer think of your negative feelings as a big deal, or as something to fear, you will no longer be frightened by them.

- The philosophy of acceptance is the root of going with the flow.

- Redefine a 'Meaningful Accomplishment'. Rather than being consumed exclusively with external accomplishments, try putting more emphasis on what's really important.

- Look for the Extraordinary in the Ordinary (we assign our own meaning to our work, etc).

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