I quickly read yesterday a popular book from the late nineties entitled Don't Sweat the Small Stuff by Richard Carlson. It's a typical self-help book by business types (the author is apparently a "stress consultant"), but I have picked out some of the better insights to help all of us as the days of summer end and the busy season for many of us begins in earnest.
1. "Let Go of the Idea that Gentle, Relaxed People Can't Be Superachievers": The goal is to be effective, not busy. Busyness is often a cover for confusion. I think Steven Covey also pointed out that we should make sure that each day we focus on what is really important for the long term. There should at least be one or two things you do each day that contribute to your long term goals. We should not simply spend ourselves trying to put out trivial fires that have no (what I like to call) structural significance.
2. "Remind Yourself that When You Die, Your 'In Basket' Won't Be Empty": This idea meshes with the above insight. The crucial issue is the structure of our lives, not the discrete tasks within our lives. If we get the structure right, then the proliferation of discrete tasks is in itself not so crucial.
3. "Be the First One to Act Loving or Reach Out": The worst that can happen is that your act will not be appreciated. So what? That's the problem of the other.
4. "Practice Random Acts of Kindness": Same as above. Jesus said it as quoted by Paul in the Acts of the Apostles: "It is more blessed to give than to receive." You want proof? Try it. (By the way, this saying is the only quoted saying of Jesus not from the Gospels, although, of course, the rest of the New Testament is full of his teachings.)
5. "Look Beyond Behavior": You need to be perceptive with people. Often, people cover up what they really feel with their behavior. Don't be superficial in your conclusions by focusing on the superficial only.
6. "See the Innocence": We forget that adults are often as helpless as children in dealing with life. Remember that beyond the adult facade there can often lie a lot of plain fear and uncertainty about what to do.
7. "Choose Being Kind Over Being Right": We just have to overlook trivial errors and forget about constantly correcting others. I have kept my mouth shut not a few times when people start making factually inaccurate statements. I am glad I did because the issues were trivial and growing the friendship was a far higher priority.
8. "Become an Anthropologist": This pointer is related to No. 5 about looking beyond behavior. We humans are very complex. Try to understand and ponder, rather than jumping to conclusions. This truth is an aspect of Jesus' advice to judge not that we be not judged.
9. "Understand Separate Realities": We have very different backgrounds and experiences. What seems obvious to me may not be obvious to you. Keep that in mind when people's behavior puzzles you.
10. "Argue for Your Limitations, and They're Yours": Don't defeat yourself first. If you are going to be defeated, let reality do it and then learn from the defeat.
11. "Just for Fun, Agree with Criticism Directed Toward You (Then Watch It Go Away)": Some people will absolutely never admit to fault or error of any kind. Some can't ever bring themselves to say that they are sorry. It's a self-imposed straight jacket and prison.
12. "Understand the Statement, 'Wherever You Go, There You Are' ": Live in the present moment and focus on making the present the best present possible, even if you would rather be somewhere else with someone else.
13. "Do a Favor and Don't Ask For, or Expect, One in Return": Dovetails with Nos. 3 and 4.
14. "Think of Your Problems as Potential Teachers": This attitude helps avoid anger and leads us to personal growth.
15. "Get Comfortable Not Knowing": I once read something to the effect that the successful scientific researcher is the one who imagines that he has been dealt the "right hand" so that all the myriad uncertainties will shift in his favor and then goes ahead and follows his educated intuition. Yes, you often don't get the right hand; but this moving forward is the only way to find out if you did get it.
16. "Become an Early Riser": You wake up in peace, not in emergency mode.
17. "Transform Your Relationship to Your Problems": View them as disguised friends. They often are. See No. 14 above.
18. "Listen to Your Feelings (They are Trying to Tell You Something)": The Christian will add: ask for a spirit of wisdom and revelation and discernment from the Holy Spirit often and often throughout the day. Seek the charisms of word of wisdom, word of knowledge, prophecy, and discernment of spirits.
19. "If Someone Throws You the Ball, You Don't Have to Catch It": A variant--don't take the bait. Don't be ensnared. Let's take our crosses from Jesus, not from those who have invented "crosses" that are not for us.
20. "Trust Your Intuitive Heart": See No. 18.
21. "Mind Your Own Business": Respect the privacy of others. Give them the space they need. Refrain from judging for the very elementary reason that you are ignorant of many, many things. Eventually, Adonai will let you know what you need to know.
22. "Live This Day as if It Were Your Last, It Might Be!": The Scriptures tell us to number our days. Ask the Lord to tell you what needs to be done today and cannot be left undone.
What is the common theme of all the above? To live more mindfully and prayerfully. To become aware, to understand, and only then to act, as St. Ignatius Loyola advised. The Ignatian Examen Prayer is a great tool for this daily challenge (see link).