Most everyone has heard the expression, "Don't sweat the small stuff." We've come to believe that abiding by this mantra will mitigate stress and free a person up to become happier, more fulfilled and productive. The problem with it is that in truth it's the small stuff that does matter in life. Paying attention to details, being aware of day-to-day interactions, caring about the mistakes we make and the people we may have hurt is the path towards personal growth and self-improvement.
Though it's unhealthy to excessively obsess over minutia, it's a mistake to disregard one's own actions when it comes to being sensitive to the small things that affect others and to the details that affect our own lives. In fact it could be the small things we do (and don't do) that define a person.
If you don't know the number of credits and the specific classes you need to graduate from college in your specific major, you leave your graduation up to chance. If you fail to pay attention to an expiration date on your driver's license or your passport you could risk getting a ticket or worse forfeit your ability to leave the country. Filing an application a day late can mean the difference between having the document on time and catching a flight or wasting your ticket and forgoing travel plans. A person who is lackadaisical about deadlines, expiration dates and requirements will eventually tarnish his/her brand and be viewed as someone who's scatterbrained.
Consider the positive side of paying close attention to certain details in life:
1. It's Good For Your Reputation:
Those who are alert to details that matter (and are neither petty nor obsessive over unimportant details) build a reputation as someone who's reliable and accountable. A personal brand is similar to a legacy and one's legacy is composed of all the small actions that distinguish one's character. A person who is detail oriented is often associated with someone who can be trusted to get a job done properly.
2. It Helps You Become Happier:
When it comes to mistakes that others make and that affect us, the best strategy is to give others the benefit of the doubt. The happiest people can overlook others slights (since they're inherently outside of ones control) while focusing more on that which is in his/her control.
Here's a short list of small stuff that's best to overlook and not to take too seriously: These slights, faux pas, inconsiderate behavior and annoyances are outside of one's control.
• Someone calls you a name that's unflattering... let it go! Name callers are typically insecure people. While their behavior is offensive, any response could be interpreted as dignifying their claim. Remaining silent is the best way to deal with a name caller. No response helps shut down their nasty remark by not fueling the name caller with a response.
• Someone forgets to return something to you on time... let it go! We all have loaned something to a neighbor, friend, relative or colleague and then when the time comes that we need that item it's not handy. In fact, it might even require one to repurchase that same item. It's natural to become resentful towards the person who borrowed the item from you and failed to return it. This circumstance falls in the category of "no good deed goes unpunished." Don't get caught in the trap of getting angry or resentful. Just consider your inconvenience an investment in that relationship. If you can get it back, great and if not... hope that the next time you borrow something and forget to return it that you'll be forgiven!
• Someone forgot to (or perhaps even chose not to) invite you to his party... let it go? If you find out that a friend had a party and didn't invite you it's natural to feel somewhat insulted. Here too it's not worth holding a grudge. A better coping strategy is to hope that you'll be forgiven the next time you're hosting a special event and forget to invite someone to it. Just make other plans, read a good book and don't waste a minute moaning about not being included. You can positively reframe this slight as an opportunity for you to establish a new friend or if you can't find others to make plans with, learn to enjoy being alone for a night.
• A friend forgot to call you when they came to town. Let it go! Consider whether you call your family and friends every time you've traveled somewhere. Chances are, if you're honest with yourself, you'll admit that there are times it's just too taxing, inconvenient or impossible to make time to call friends when you're traveling in their town. So the best thing again is to soften your judgment on the other person and excuse them for not calling.
• House guests were rude, ungrateful and overstayed their visit. Let it go! When this happens the best thing you can do is realize that you're being a great host was great for developing your character as a giver. Be thankful you had the opportunity to give to others in the purest form, when it isn't reciprocated!
• Your parents compared you to someone else who was more accomplished or better looking than you. Let it go! Hold onto the pain just so you become conscious to not repeat their mistake. This way you stop the annoying pattern and make the correction for them with how you treat your own children.
• Your mother-in-law complained you don't visit or call enough. Let it go! OK the truth is most people are genuinely guilty of not calling or visiting their in-laws enough. Accept the criticism and remember someday you too might be an in-law and may hope that your kids (and their spouses) will maintain a close connection with you and hopefully call you to keep you involved in their lives. I'd take this one a step further. If you have kids, encourage them to call their grandparents on a regular basis. The pleasure grandparents get from a call from a grandchild will help mitigate this complaint.
• Your kids forgot your birthday. Let it go! Well, no one is perfect. It's true, kids are born takers and most everyone hopes that their kids will evolve and someday become givers themselves. It's natural to think that their becoming givers should start with their own immediate family. The problem with getting too upset about this kind of a mistake is that it's easy to let ones ego get in the way. In doing so you may show your neediness and inadvertently alienate your child. Although expressing ones hurt may succeed in making a child feel guilty for forgetting your birthday, it may backfire on you. If you express anger towards them or even hurt, it may get them to remember your birthday next year but not with a positive feeling towards you! S/he may call out of pressure rather than from a desire to feel connected with you.
Notice that the items on this list are things that others have done to YOU! Since you're not in control of their occurring the only thing you can do is control how you react to each incident. One way to automatically increase your happiness is by letting these incidents slide! Don't give power to the situation or to the person responsible for your disappointment. You'll be surprised how freeing it feels when you look the other way or choose not to focus on the negative feelings prompted by a dent in your ego. Your ability to forgive may even become a part of your legacy.
Here's the long list of small stuff that builds on other small stuff to boost your brand: These are details That Are Within A Person's CONTROL!
• Remember other people's birthdays, anniversaries, graduations and other special dates. Keep dates for special occasions in a location that you see regularly or that sends you reminders. Everyone loves to be remembered on his or her special day. It's so simple to send a text or e-card these days and the thought can go a long way.
• Remember deadlines and due dates: College students need to know the number of credits required to fulfill a major and need to turn in assignments on time or be prepared to fail a class or not graduate on time: Employees also need to be conscious of details when it comes to meeting the requirements of a certain project and delivering the service or goods on time. Tardiness is not viewed favorably in the workplace: Showing up on time to meetings and to work and completing work on time or prior to a deadline shows a person is accountable and reliable.
• Remember to return things you've borrowed or to pay your debts on time! It goes without saying that when you owe money it's your obligation to remember to pay your debts. If you don't, you risk damaging your reputation and you could ruin your line of credit.
• Be a good listener and listen for subtleties, nuances, biases and other details when conversing with colleagues, friends, professors, co-workers or your employers. You can be sure that recalling what matters to someone else will indicate you're sincerity in a relationship. It will build trust and respect with the other person.
You may recognize a pattern in my "to do list" for paying attention to details. All of these details are ones within a person's control. The determinant for success in following these details is that one needs to value the outcome. In every case, paying attention to details will positively affect one's ability to achieve progress in life. It will allow one to graduate, travel freely and strengthen relationships.
In order to adhere to this list one would need to prioritize these details in one's life. May it be remembering a friend, family member or a colleague's birthday or knowing the specific expiration date for your passport renewal, paying attention to details will affect your ability to function maximally in your relationships as well as maneuvering in the world at large.
In the end, focusing on what you can control and fixing ones own mistakes is a proactive strategy for living life fully. It requires some discernment and emotional maturity to know when it's appropriate to focus on minor issues and when it's better to ignore them. It's not all or nothing when it comes to paying attention to small things. The secret to being effective, productive and happy is not to be extreme in focusing on only the small or the big issues; it's keeping both in perspective that helps a person reach his/her full potential while maintaining a happy state of mind.