Firmware Engineer, Minimalist, Improving Runner

Don't Put Up With Crap (If You Can Help It)

There are two kinds of crap in the world:

  1. Crap that is, for the most part, beyond our individual control. Stuff like global warming, the stock market, and hitting traffic on the way to work.
  2. Crap that is within our control, but we put up with anyway.

It's clear there's a difference between the two. Yet, far too often, we confuse one with the other.

Sleep Apnea

Perhaps the best way to explain it is through a story I heard at a conference reception earlier this year. It went something like this:

"So you know Bob? He's had trouble sleeping for a while. Sleep apnea."

"He finally went to the doctor and got one of those air pressure sleep systems. It's basically a mask connected to a machine that helps you breathe properly at night."

"I asked him how everything was the day after. Do you know what he said?"

"Gary, last night I had the best sleep in 3 years. I'm so relieved. On the other hand, I'm so damn pissed at myself for not doing this sooner. I don't know why I waited so long."

It's hard to believe Bob had put up with so many sleepless nights. It seems obvious to make a change or look for help right away. We all would, right? Don't be too sure.

We're All Guilty

If we take a closer look at our daily routines, odds are there are distractions and annoyances all around us.

The sad part is how entrenched they've become in our lives. We barely notice them, to the point that we actually accept them as truths.

And that's where the problem lies. Not in the fact that crap exists and happens to us from time to time. But in how numb we've become to all of it.

Why do we constantly choose to put up with crap we have the power to eliminate?

Perhaps there are more important things to focus on. Or it isn't that big of a problem yet. Or we simply just want to put on our sweatpants and watch Netflix.

Whatever the reason, the longer an annoyance lingers around, the more familiar and normal it becomes in our lives. Until gradually, it ends up as just another blip in our daily routine.

It Has To End

As you can guess, the lesson of Bob's sleep apnea stayed with me. When I returned home that weekend, I went on a mission.

I replaced the old sneakers that hurt my feet each day. I organized my messy closet and garage that bugged me each morning. The tattered, uncomfortable desk chair? Replaced with a sleek, mesh chair that helped my posture.

At work, I refactored a large section of code that made me cringe each time I touched it. I spoke to my boss and got out of a couple pointless meetings each week.

When it was done, I felt relieved. Why had I put all this off, when it was so simple to remove? There was nothing to dread. Just like squishing a bug.

Once you see crap in this light, it isn't hard to make changes. Here are some tips I found helpful:

  1. Question Everything - Every time something annoys you, make a conscious effort to decide if it's within your control. You don't have to fix it in that moment. Just acknowledge the fact that you are choosing to put up with this torment. This avoids letting it merge into your life.

  2. Start Small - Even toilets have trouble disposing of large poo at times. Build momentum by starting with something small, like getting rid of your socks that have holes in them or meeting up a friend at Starbucks to clear some air between you two. Once you remove crap from your life, you'll get excited about the possibility of removing more.

  3. Two Minutes, Do It Now - It's surprising how many of our annoyances come from putting off things we could get done in two minutes or less. Like not washing the dishes after dinner, or leaving laundry in the washing machine, or not sharing how we feel to someone. If it's a quick task, just finish it and save Future You unnecessary stress and headache.

  4. Imagine The Result - Sometimes it's hard to gather the energy and willpower to get rid of crap. In this situation, I'd imagine dealing with it the next day, then the day after, and so on. How much energy and joy would that suck from me each day? Do I really want to deal with this terrible code.. again? No way!

I can honestly say this simple act has added a level of productivity and cheer to my life. Life's too short to put up with crap. There's already enough of it out there.

Let's not put up with anymore than we have to.