During the past two weeks a small contractor has repaired the 25-year-old wooden fence along the backyard. Because our house is on a crescent, the back fence spans the length of two neighboring houses. These neighbours are cooperating with the repairs and are also having repairs done to their side fences. The contractor is working from about 8am until 7 pm everyday with one assistant. He has had to work around trees, shrubs and plants as he re-positions the posts loosened by years of frost heaving them from the heavy clay soil.
The wet weather during 2011 Ontario spring delayed the fence repair which meant that some of the gardening in the backyards of our neighbourhood was not done.
One of the neighbours involved with the project has been ‘difficult’ through this process complaining about his neglected garden, the delays and the contractor. Every day he measures the depth of the holes, checks the alignment of the new posts and watches each step of the work. Yesterday s rainstorm meant that work stopped.
This morning the neighbour lost his temper and began swearing at the contractor and his assistant — screaming at them to get off his property because of the delays. He stopped yelling for a minute when his wife reminded him to be ‘nice’. He told her that he was a ‘nice guy’ but continued his barrage of four letter words until she convinced him to retreat indoors. He seemed to forget that the contractor was working on a Saturday to try to make up for lost time.
How sad to hear a sixty year old man behave like a two-year old. While I understand the annoyance with delays, with trampled plants and garden beds compressed by work boots, hearing this exchange embarrassed me. I wondered why something like another short delay would merit such bad behaviour. It was shameful to see someone who I had known for years act so childishly.
How often do you find yourself reacting to small annoyances? It could be a friend’s over-used expression, a habit of your spouse/partner, an inconvenience in your daily routine or simply an unexpected turn of events. Even if you bite your tongue and suppress any comment, the annoyance will ripple your usual equilibrium. Hopefully you won’t have a temper tantrum such as I witnessed but you might find yourself making a judgement and reacting with irritation. I know that I have sometimes reacted badly — snapping at someone over an inconsequential matter.
You don’t have to behave badly when annoyed.
Start by asking yourself whether a small irritation is worth any reaction. Most situations escalate when we pay attention to them. The escalation may happen internally as our brain keeps nagging about petty things. Why is the toothpaste tube mangled again? Why does he/she keep repeating that over-used expression? Why is there no parking space nearby? Why is the rain delaying the fence re-construction? Suppressing a negative reaction becomes easier with practise. Ignoring the small stuff keep you in a positive frame of mind.
By changing your focus you can trick your mind. Purposefully remembering a happy tune and humming it to yourself provides a positive message to your brain. Reciting a favourite affirmation reinforces your intention to stay positive. The payoff — you are happier and your blood pressure doesn’t spike.
Sometimes acknowledging a bigger problem or worry helps. If worry about a health issue, a relationship difficulty or a major disappointment is underlying the annoyance, recognizing this and making a plan to deal with the problem will aid in re-gaining perspective. Irritation over the mundane aspects of daily living will exasperate the bigger problems. I know that my neighbour’s son is getting married next month and that he is expecting out-of-town guests. I’m sure that he wants the fence fixed so that he can use his backyard while entertaining. Hopefully he will gain perspective so that the life events of his son’s marriage are enjoyable for him and his family.
Count your Blessings — Gratitude
Recognizing that many annoyances are simply the petty and the small inconveniences of living in modern society helps in gaining perspective and overlooking inconveniences. As the mind shifts, it is easier to express gratitude for the gifts that life provides. Simply identifying three things from your gratitude list will help to overcome many annoyances.
For me — sitting on my patio in the cool of a summer morning, listening to a bird singing, and hearing the rustle of a slight breeze in the treetops above has helped me to overcome the neighbour’s shouting and his childish behaviour. This blog post has overtaken my thoughts. The fence will be fixed in the next few days. I am grateful that I am retired and have time to enjoy a back garden, that I have the strength and vision to create beauty outdoors, and that I have good health to enjoy the rest of the summer.
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Photo by Thegreenj — Wikipedia