The Law of Minor Annoyances

The Law of Minor Annoyances: Minor annoyances expand to fill any and all available mental bandwidth you make available to them.

We encounter minor annoyances everyday in the form of small frustrations, little spats, doses of bad luck, and irksome exchanges. If left unchecked, they fester, become major annoyances, and cloud all perspective.

Much of our daily happiness at work and at home, then, depends on our ability to understand and apply the law of minor annoyances. The more we learn to let go, the more happier and more productive we will be.

“Be yourself” can be really bad advice

There’s a category of advice that sounds good in theory but is pretty bad in practice. “Follow your passion” is one example. “Be yourself” is another.

The issue with “be yourself” is that it reeks of the fixed mindset and gets in the way of self improvement. It does so by encouraging the “This is just who I am – take it or leave it” mindset.

That is not to say we can change everything about ourselves. If you are an impatient person (speaking to myself) by nature, you are not going to become the most patient. But, you don’t have to either. Our traits and temperaments are part of a spectrum and we can always put in the work to stretch ourselves to move along that spectrum and learn to be flexible with how we apply ourselves in situations.

Put differently, if who you are is getting in the way of what you’d like to get done, stop being yourself and get better.

Perhaps a better piece of advice would be to ask folks to “become yourself.” It doesn’t just add a necessary air of intrigue to what is a fascinating lifetime journey of discovering our ever expanding capacity for change, it also focuses the journey on growth.

Besides, as Carol Dweck might say, becoming is better than being anyway.

Doing the opposite

The best source of feedback that will help you get better is you. No one understands that combination of context, the natural impulse, and the internal decision making process that led to the final action better than you. Giving ourselves feedback is a skill worth developing and a principle I’ve found particularly helpful is “Doing the opposite.”

The most challenging kind of feedback is the one that involves finding the right balance between a great strength and its corresponding weakness. This is where doing the opposite helps a lot. For example, here a few experiment ideas –

(1) If you have trouble being assertive during meetings, walk into every meeting reminding yourself to be assertive for a few months.

(2) On the other hand, if you, like me, default to being loud and provocative, again, do the opposite.

(3) If you default to being pushy and impatient when you want to get something, work on relying on “pull” in every instance.

By pushing us to stretch and do something that isn’t natural, doing the opposite helps us develop a range of styles. This, in turn, helps us develop the ability to apply the right behavior in the right context. There are times when being provocative or pushy is helpful. But, it isn’t all the time.

A wonderful other side effect of doing the opposite is that it makes us realize we are all more malleable than we think. Once we get started down the path, experimenting on changing our style becomes a lot more fun. And, given we’re going to be doing plenty of it in our lifetime, it helps if we’re having fun.

PS: I’m actively working on challenge (2) as of the last more recent (~18 months), I’ve made a lot more headway on (3) over the last 5 years or so. For folks who know me now and still think I’m pushy, I’m glad you didn’t meet me 5 years ago. :-)

The law of unattraction and problem solving

The law of attraction implies that when you really want something the universe conspires to make it happen. The law of unattraction (an ALearningaDay creation) offers the counter point – “The universe makes something happen when you have put in your best effort and are ready to walk away.” 

The law of unattraction was born out of personal experience. For the longest time, I used to struggle with pushing a result through to no avail resulting in plenty of frustration. And, often, just as I’d resolve to walk away or actually distance myself, it’d come through. Why waste time in all the angst and frustration then?

I’ve been thinking about the law of unattraction again of late and its applicability to problem solving. We don’t have breakthroughs-on-demand on problems we want solved. Instead, they pop up when we’re in the gym, in the shower, or on a walk. The key, then, is to identify the problems we want to solve and give ourselves enough space for our subconscious to do the work.

So, take those breaks in the middle of the day, go for walks, and disconnect from the email flow in the evening to create more space. If the law of attraction isn’t helping you often enough, create opportunities for the law of unattraction to work its magic.

Attachment to principles versus processes

The biggest benefit of experience is better pattern matching. You’ve seen many of the today’s movies play out before and are equipped to deal with them. The downside is a growing attachment to processes versus principles. This when you say something like – “This worked before. This is how I do this sort of thing” instead of “This is why I do what I do.”

I’ve noticed this creep into my thought process from time to time when it wouldn’t have five years back.

Here’s an example – let’s say a rapid, iterative approach to product creation worked on your team in the last year. The process you could get attached to is “Rapid, iterative product creation is how to build products.” Instead, the principle probably is – “The best process to building products is dependent on the context, the company, and the kind of customer.” If you were attached to the principle, you might decide that slower, more thoughtful product creation process is what the current situation needs. Whatever the outcome, you’d consider the alternative.

The challenge with developing an attachment to a process over a principle is that the principle you implicitly choose is “Refusing to ask why means choosing comfort over growth and inflexibility over seeking the truth.”

That is the polar opposite of one of the most important life principles – change is the only constant. We either change proactively or are forced to do so by circumstance – an experience that is best avoided.

Principles first. Processes second.

Macro patience, micro speed

“Macro patience, micro speed,” “Strategically patient, tactically impatient,” “Impatience with actions, patience with outcomes,” are variants of the same powerful idea expressed in different ways.

They run counter to how organizations and people operate. Most folks, for example, set ambitious 1, 3, or 5 year goals that involve promotions and net worth targets. But, they don’t focus on maximizing their productivity in the here and now. Or, they expect to have a flourishing family in 5 years but don’t take the time to invest in their relationships in the present. Organizations repeat the same pattern with ambitious five year goals but questionable quarterly planning.

Hence, these maxims that are equally applicable to building an organization for the long term (think: Amazon) and our own careers. Take the time to orient around a longer term direction built on principles / things that will not change. Resolve to be very patient over the next 10-20 years as you move toward that direction.

And, then, execute with speed and impatience to maximize your learn rate in the short term. Waste little time, experiment a lot, reflect, and learn fast.

We don’t have much control over our journey in the next 20 years. But, we can choose to be all over the next 7 days.

In the long run, how we approach these weeks is all that matters.

(H/T: Gary Vee, Jeff Bezos)

3 principles of asking for favors

Asking matters. We all do it. We could argue that we all need to do more of it. Here are 3 principles that might help –

i) Optimizing for quality works better than quantity in the long run. It is always tempting to send that mass email or send bulk LinkedIn invites with that generic message. There’s a reason they need to be sent in bulk – they rarely work in the short term. And, sadly, they backfire in the long term. Instead, over-invest in demonstrating your research and thoughtfulness. As Seth  wisely put it – “Don’t personalize, be personal.” While choosing volume may seem less risky, letting quality dip in any interaction is the riskiest thing we do in the long run.

ii) Avoid planting trees the day you need your fruits. “Hi, I don’t know you. Nice to meet you though. And, can you please do me a big favor?” If relationships are like trees, most folks ask seeds for fruits before they touch the ground.

One way to proceed is to think ahead and build the kinds of relationships that you think you might need (some do this artfully). My bias would be to just let curiosity, great intentions and care be your guide. Meet or e-meet folks whose work and voice inspires you. Over time, a few of these will turn into relationships. And, when it comes time to ask for fruits, you’ll have plenty of options.

iii) Get into the habit of granting favors yourself. For every favor you ask, help at least 5 people who seek favors from you. Do it so often that you don’t even think about doing them. Karma. It matters.

As a bonus, you’ll also learn to appreciate great asks and get better at asking yourself. And, that’ll take you right back to principle 1. :-)