What Are You Tolerating?
We all have things that we tolerate in our lives. Some of them are big things (like a nasty neighbour), but many of them are small things (a messy desk is an example), and we often forget how these small things can compound each other and begin to take a toll on our mental health.
A life coach would call these things “tolerations.” A toleration is anything that you are putting up with, avoiding, overlooking, making half-hearted attempts to resolve, or otherwise tolerating, that on some level bogs you down and saps your energy. It could even be something that you keep meaning to do, but just haven’t gotten around to yet.
Maybe you can relate to some of these common tolerations:
- Errands (dry cleaning to take in, books or clothes to return, magazines subscribed to but not read)
- Commitments (baking 5 dozen cookies for the school bake sale, sitting on the board of a volunteer group)
- Household tasks (cleaning the garage or basement, packing up last season’s clothes, touching up paint jobs, getting the carpets cleaned, taking the car in for an oil change)
- Relationships (a conversation you’ve been avoiding, dealing with a boss who leaves you feeling unappreciated, trying to keep up with the Jones’)
- Health (not getting enough sleep, eating poorly, not exercising, having 5 / 10 / 20 / 50 pounds you would like to lose)
- Work (an unfinished report or marketing materials, working long hours, a long commute)
- Money (not enough in savings, unpaid bills, the feeling of living paycheque to paycheque)
Sometimes even things we want to do can be tolerations. If you enjoy gardening, for example, but haven’t been able to find the time to get it started, having an empty flower bed can be a toleration – especially if you cringe internally whenever you see it and spend time lamenting the fact that it isn’t done. Or, the things that keep you from gardening – too many commitments, poor time management – can be the things you’re tolerating.
Putting off our tolerations only allows them to grow, in the energy needed to avoid them and the energy needed to take care of them once we actually do make the decision to do something about them.
The key to freeing up the energy that you’re currently spending tolerating these types of annoyances and hassles is to face them head on. Often, we’re not aware of just how much energy we were wasting on a toleration until we take care of it.
To start, begin by listing all of your tolerations. You might want to look at the categories above and see if anything comes to mind in any of those areas. Some will be concrete (tend to the garden), some may be more abstract (not following through on commitments to myself) or ongoing (keeping up with laundry before it becomes overwhelming). Getting a clear picture of what you’re putting up with is an important start.
Once you’ve got a list of tolerations, take a look and think about what each one of them costs you. When the amount of energy spent avoiding something is greater than the amount of energy required to resolve it, it’s time to take action.
Take those things that you’re ready to do something about, and make a plan to tackle them. You might start by addressing one thing on your list, or one thing a week, or many around the same theme (such as take a whole weekend and do all of the things around the house that you’ve been putting off). Here are a couple of ways to take action:
- devise a strategy to eliminate them: the smaller ones might be easy to eliminate, the bigger ones might require more thought and planning, but making a plan for handling them creates momentum and gives you a place to start… in addition to giving you the feeling that you’re making progress (never underestimate the motivational power of just getting started!)
- neutralize them: this works by finding a compromise, doing something to take the sting out of them. This is a great strategy for those tolerations that are large and overwhelming, or seem to be impossible to eliminate completely. By finding a solution that will work for the time being, it can help to take the emotional charge out of the situation and make it more bearable. While you might not feel able to quit your job right now, for example, finding a way to make it more pleasurable (exercising at lunch, working from home a day a week, savouring a latte each morning) can remove the crushing need to find a new job.
- make them an opportunity to learn or be grateful: you may not be able to eradicate your heart disease, high blood pressure, or other health ailment overnight, but by learning more about the condition and being grateful what you do still have control over, you can change your perspective and not lose as much energy worrying over the situation.
It is a good idea to look over your list every couple of months, removing those tolerations that you’ve handled and acknowledging yourself for a job well done! Add new ones, and look for patterns in which areas of your life tolerations tend to accumulate. They multiply through the snowball effect: when there’s one, it’s easy for others to move in and grow, too. There will always be tolerations that sap your energy, but by examining them realistically and facing them bravely, you can keep them from taking a toll on your mental and physical health.