When I tense up in the face a difficult situation, I like to remind myself not to take life too seriously. It’s easy to be frustrated by so many things nowadays. The front pages of newspapers barrage you with bad news: projects have gone wrong, people have acted immorally, famous singers have died, and the weather has been terrible. When my favorite sports team loses an important game, I might initially feel frustration: why didn’t the players perform as well as they should have? Why did the coach choose to use that obviously flawed tactic? In that moment, I like to remind myself it’s just a game. There’s no need to take it too seriously.
It’s easy enough to say “it’s just a game” when it’s your favorite sports team losing. After all, there were really only playing a game! But can you also say this when you feel frustration in other parts of life? When the weather is terrible? When you didn’t receive that promotion at work you’d been hoping for? When someone you respect says something with which you strongly disagree? If you can see the situation as part of the game of life, you can take it less seriously and exert better control over your response to your negative feelings.
In fact, right now is a good time to practice not taking things too seriously. When I write, I exaggerate. Like many writers, I exaggerate to provoke thought and to get my point across. Walk into a bookstore and take a look at the most popular books. They’re usually prominently displayed near the entrance of the store, screaming for your attention. People notice writing when the points are made strongly.
But don’t take what I write, or what other people write, too seriously. When you read a piece, think about the gist. Think about the big picture. Do you find it interesting? Thought-provoking? Does it cause you to change your opinion on something or other? You don’t have to perfectly agree with everything that’s been written. By not taking the writing too seriously, you’ll be more receptive to the writer’s message.
Similarly, when you’re out and it starts to rain, try taking the rain less seriously. Can you see how getting wet on your way to the grocery store is part of the game of life? The important part is how you respond to the rain. To put it in my grandma’s terms: you’re not made of sugar. Or, if you prefer, in Richard Carlson’s words: “will this matter a year from now?” If it won’t, don’t sweat it.
Of course there are times to take life very seriously. When you’re being mugged or when you’re taking an important exam, laughing at life may not get you the result you want. Seeing life as a game won’t always work, but don’t obsess over exceptions. Think positively. When can you use this technique? Think about the big picture: when you’re frustrated, can you take the moment less seriously?
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