Feel free to laugh, but my biggest, baddest minor annoyance is that I really hate loading soaking dirty dishes into the diswasher. Seriously, I get ~10 seconds of grossed out irritation even just seeing one in the sink. Dumping the grody water and/or fishing out slimy silverware? Uuuugh. It’s the epitome of minor annoyance.
While the reason is undeniably laughable in my case, the cumulative cost of minor annoyance–especially for those of us with mental health struggles–is surprisingly high. As every good cognitive behavioral therapist will tell you, revisiting the same negativity again and again is a bad thing, be it emotion, memory, or behavior. When you hike a path numerous times, it becomes easier and more familiar. This is how it works in the brain, too. The neural path of your thoughts and emotions get solidified with each “use.”
This is why repeat annoyance is a Problem with a capital P. You don’t want being annoyed to become easy and familiar. Even though the word ‘annoyance’ makes whatever it is seem insignificant, the adage ‘death by a thousand paper cuts’ is wholly appropriate here. Repeat annoyances really add up, and their cumulative cost packs a disproportionately heavy punch to one’s mental health.
What’s the cumulative cost? What’s worse than getting annoyed in the first place? The fact that each time you get annoyed it gets easier to get annoyed in the future, and it gets harder to shake the feeling of annoyance. That’s the cumulative cost, and it’s too dang high.
Let’s say I visit a soaking-dish-riddled sink 30 times a day (seems like a lowball these days, given three cats and a baby) and I’m annoyed for about 10 seconds each time. Cumulatively that’s 5 whole minutes of negative emotion over the course of a day. That’s a stupid amount of time to be irked, especially when I can do a little bit of work up front to combat it.
That’s my take away: Annoyance is unavoidable, but repeat annoyances can usually be tackled with a bit of front loaded Kindess to Your Future Self, and you should do it because you don’t want being annoyed to become easy and familiar.
In my case, how does my time spent annoyed change if I just put the darned dish into the dishwater when I see it? It’s maybe 15 seconds of work, 20 more seconds of annoyance, and then I’m done with it for the rest of the day. Compare 5 minutes of ‘ugh’ across 30 instances of annoyed neural trench-making to 1-3 times and freedom to forget (depending on how long the dish has to soak or if there are a couple of dishes throughout the day). The math makes the cost benefit ratio obvious; it’s ultimately worth it to do a little kindness for your future self.
That’s it. That’s the bottom line. Take a look at your daily life, find what your soaking dish is, then Be Kind to your Future Self and put the dish away. Do it for a day, even if you’re skeptical. At the end of the day, reflect how often you aren’t annoyed by addressing it early.
It’s rarely easy to buckle down and ‘grit it done’, but the quality of life improvement can be huge. Ironically, in the same way that repeatedly getting annoyed makes it easier to get annoyed, practicing good habits makes them easier to do, so challenge yourself to see how long your streak will be, or try to break your last high score (this is legitimately how I have to do it).
Try it for me, then do it for yourself. Good luck.
Kate Scheer is a guest poster for eMoods
Photo copyright Kate Scheer