We all have someone, or likely more than one person, who comes to mind when we think of “annoying people.” For me, it’s the complainers, the gossipers and the negativity mongers in my life. I want to shout at them, “Stop being so negative! Can’t you see you’re disrupting my state of peace and enlightenment over here?”
Of course, if I were truly in a state of peace and enlightenment, no amount of complaining, gossiping or other behavior would shake me from my nirvana. So why am I so easily disturbed? Is it them, or is it me?
Being positive is something that I work on every day — similar to exercising. Like a muscle that needs training, having a positive attitude takes practice, commitment and patience. It’s an ongoing process for me and I can slip back into old negative thought patterns pretty easily. Since I interact with others every day, here’s my practice for dealing when I find someone annoying:
1. Notice what exactly annoys you.
Why is it that complaining is annoying to me, while other behaviors — such as messiness, being late or talking a lot (e.g. things that can really irritate others) — don’t bother me at all?
Perhaps it’s that others’ complaints and negativity really highlight what I’m working on changing — patterns of negativity in my own thoughts and behaviors. When this happens, I can actually see the annoying person as a mirror image and their behavior as a reminder, which helps clarify what behaviors I no longer wish to perpetuate in my life.
2. Consider why this experience is happening.
If the Buddhist saying “All that we are is a result of what we have thought” is right, then I am the creator of all I am experiencing in my life — all those annoying people included.
This also means that my own complaining and negativity in the past have attracted my current experience, and that I have the power to change my reality just by changing my thoughts. If all that we are experiencing now is a result of our past thoughts, then we are literally creating our future with our current thoughts. This philosophy takes some acceptance of responsibility and accountability, but feeling that I have this power gives me even more reason to keep my thoughts positive.
3. Take the path of least resistance.
According to the ancient text the I Ching, “The path of least resistance is nonresistance.” When I am feeling annoyed by someone, simply yielding to what is and making a choice to lift my resistance always lifts the power the negativity off me.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is just to excuse myself and walk away, or deliberately decline opportunities to put myself in the path of those who are likely to push my buttons. Another “least resistance” technique I like to use is what I call the Jedi Mind Trick. The complaining gossiper might approach me and say, “Did you see that woman’s dress? Wasn’t it so ugly?” So I reply, “No I didn’t, but have you eaten at that new locavore restaurant downtown? It’s incredible.”
4. Find common ground.
If this is someone you see often, such as a work colleague or family member, what fun and positive thing do you have in common that you can focus on and talk about when you’re together? If you dig deeply enough, I believe you can find something that any two people share in common. The key is to pick a topic that is fun for both of you to talk about, taking the focus away from the behavior or topics of conversation that have annoyed you in the past. Fashion? Sports? Food? Travel? Movies? There must be some shared interest you can bond over.
5. Be responsible for your own feelings.
As good as it feels to blame my annoyed feelings on the actions or words of someone else, it feels even better to know I have the power to control how I feel. My ultimate goal is to become so unshakable in my own joy and positivity that no one else’s mood or behavior can rock my boat. These days, my boat is still quite unstable. And accepting that is part of this ongoing practice.
In all areas of life, we can make a practice to cultivate gratitude, almost as if we were exercising weaker muscles. We can learn, through this practice, how to focus more on the positive and to take responsibility for our own feelings and experiences — even the annoying ones.