Finding Calm in a Chaotic Mind: Tolerations

TolerationsWarm rays bathe our arm as it waves through the wind. Our lungs drink the crisp breeze of nature, and we are filled with the nectar of calm and joy. Sensing the mood, the radio delivers a song it’s been keeping for just this moment. Our finger, now hypnotized, turns the volume up. The road is nothing but an infinite stretch of green lights and cars keeping to the right. What a glorious, heart swell of a day. Nothing can ruin this.

Except that muttering. What. The. Bleep.

Mutter, mutter, mutter. A quick glance in the mirror reveals all, and we jump at the sight of their beady, bloodshot eyes. Bees and gremlins. Jerks.

Serenity now. Serenity now. Serenity now.

We quieted them with our daily habits of smoke and light and had since forgotten them in the joy of the moment. But, their muttering pulled us back into our heads where we tripped on a stack of papers near our cortex. Our elbow then got lodged in a to-do list, and we became queasy from the thud of our hip hitting neuronal glop. We are in a poorly written Indiana Jones sequel, and the wire we clumsily triggered has unleashed our backseat buddies. They bicker and crawl over the console to grab at our air vents. And, unless our eyes deceive us, the bees and gremlins have become chunkers, weighing everything down and taking up more space than we have. For the love of MacGyver, what have they been eating?!

We look for evidence of foul play. Clearly, someone is out to get us; they must be sneaking ice cream and fried cheese curds into the car. Found it! It’s crumpled in the crevice that hides goldfish crackers and straw wrappers. We can just make out what it says…

Oh. We aren’t going to like this. T-O-L-E-R-A-T-I-O-N-S. Tolerations = the chocolate-dipped, double-stuffed Oreo of the jerk-brain kingdom. And, they aren’t conjured by Voldemort’s wonky half-brother Gargamel. We created them. We allow them. We own them.

This is getting serious. We need the partition to be up, keeping our hitchhiking companions where they belong. To raise it, we need to finish building our magical button. You remember the button, right? The one that is like having a rainbow-colored narwhal who takes out the trash and washes the dishes? Yep, that button. I’ve already shared one of my strategies for building it, and today, I’ll share a second: Death to Tolerations. (Evil laugh is optional.)

What are tolerations?

Coaches use the term “toleration” to describe things that distract us from what really matters. Tolerations come in many shapes and sizes.

Some are relatively straightforward: My office is so disorganized I can barely concentrate and never find what I need.

Some are more complicated: My friendships are one-sided; I constantly give but am alone when I need something.

We have annoying ones: I haven’t been to the dentist in years because I just can’t motivate myself to make an appointment.

And, we have pricey ones: My roof is leaking, my siding is rotting, and my windows are no match for winter’s wind.

And don’t forget the motherships: I never set boundaries, which creates an entire page of tolerations…not having time to do what is important, going to bed too late and being hostile from lack of sleep…

Yep. They are a diverse breed.

Look, we all have lingering “to-do” lists, and sometimes we let things go because they just aren’t important. (Don’t sweat the small stuff.) But tolerations are different. Tolerations are nefarious thieves, stealing our energy, mental space, and time. They stand in the way of our growth and happiness, serving as road blocks and potholes. And, as they pile up (and I guarantee you they pile up), the bees and gremlins feed on them. No food journals or point counting. Just gluttony galore. Then, all we can hear are the bees buzzing with lists, pending decisions, and “oh, craps” while the gremlins chant, “Shame! Shame! Shame!” Sigh.

“What you are prepared to accept or not prepared to tolerate sets and determines the boundaries of how your life will be lived.” ― Steven Redhead, Life Is Simply A Game

Why do we allow tolerations to live?

We agree tolerations are the absolute worst. So, why do we allow them to live?

Here is where I ask permission to put down our defenses and be honest. To be vulnerable and introspective. To trust we are in this together.

Sometimes, we permit tolerations because a short-term pay-off exists. And, in the moment, trading off the long term for the short term seems like the path of least resistance. Other times, we allow them because we’ve made the decision to be a passive actor in our life story: “I have no choice. It’s not my fault. It is just the way things are.” We forfeit to external forces our power to choose.

Think about your tolerations, and answer the question: Why do I allow them to linger in my life?

Some considerations to ponder:

  • We are attached to the way tolerations make us feel. We can become attached to negative sources of energy — an adrenaline rush from nearly missing a deadline, a charge from anger bursts, a strange warm fuzzy from complaining. Or, maybe it’s the tingle of attention we get when we vent or struggle visibly. We aren’t bad people; we are human, and once aware of our attachment, we can look for more positive sources of energy and emotion.   
  • We have woven tolerations into our story. Each of us holds a living, breathing life story. Sometimes, however, habits, beliefs, and narratives about who we are and how we live get woven too tightly into the fabric. We resist editing or adding twists to the next chapter because messing with self-identity and our “current state” can be uncomfortable.
  • We are stuck in inertia. Whether a result of Universal laws or protective brain wiring, a body in motion stays in motion, whereas a body at rest resists with every ounce of its being anything resembling change, risk, or growth.
  • We don’t have enough gas in our tank. If we are emotionally and physically exhausted, resolving tolerations can feel like “just one more thing” on an already overflowing plate. The problem is the empty tank is likely caused, at least in part, by tolerations. We feel we don’t know what to do. We need help.
  • We have not done enough work around self-compassion and self-worth. To eliminate tolerations, we must believe we are worth the effort and put our needs as priorities. Sometimes shifting our mindset and beliefs must come first before we are ready to tackle tolerations.
  • We are avoiding taking full responsibility for our lives. If we name our tolerations and accept our power over them, we become responsible for them. We can no longer blame them on others or external circumstances. Taking responsibility for our tolerations is a growth point, and growth can be uncomfortable and scary.

Now that you’ve reflected on why you allow your tolerations to exist, I ask you to answer another question:

What do your tolerations cost you? Time. Money. Mental space. Happiness. Relationships. Success. Growth. What is the full cost?

For many, the overall cost of allowing tolerations to exist is significantly disproportionate to the cost of eliminating them. I know this to be true for my clients and myself. I want more for us. I want more for you, too.

How do we eliminate our tolerations?

So, we now know why our bees and gremlins are obese and ruining our ride. We’ve also thought about why we allow ourselves to have tolerations and what they cost us. Now what?

Breathe easy, my friends. Tolerations are fixable. Killing them will take time and effort. You can claim early wins and move from inertia to momentum by picking off low-hanging fruit. But, it can sometimes take a year or more to exterminate them all. Some may require you enlisting folks for advice, support, coaching, or expertise. Others will take patience while you acquire necessary internal or external resources. But, like so many others I know and work with, you can do it.

Breathe. Baby steps. One bite at a time.

When you don’t know where to start, it helps to draw a map and organize your thoughts through a process that works for you. Here is one way to get started:

  • Become Aware – Make a master list of your tolerations. Write them down. Every. Last. One. As you list, hit each area of your life: health, work, finances, relationships, work and home physical environments, spirituality, fun and recreation, and learning and growth. Once finished, absorb what you see. People have different reactions to their lists. Some go into shock or feel guilty. Others feel a renewed sense of control. Please just remember your list is meant to empower not foster judgement or shame. We all have tolerations. When I first began addressing mine, I had more than one hundred. I’ve seen them take up 5-pages of writing and full walls of post-its. It’s totally normal; don’t freak out. We bring them into awareness and address them. They are not who we are and do not define us. They are just things that exist now (but not for long because you are going to DESTROY them).
  • Diagnose – Determine the root source of each toleration. Is your room always a mess because you lack a system for keeping it clean, OR do you have too much stuff and need to purge? While you play doctor, look for “mothership” tolerations. (Those tolerations from which multiple other tolerations are born.) You haven’t booked a vacation or fixed your roof…are these separate tolerations or the offspring of the mothership, “I don’t have control of my finances and am worried about spending money”?
  • Prioritize – Prioritize the tolerations to help you determine where to start. Look for those that when addressed, will make the biggest impact in your life.
  • Plan – Define what “eliminating” each toleration looks like. Then set a plan for how and when you will address them. What steps will you need to take? What does success look like, and how will you measure it?
  • BuildTake inventory of your resources and build upon them until you have what you need to go in for the kill. Consider both internal and external resources. Tell others what you are doing and what you need; community is power.
  • Act – Take your plan and run like hell. Action leads to action.

(Download our FREE workbook below to get started!)

What might get in our way?

Eliminating tolerations is like pursuing any other goal. We have to know what we want and how to get it. We also must think about what might get in our way, and prepare for these hurdles. With tolerations, one challenge is when busy, we can slip back into the thinking that originally allowed our tolerations to pile up. Keeping our list of tolerations visible and enlisting an accountability partner or coach can help. We may also stumble in the face of boomerang or hydra tolerations. Boomerangs are tolerations you cross off your list only to find they have returned to you. Hydras sprout seven new heads where you thought your sword had dealt the final blow. Understanding we may encounter these beasts and having a strategy for when we do can give us an edge. And, when all else fails, we can acknowledge our feelings, breathe, and regroup.

As we attack our list of tolerations, new tolerations may pop up and need to be addressed as priorities. This is completely normal and OK. We may also run into a toleration that, after reflection, we decide is one we feel we should do but not one we really want to do. If this happens, first ask yourself whether you are being honest or whether you have slipped back into old thinking. If you are being honest, then allow yourself an ELMO. (Enough. Let’s Move On.)

What will being free of tolerations do for us?

Ask anyone who has been through a program to reduce and eliminate their tolerations, and they will say the same thing. Death to tolerations made them feel lighter, empowered, and more in control. They found new energy and began tolerating less over time. Action begets action.

An added bonus folks mention is that with the distractions and roadblocks gone, goal getting and dream chasing became easier. And, in my own experience, I believe you will wake up one day feeling different. Bigger. You will have grown.

Think about your most vexing tolerations.

  • How will your life be different without them?
  • What will you be able to do, think, or feel that you couldn’t when they were living with you?
  • What new possibilities might you explore with them gone?
  • How might their death quiet your bees and gremlins?

In my last post of this series, I’ll share my third strategy: Hug Your Monsters. I know, right! I can’t wait either.

In the interim, what pearls can you share about building your button? Those reading this will appreciate your wisdom; they are so done with the bees and gremlins. We don’t have time for them anymore. We’ve got s*** to do.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *