5 Ways to Stop Little Things From Becoming Big Things

Photo by Fineas Anton on Unsplash

So often we can work through the challenges of daily living effortlessly. Sometimes, though, little problems or small inconveniences build up and can make it difficult to manage our emotions.

Recently I helped a friend care for her mini farm while she was out of town. In addition to dogs and a cat, her small farm includes a flock of chickens, one horse, and three goats. For the first several days, everything went as expected. However, one evening when I went to close up the animals for the night, I discovered that one of the goats had escaped and was roaming freely. After much calling, urging, chasing, and finally, pleading, I was finally able to convince this strong minded animal to enter the pen for the night.

Driving home, the phrase “got your goat” kept running through my mind. My grandmother regularly used this saying when someone lost their temper and gave into anger. When some has got your goat, you have relinquished control of your emotions. While my emotions didn’t rise to the level of anger, I was frustrated.

Anger has a purpose. Anger lets us know that there is a problem, that something is in conflict with our values or getting in the way of getting our needs met. Too often unresolved anger builds up and makes it difficult for us to manage minor inconveniences and annoyances. 

Developing tools to help to manage the little things so that they don’t develop into big problems takes a little effort and provides a big pay off. Here are some ideas:

Daily Gratitude List

Take a few minutes each day to write down at least three things that you are grateful for. Developing a habit of gratitude lessens the impact of minor annoyances or frustrations by focusing your attention on the positive aspects of your life. Writing it down is an important part of the gratitude practice. Writing increases the brain’s ability to remember something. You may choose to write your gratitude list in a journal, on an index card, or post it as your FaceBook status, as long as you write it down.


You don’t have to be a Zen master living in isolation on a mountain top to reap the benefits of meditation. Meditation increases feeling of peace and decreases stress, furthermore, the benefits of mediation last throughout the day.  Try several different types of meditation in order to find the practice that is a good fit for you. A guided meditation is a good place to start, as are meditations which focus on your breath or a mantra. If sitting still gets in the way of your practice, consider more active meditations such as yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.

Physical Activity

Daily physical activity has been shown to decrease stress and improve symptoms of depression and anxiety. The good news is that while 30 minutes of moderate exercise three to five times per week is recommended, improvement is shown with as little as 15 minutes per day. Vary your activities to keep yourself motivated to keep moving. Try walking, gardening, hiking, playing soccer, and riding a bicycle. 


Improve your communication skills and become more assertive. Assertiveness helps to reduce stress by helping you to get your needs met. Clearly describe your concern and express your feelings using “I” statements such as “I feel __________________ when you _____________ because  ____________________.” Avoid using judgmental language or threats which can impair the other person’s ability to hear your concerns.

Be Proactive

Dr. Steven Covey identifies “Be Proactive” as the first of his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Each day, you have the choice to be reactive or proactive. When you react to situations or people, it is easy to become frustrated, angry, and stressed. Choosing to be proactive allows you to handle situations more effectively. Take the time to plan ahead and be prepared for possible difficulties. Always running late in the morning? Pack your lunch the night before. Take care of the little things right away that can cause bigger problems later.

If you’re tired of (fill in the blank) getting your goat, improve how you manage your emotions and your daily life. Develop a habit of gratitude, learn to focus your attention and reduce stress with meditation and physical activity, increase your assertiveness and be proactive, and take control of your own goat.

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