The Art of Knowing What to Ignore


Having clarity about your values and goals is a good thing. But it’s not the only thing. You may have your goal vividly mapped out, and you’re ready to work. Then a comment from a loved one sours your mood and ruins your day. The next day your unappreciative boss sucks the desire out of your heart. Later, you meet a friend, and she mocks your ideas.

And when everyone else is quiet, your mind chimes in hashing out the past, or predicting more negativity. Before you know it, a week, a month, or a year has gone by and you haven’t started working on your goal.

I’ve been experiencing something similar. The little frustrations of daily living and reactive thoughts have taken control of my energy and attention.

Life’s endless barrage of negative feedback, interruptions, and annoyances keeps getting in the way. We take it to heart and suffer in silence, or we lash out at the slightest provocation.

I wish there were a big IGNORE button we could push to make all the negativity go away without dragging us down.

Maybe we can create our own internal ignore button to eliminate the mental and emotional noise that derails us. Consider the method below as a starting point. Then personalize it to suit your needs.

How to know what to ignore

We want to process incoming information (internal or external) and make the most helpful decision as the situation or thought arises.

1- Pause: You need to become aware of the thought and reaction as soon as it comes up. Just noticing alone will slow down automatic reactions.

2 - Question: Instead of allowing your emotions to take over with programmed negativity, ask:

  • Is my response helpful (to me, or others)?
  • Is a reaction necessary? Unless it’s something really important, it’s safe to drop it, which would be the case most of the time.
  • Can I do something about it? If yes, do it, or schedule it.
  • What would happen if I let the whole thing go? Most likely, nothing.

3 - Reframe: Look at the situation from a different perspective.

Can you find something helpful to you? This question is a safeguard against a slighted ego taking over.

Can you appreciate others for who they are and what they’re capable of? Can you cut yourself some slack? Compassion (towards self and others) may reduce anger and frustration.

Looking at a situation from a different angle expands our field of awareness. We become more open to other interpretations and meanings.

4 - Let go: By this point, you’ll be able to take a breath and move on. You either do something helpful, or you choose to completely ignore the issue.

As you practice, you’ll realize that most situations can be safely ignored: opinions, gossip, 24/7 news, social media, insults and criticism, unsolicited advice, and most importantly your habitual reactive thoughts and the compulsion to vocalize them.

Practical considerations

It’s not easy to work with a four-step process when a bruised ego is ready to pounce. Start with a simple pause and ask if this is helpful. Keep at it, and don’t give up. It will get easier. After a while, you can go more into questioning and reframing.

Resistance to change will be strong. The mind is a drama queen. We need to show it who’s boss (as much as we can).

We can’t change life, or people. And in all likelihood, we won’t be able to stop our reactive thoughts from coming up. We can, however, put the brakes on and slow down our reactive habits. Over time, we’ll loosen up old patterns and improve our ability to let go.

It’s more art than science. The art lies in putting our unique personal touch and using our own judgment to determine what to ignore.

As long as we’re alive, we’ll face frustrating situations. If we don’t have a system in place to handle the challenge, we’ll turn into victims of irrational and unhelpful responses.

Knowing what to ignore is an artful skill that will give you back your power to direct your attention in ways that are helpful to you.

You get to decide to work on your goal or sit and binge watch a show. It will be your conscious choice, not a reaction to the loudest and most persistent noise.

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