Are you annoyed? Annoying?

When the annoyance bug bites, how do you respond? 

 "If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?" - Rumi

"If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?" - Rumi

  • Shake your head right to left a few times?
  • Shoo away the irritating source from your mind?
  • Move on with your day and focus on something else?
  • Let the bug bites accumulate until you reach a crisis state?

The science behind annoying 

Researchers at Olivet Nazarene University (outside Chicago) have surveyed 2,000 working Americans to identify common workplace annoyances. Sixty-six percent (66%) of respondents get annoyed with coworkers on a regular basis. Why? Top annoyance triggers are loudness and complaining (49%), followed by gossip and bullying (32%). 

According to Wikipedia “Measurement of annoyance is highly subjective. As an attempt at measurement, psychological studies on annoyance often rely on their subjects' own ratings of levels of annoyance on a scale. Any kind of stimuli can cause annoyance, such as getting poked in the side or listening to a song repeatedly. Many stimuli that one is at first neutral to, or even finds pleasant, can turn into annoyances from repeated continued exposure.”

For example, there’s a new song on the radio you really like. So does everybody else. The song is played on multiple stations throughout the day. Now you can’t escape and no longer wish to hear it. The repetition and unpredictability of when the song plays can even make you avoid the radio altogether.

Is there a specific equation to determine what annoys us? Not really. Palca and Lichtman, authors of Annoying explored the concept of annoyance and concluded annoyances occur in two steps: 1. A stimulus shows up on our radar (repeating song on radio) that bothers us and  2. an emotional response (irritated, angry) follows. Annoyances also trip our senses, such as the smell of raw onions on a plane, the sight of trash, or being cut off on the highway.

Most of the time we can easily brush aside annoyances and get on with our day. Our thresholds are surprisingly high. However, if we constantly experience annoyance and remain in a state of negativity it’s time to pay attention and redirect our minds.

Here’s Stephanie’s story. Can you relate?

Starting the day

In the morning Stephanie likes to walk with the dogs. Despite an intention to walk for 30 minutes, her low back starts to ache and her swelling feet press against tight shoes. Swollen feet make it difficult to walk. Stephanie tries to push past the pain and keep on walking.

Instead she heads home, drops off the dogs and gets ready for work. She decided her body is going to get worse and she is annoyed.

Working pains

Stephanie heads to work and notices her colleague Brendan isn’t there yet - a typical occurrence.  Brendan shows up late most days, has no excuse and administration turns a blind eye.  Another co-worker wears heavy perfume and bites her nails. Stephanie's supervisor has not yet responded to the only request she has made weeks ago. Stephanie wants to yell at her supervisor and co-workers.  She wishes they would take initiative and be considerate. Stephanie instead shrugs and continues with other tasks. She concludes no one else is shaken by these disturbances.  his further annoys her.

Home life

When Stephanie arrives home the kitchen is a disaster. Family members left food wrappers and leftovers on the island. Dishes are piled in the sink. At the sight of this mess Stephanie wants to scream, curse her family and start cleaning up. Yet Stephanie merely shrugs and walks away. She tells herself her efforts will go unnoticed. She vows not to enable others. In the end as always, Stephanie is annoyed.

At the end of the day

Before bed, Stephanie reflects on the day’s events. She is neither happy nor sad. She feels confused and empty. Her thoughts circle round and round on these questions:

  • Does anyone else notice how irresponsible people are?
  • Does anyone care about others' wellbeing?
  • Is annoyance meant to be a way of life?
  • Is it better to walk away or to speak up?

Annoyance club

Friends call Stephanie and inquire how she’s doing. They exchange their list of grievances. Neither party feels better, but comfort is taken knowing others are also miserable. With her mind and psyche bursting from annoyance, where is Stephanie heading?

The other side of annoying

Because Stephanie is asking questions, a part of her is craving answers and movement. By taking a closer look Stephanie has an opportunity to shed annoyance and make room for a freer, less judgmental life.

Closed vs. Open: In Stephanie's closed mindset she believes no one changes for the better. She has refused any new perspective on the situation - a classic case of cynicism. 

Since she is physically compromised, Stephanie’s first step towards healing is to meet with a professional to explore how to manage pain. She can then focus on setting and achieving her fitness goals.

Judgment vs. Caring: Our human world conditions us to judge. At times it seems impossible to turn off the judgment button and turn on the caring button. In Stephanie’s case, the annoyance button represents accumulated bruises from beating herself up. What remains is disappointment and the anticipation of more on top.

Stephanie is discovering how to disrupt annoying thoughts and switch to caring thoughts. This idea once seemed impossible. With the help of a coach, Stephanie’s mindful shift from judgment to caring is conquering annoyance.

Maintaining vs. Resetting boundaries: Stephanie is tired of telling people how to do their jobs and finish chores. She is tired of chaos. When in a state of chaos our vision for improvement is usually non-existent. Stephanie has chosen to be annoyed rather than look for peace.

Stephanie is learning to reset her boundaries. She now listens to her intuition and her body. When she hears a worn-out judgment tape rising to the surface - or her solar plexus starts churning - it’s time to stop and re-calibrate. Peace of mind and non-judgment are healthy alternatives and result in healthy relationships.

Frustration vs. Humor: A coaching session turning point: How had Stephanie lost her sense of humor? What led to her doing things which brought out misery and suffering?

Stephanie is intent to let in the lighter and brighter side of life. She understands that the desire to shout or yell depletes her energy and robs her good feelings. Today Stephanie laughs at situations that once drove her crazy. The more she laughs the better she feels. Laughter has resurrected her passion for feeling alive and joyful.

Are you annoying? Take this quiz and find out!