We’re all given a finite amount of time in a day, and it’s up to each of us to determine how to spend it. In relationships (with kids, with a spouse, and so on), we’re faced with many conflicts everyday, and you may be tempted to fight through each of these conflicts, to ensure you get your way, to prove that you’re “right,” or maybe just because you feel challenged. But most experts agree: choosing your battles wisely is a much better way of life than battling out every disagreement.
Although they may seem important at the time, most battles are NOT worth fighting.
According to Dr. Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff … and It’s All Small Stuff, “Often we allow ourselves to get all worked up about things that, upon closer examination, aren’t really that big a deal. We focus on little problems and concerns and blow them way out of proportion.”
It’s up to us to choose to either make a big deal or simply let it go, and, according to Dr. Carlson, if you learn to choose your battles wisely, you’ll be far more effective in winning those battles that truly are important to you.
Older and Wiser
It seems that older people may really be wiser in that they are better at picking their battles than younger people, according to a study in the May 2005 Journal of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences.
“Older people appear better able than younger people to pick their battles,” said Kira Birditt, a researcher at the U-M Institute for Social Research (ISR). “When they’re upset with others, older people are more likely to do nothing or to wait and see if things improve. Younger people, on the other hand, are more likely to argue and yell.” Could it be that older people have figured out that the majority of things we argue over just aren’t worth it?
On the Road to a More Peaceful Life
Ideally, we’d all like to live in a conflict-free environment, where battles rarely, if ever, happen. And while it may seem like a stretch, getting to this point is really only a matter of figuring out what is really important to you, what is worth fighting for (and what’s not), and, perhaps, being a little more open-minded and accepting of those around us. According to Dr. Carlson, for many of us this may involve reevaluating our priorities in life.
Take a minute to think about the last argument you had. Perhaps you argued with your spouse about taking out the garbage or doing dishes. Maybe you battled with your toddler to take a nap or with your teenager take his hat off inside. Then take a minute to think about what’s really important to you. Chances are none of the things that you battled over will come up. Battling for your real priorities would likely involve fighting for you family’s safety, changing a law to be more just, making your community a better place, and so on.
Carefully choosing which battles to fight, and which to let go, will help strengthen your relationships.
Dr. Phil McGraw, author and host of the “Dr. Phil” TV show, says of choosing your battles, “Some battles are none of your business. Some battles you can never win so why try? We all need to adopt a spirit of acceptance to get along. Even though the decision may not be what you want, your acceptance of that decision is a way to have peace. You can pull someone toward your own ideals, but eventually they will pull back to their own instincts. Therefore, have a spirit of acceptance when people’s ideals are different from yours.”
How to Effectively Pick Your Battles
Not only will picking your battles lead to a more peaceful existence, but it’s also likely to strengthen your interpersonal relationships.
Says Sam Horn, author of Tongue Fu! How to Deflect, Disarm and Defuse Any Verbal Conflict , “Constantly riding your mate will put your entire relationship at risk. The key is to strike a balance between the battles you choose to fight and those you choose to let go.”
Picking your battles does take work, and, like any lifestyle change, motivation if it’s going to work. Here are some tips to help you determine what’s worth fighting over, and what’s best off left alone.
Nine Tips to Help You Avoid Unnecessary Battles
- Don’t fight over something that’s none of your business, or that you can’t do anything about.
- Think about the consequences of the argument. Are they worth it?
- Determine what the conflict is really about (are you really angry that your spouse takes a long time getting ready, or do you feel she’s disrespectful for making you wait?). Once you do this, then decide if it’s worth bringing up. If it is, address the underlying issue, not the superficial one.
- Make sure the argument is going to solve something.
- Don’t fight just because you “feel you’ve been challenged.”
- Ask yourself, “Is it really a big deal?” Chances are that it’s not.
- Realize that you don’t always have to have the last word, and often it takes the “bigger person” to simply let the conflict go.
- Ask yourself, “Am I really right? Does it matter if I’m right? Is there really a ‘right or wrong’ for this issue?”
- Is this an issue you’ll remember in five years? In one year or six months, even? If not, don’t fight it.
And, the next time you have a battle to fight or let go and you’re having a hard time deciding what to do, think of the words of author and public speaker Dale Carnegie:
“Any fool can criticize, complain, condemn — and most fools do. Picking your battles is impressive and fighting them fairly is essential.”