The Power of an Irritation List



“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.” — Dalai Lama

One of the best things I learned from Jack Canfield is to make an “irritation list.”   To make an irritation list, you simply write down the things that are bothering you and then you work the list.

Sometimes the best way to improve each day is reduce the things that frustrate you (while raising your frustration tolerance or letting things go)

Using an irritation list is a powerful approach.  Here’s why …  First, it’s a way to clear your head and surface what’s bugging you.  Second, it’s a simple way to think on paper.  When you put your list down on paper, it can help you keep perspective, or gain new perspective.  When it’s swimming around in your head, it’s easy to blow things out of proportion or to lose proper perspective.  Lastly, it makes all the things that irritate you, actionable.  Rather than swimming in your head, you have a simple list of things to act on.  You can act on them, or decide to let them go.

There’s more though.  You start to see patterns and learn what frustrates you or irritates you.  Better yet, you can raise your frustration tolerance, and decide that some things just aren’t going to bug you anymore.  You can also decide to let things go.  And I mean, really let them go.  Not just shove them under a rug, or bury them deep down inside,  to rise another day.

I keep an irritation list for work and an irritation list for home, and while I work towards the best things in life, I hack away at the irritations that crop up along the way.

Photo by eflon.


  1. Wow, that’s great – irritation list. Something I’ve never considered, but from this write up find to be truly valuable and a good way, as you shared, to keep perspective and gain new perspective.

    Thanks J.D.

  2. Frustration can be a good thing also. With frustration comes a NEW perspective. You realize and figure out WHAT you NEED and what you DON’T need, this is always good. It’s always GOOD to step away from the light and see where there still may be a bit of DARKNESS.

  3. Great idea on having a list of things that irritate us. We often don’t realize how much things can bug us until we make a note of it. I discover that great insights can often come from the little things.

  4. @ Jk — Weeding our gardens really is a way to flourish.

    @ Jonathan — I definitely channel a lot of frustration into positive action. It’s one of my sources of mojo.

    @ Evelyn — You’re right, it is the little things that add up, and definitely do surprise us.

    @ Chip — Today, indeed was a perfect day for such a list.

  5. Hi JD .. good name for a list .. because the irritations hold us back and we don’t get on. My mother said to me since she’s been ill! – get everything you can do done before you go to bed .. if only – but I am now slowly getting to that point. Finally I have a few left-over things that I need to finish .. and they irritate – so as my Mama would say – get on with them.

    We can work much better if we have nothing bothering us .. another aspect .. cheers and good post – I was on my own case yesterday .. Hilary

  6. This is great J.D. I love the idea of tracking our frustrations. I use my journal for that. The great thing about keeping a list is that we can go back and see how the things that used to irritate us, no longer do (providing we’ve released them…)


  7. JD

    I love the idea of an irratiation list. The one thing I fear is it might turn into a never ending scroll as there are currently a lot of things that irritate me. One that I am currently dealing with is capatcha. It drives me nuts!! 🙂 The practice I imagine will be extremely eye opening as I never took the time to notice what pushes my buttons. In doing so I know I will be able to aviod the small things to improve my mental health.

    Thanks for sharing.

  8. Great tip JD. Having an open dialogue with our own self-talk is not easy. This is a perfect way to gain clarity on the habitual thinking that can bog us down. An irritation list is a powerful method for seeing the ailment of petty grievances that keeps us living below our potential. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. @ Hilary — I think the most powerful part is that when the list is on paper, it’s easier to see how important or how significant the irritations really are. It’s also interesting to see the source of them. For example, are they by things I create or control, and is it a matter of expectations, and seeing things the way they are. For example, would you ever get frustrated at a tree being in your way, or would you just go around.

    @ Melody — It’s a great thermometer. In fact, I was surprised by how short my list was, because I know how long it used to be. I think it’s the triad of my fuse got longer, I tacked more stuff head on, and I let more things go.

    @ Frank — It’s very eye opening. The trick really is to write anything and everything down on paper. This may be a massive list your first time through and it may scroll like crazy. But then you tame the beast. You might find you can hack your list down to size with some simple moves. For example, leaving 10 minutes early vs. leaving 10 minutes late can resequence your day’s chain of events. Or, you might make it a game of just how hard is it for somebody to be able to push your buttons. You become your puppet master.

    @ Rob — I remember a key insight from Kano theory was that dissatisfiers can exponentially hurt our experience more than satsifiers can improve them (sort of like a pound of pleasure is outdone by an ounce of pain.)

    One of my favorite Maxwell quotes comes to mind … “You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself bigger.”

  10. This truly inspires me….and is empowering. So often we travel the same loop(s) and this gives us the opportunity to see the loop and decide if we want to change it! Thank you! Dee

  11. Hi JD .. thanks for answering these – they bring so much extra insight .. in the good old days I’d have got really irritated! Now – – chill out .. or go round, or simply go back – depends where I am .. and why etc ..

    Had a real example in Botswana .. the elephants had brought a tree down, we couldn’t go round .. tyres would have gone .. the guys had to get hand saws out and it took a long time to cut through .. very hard tough wood .. and we weren’t going back – we wanted to get on with our safari tour .. I was with friends – 3 vehicles .. patience is a virtue .. it was a wonderful trip.

    Cheers Hilary

  12. JD,

    I read an interview with the Dalai Lama that was also very helpful to me. I’ve tried to carry his wisdom with me when I allow myself to be irritated.

    I’ve actively incorporated his wisdom into my Life and into my blog,

    The interviewer said, ‘Yes, you’re the Dalai Lama, but surely since you’re human, too, people annoy and irrate you. How do you deal with them? What wisdom can you share with the rest of us?’

    The Dalai Lama replied, ‘I think, ‘Their exhalations feed the plants.’ and that’s something to be thankful for.’

    I’ve tried to carry his wisdom with me when I allow myself to be irritated. I’ve actively incorporated this wisdom into my Life and into my blog,

    I love the idea of an Irritation List and using it as a mirror unto myself. I’ll have to try that. Thank you for the suggestion!


  13. @ Dee — Seeing the loops is definitely more than half the battle. And yes, it does empower us to change, with skill.

    @ Hilary — I grew up with the saying patiences is a virtue, and I remember thinking somebody better teach me patience fast 😉

    @ Connie — I like that. It’s true, their exhalations do feed the plants 🙂

    Two things that have served me well are:
    1. It’s an old saying, but I like this … “People do the best they can, with the resources they’ve got.”
    2. Always remember that people are not their behavior, so while I may not like their behavior, I can still appreciate who they are.

  14. Hi JD .. Connie’s Dalai Lama quote is wonderful .. “their exhalations do feed the plants” ..

    Must try to remember that .. Have a good week – Hilary

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