The Annoyance Bank

At Down To Earth, we frequently discuss the notion of “banking annoyances” with our clients. It’s something that we, as humans, seem to do automatically and we rarely notice it unless we’re really looking closely. Here’s how it works…Annoyances are those things that happen every day, are generally somewhat avoidable, but they really aren’t huge tragedies, so when they come up, we usually kind of ignore them and move on. We suggest that people have an imaginary “annoyance bank.” You can store annoyances in it, up to a certain amount, and then you must clear the bank out.

Annoyances come in various sizes. We use numbers just to make it easy to understand. For example, maybe when you can’t find a pencil is a 1-point annoyance. When you stub your toe, maybe that’s a 2. Kick over a wastebasket full of used tissue, a 4; Get all the way to the store without money, 8….

Everyone’s “annoyance bank” has some absolute limit, a point at which they can no longer store annoyances. When the bank gets full, you have to empty it somehow when new annoyances come along. To empty it, you must discharge all those annoyances somehow.

This is how it might work on a typical day, let’s say your “annoyance bank” can hold 10 points …

You wake up in the morning and your hair won’t do what you want it to do. Annoying, but not a tragedy (bank 1 annoyance point). Next, you spill a little coffee on the counter and you have to wipe it up. Again, annoying, but who cares? (bank another annoyance point). Now you go to take your kids to school and hubby ran the car out of gas again. Ooh, very annoying, you already told him about this a million times (bank 5 annoyance points). Okay, life goes on and you’re not going to get a divorce over it. You get to the school later than expected because you had to stop for gas. The line to drop kids off is long and now you’re going to be a little later into work than you would like, but you won’t actually be late. Okay, no biggie (bank another 2 annoyance points).

Now Junior tells you he forgot a permission slip at home that he needs today. ARGH! That would normally be a 3-point annoyance, but you already have 9 stored up and your bank will only hold 10, so you’ve got no “room” for this annoyance. You must discharge your bank NOW.

You yell at your kid 12 annoyance points’ worth (the 3 he earned and the 9 you had stored up) and he gets all bent out of shape because he realizes he deserves 3 of them, but not all 12. So, now you just over punished your kid (bank 3 annoyance points in the recently-emptied bank), you’re still sitting in the line (add 1 more), you still need the permission slip (2 more) and your kid is crying (2) and yelling (2) and, VOILA, the bank is full AGAIN!

So, you discharge all 10 points at once. You yell at your kid to shut up, it’s his own stupid fault he forgot his permission slip. Now the other kids start screaming that they’re going to be late for school (3), you’re holding up the line and parents are honking (2), the kid without the permission slip says he hates you (5), Dang, the bank is full again!! Time to discharge.

This time, to discharge, you cry. You sit in the parking lot of your child’s school, holding up the line, crying, and you think you’re crying about a permission slip, so you feel stupid (8), you realize that you’re going to work with mascara running down your face (2) and that blasted annoyance bank is full and can’t hold all these new points.

Now, you’re paralyzed. You don’t know what to do because you’re still trying to finish discharging the last 10 points, the bank’s not empty yet, and here you are wracking up more points and you’ve got nowhere to go with them. That’s when despair sets in.

And, it all started with a bad hair day.

What’s the solution? There are two ways to go. One is to keep a small bank and discharge it continually, the other is to keep a large bank and discharge it regularly. You need self-control to do either one well and can choose the method that works better for you.

One method is to keep a smaller bank, but discharge it continually. You need self-control to be able to stop yourself at the exact moment of annoyance to pull this one off well.

When you have that 1-point bad hair day or 2-point can’t find your keys, don’t just ignore it and move on. Stop right there and deal with it completely so you don’t “bank” the point.

You must consciously give yourself permission to have the bad hair day, or make a plan to keep yourself from losing your keys in the future, or forgive yourself for losing the keys today. It sounds really stupid, we know, but if you don’t, you bank that kind of stuff.

As for hubby running the car out of gas, that’s a 5-pointer you don’t want to be carrying around all day. When you see that the gas is run out and you experience that 5-pointer, stop right there and decide what you’re going to do about it. Maybe you decide that from now on, you’ll fill the car up every Monday and Thursday. Then let it go. Or, maybe you decide you’ll cook your husband’s favorite dinner that night and over dinner, you’ll figure out who is going to take responsibility for filling up the car. Then, let it go. The point of this approach is to continually discharge the annoyance bank by planning solutions to the annoyances so you don’t carry around stupid stuff all day, clogging up your bank for when you really need it.

The other method is to keep a larger bank and have a very specific plan for routine discharge. Store more annoyances longer, but discharge them regularly in a healthy way.

This plan requires self control in that if you let yourself store 50-100 annoyance points, you have to do something very drastic to discharge that much annoyance at once, and the things that are likely to come to mind are going to include things like beating the snot out of someone or taking a baseball bat to someone’s windshield.

However, many people do it well by having a regular routine of rigorous physical exertion, like daily jogging or weekly basketball; or a calming hobby that they really enjoy like embroidery or working on cars.

Where this plan might get you into trouble is when your car breaks down and you have to miss your basketball game, or can’t get to the store for more embroidery yarn. Then your bank is full, you have to add a huge annoyance to it (car breaks down – 20) and you are going to miss your discharge routine. Now when the wife breaks the VCR, or the hubby comes home late without calling, you’re gonna have a hard time not kicking the TV over or crying uncontrollably.

We have found that much marital conflict springs from not understanding the annoyance bank and how to use it.

For example, let’s say hubby has a particularly bad day at work and he comes home with a full annoyance bank. He goes directly into the garage and starts working on something without greeting anyone. Wife, who’s been holding that 5-point “you ran the car out of gas” all day, along with every other little thing that went wrong, runs right out into the garage to dump her whole bank on him. He has no room left to deal with her. A huge argument ensues because neither has any room in their bank to handle the situation appropriately. A wrench gets hurled to the floor, the wife bursts into tears and slams the door, hubby is left in the garage feeling angry and stupid, with absolutely no desire to actually come into the house. Wife is inside waiting for him to come in and is getting angrier by the moment that he is not coming in …

In a marriage, it is important to recognize when your spouse’s bank is full and try to call it to their attention very very kindly if they haven’t already noticed it themselves. It is exactly when they are behaving very poorly that you must do something to help them empty the bank. That is the appropriate time for a hug, a kiss, a shoulder rub, a smile, anything that would help them empty the bank. The thing that makes it so difficult to do is that we rarely feel like being kind to our spouse when they are behaving badly. Get over it and do something kind. NOW.

It is also important, in a marriage, to make sure that you always have a little room left in the bank for your spouse. You can’t fill your bank during the day and expose your family to that full bank at night. You can’t let the outside world clog up your head so completely that you cannot deal with your spouse’s troubles, too.

In conclusion, figure out the best “size” for your “annoyance bank” and try to keep it as empty as possible by discharging even minor annoyances immediately and/or having a number of healthy activities available that allow you to discharge your annoyances on a regular basis.

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