How to Most Effectively Pick Your Battles
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
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
"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
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
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
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
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."
of Gerontology: Psychological Sciences May 2005;60(3):P121-P128
Orbit May 12, 2005
Can't Fight Them All: Choosing Your Battles Wisely
Picking Your Battles