“Don’t sweat the small stuff” – Interview with Michael Mantell

Don't swaet the small stuffHave you been feeling overwhelmed, stressed, under a lot of pressure and simply unable to enjoy everyday life because of anxiety? Dr. Michael Mantell comes to the rescue with a simple and unequivocal piece of advice, simply don’t sweat the small stuff! Far from being a passing comment, Dr. Mantell has spent the bulk of his career mentoring, coaching and helping people to learn how to live a more fulfilling life. He has collected all the wisdom and insight gained along the way into a book:

Don’t sweat the small stuff

P.S. It’s all small stuff

The thought that we shouldn’t let life anxieties weigh us down echoes throughout this timely publication, which covers all the major areas of life – the self, relationships, family, health and work – and provides readers with plenty of examples, scenarios and situations to illustrate how to apply this overriding principle in everyday life. Dr. Mantell has agreed to answering a few questions about his book.

Francesca: Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to share with us some of the content of your book. First of all, I’d like to ask you how the book came about. Scott Fitzgerald said that “You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you have something to say.” So what motivated you to write your book?

Michael: I have written this book and others because I believe I do have something to say: I want to inspire, elevate, teach and promote optimal health and wellbeing in others, and the same holds true for my near daily articles and columns. We live in angry, upset, times and I think that the anger industry that the media has become, for their profit motive, needs an “anger literacy” response. I believe what I’ve offered since my first book in 1988, attempts to help people become less judgmental, more present and more aware of the goodness in life.

Francesca: There’s definitely a need for being more grateful as consumerism always shifts our focus onto the next thing. Two years ago, a new edition of your book came out, so I was wondering what has changed in your message.

Michael: When my wife of almost 45 years, Paula, suggested that I release the 25th Anniversary Edition of my 1988 book a few years ago, I thought it was an excellent idea. Many of her ideas are…ok, all of her ideas are. Over the past 25 years, I’ve been called on many times to deliver the “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff…” message and in the new book, I’ve been able to present the concepts far more concisely, with more general applicability to all walks of life from business to sports, from fitness to health, from academics to relationships, from politics to longevity and beyond. I’ve added a lens that 25 more years of living, that 25 years of growing wiser and more accepting of life has provided, thereby helping my readers understand that replacing 5 words, “It must (should) be my way” with 2 words, “So what?” will add immeasurably to happiness and health.

Francesca: The suggestion to become more nonchalant is captured in the title of your book, which I love by the way! But the truth is that we can all fall into the trap of “sweating the small stuff”: why do you think people easily make this mistake?

Michael: I believe there is a difference between “sweating the small stuff” and creating unhealthy negative responses, and “sweating the small stuff” and creating healthy negative responses. I believe people make this mistake because they have not learned any other way. That’s what my writings are all about — how to experience a negative situation, think about it in rational ways, and respond with a healthy negative response. The difference between being concerned and anxious, between being sad and depressed, between being annoyed and being enraged, describes the difference between healthy negative and unhealthy negative responses.

Francesca: It’s definitely important to understand this difference. However, I feel that not sweating the small stuff is easier said than done…I mean, when you are going through something, it seldom feels like ‘small stuff’. So I guess that perception must play a role.

Michael: Correct…as I’ve said for many decades, “The link is what you think.” Perception, or what you think about an event, determines ENTIRELY how you will feel which in turn determines ENTIRELY how you will respond. That something is “easier said than done,” is never a deterrent to taking on the challenge, growing from it, expanding your repertoire of resiliency and finding healthier more emotionally intelligent ways of regulating your emotions and behaviours.

Francesca: Michael, could you share with us an example of how you have managed to regulate emotions and behaviours at a critical point in your life?

Michael: When I was completing my senior year in college, I applied to more than a dozen graduate schools in psychology to do a Ph.D. but I was not accepted by any of them. With the summer upon me, what was I going to do? I heard about a new program opening at Hahnemann Medical College for a Ph.D. in psychology, and I applied. I was accepted! Soon into the program, word began to spread that the Ph.D. was going to be a Psy.D. and that not all of the 15 students accepted were going to be moving ahead. While an informal vote led me to believe I’d be one of them, when it came down to it, I was not. Now with a terminal Master’s degree, at the end of another academic year, far too late to apply anywhere else, what was I going to do? Another opportunity to sweat the small — and big — stuff, but I didn’t. Never have, never will. So I dug down deep into my forward thinking thoughts, and went over the University of Pennsylvania, yes the Ivy League, highly esteemed U of Penn, and far beyond the deadline I  applied, and lo and behold, far beyond any dream I could ever imagine, I was magically accepted – surely by the Grace of God, miracles and blessings. Even those who stop me do not stop me. I knew what I wanted and did not stop until I got it. If I had been accepted by a school in the first round of my applications, I’d have a degree but not an Ivy League degree. Had Hahnemann accepted me, I’d have a Psy.D., not the Ph.D. I wanted. And I’d have a Psy.D. from a school that doesn’t even exist any longer. Sweat the small stuff? Never.

Francesca: That’s quite an experience! We often hear about seeing challenges as an opportunity to grow. Many in your positions would have given up, but you kept thinking about alternative routes to reach you aim, and you kept your cool all along.

Michael: Well, if you take off the limits in your thinking, you become unstoppable and fearless, and you can create the success you want. Your thoughts entirely and completely, alone, determine whether you GO through or GROW through situations. Your thoughts alone will also determine if you’ll stagnate and never move past a situation. Sweat the small – or big – stuff? Never. Ever.

Francesca: To go back to your book, it is divided into 5 sections which cover pretty much all aspects of life. It’s a very comprehensive ‘life manual’. How do you suggest readers approach it? Is it necessary to read it front to cover or can you pick and choose topics without missing out on the overall message?

Michael: Interesting that you’ve said that. It has been described by many as just that – “my life manual”. Like many manuals, readers dive in and focus on what serves their needs and interests at the time. It changes from one piece of “small stuff” to another, from time to time, and the beauty of “life manuals” is, like a television set, radio or newspaper/blog, it’s nice to know it’s all there even if you don’t use all of it. The overriding theme appears in each chapter regardless of whether I’m talking about oneself, relationships, family, health or work.

Francesca: I think that guidance offered by your book is more needed than ever before because we have become more detached from our true ‘self’. In your opinion, what are the causes of this self-alienation?

Michael: You are absolutely correct! We have grown far more isolated from ourselves and others, detached from ourselves, and in part we see the proliferation of “gratitude”, “self-compassion”, “mindfulness”, “meditation”, “yoga”, “positive psychology”, “anger management”, “emotional intelligence”, “collaboration more than cooperation”, to name a few, moving to the forefront of psychological “treatments”. We’ve come to feel powerless, we’ve seen an increase in meaninglessness, and self-estrangement, feeling alien from ourselves, our feelings and our activities. Our alienation from ourselves, others and the world in general, has led to much emotional distress if not actual mental illness. The reasons include the very fast changes we’ve seen in society especially since the 1960’s when we were told to “tune out, tune in and turn on”, the increase of drugs and alcohol, violence throughout our media, a decline in communal values and faith communities, the escalation of a coldness throughout government and the impersonalization of employers, the decline of personal attention in schools, ethnic minorities feeling marginalized, the decline of inner cities, family decline and divorce escalation, seeing the falsity in our leaders, uncovering the immorality in science research, and so on.

Francesca: The list is indeed long! So how does your book help reconnect people with their ‘self’?

Michael: My book is entirely focused on helping readers look at this world through a lens that enables them to see these events in ways that does not drag or weigh on them, but rather, with an attitude of “It’s bad enough that our leaders are false, my company doesn’t really care about me, everywhere I turn there seems to be violence and anger – it’s bad enough, so on top of that I should also feel badly about myself, depressed, angry or anxious? No way!” My book teaches readers how to see events through the “regardless lens” the “even though lens”. This lens says “regardless of what is going on, I can still have a healthy reaction, not an unhealthy reaction”. I do teach meditation, mindfulness and seeing what can go right, rather than what can go wrong, using a positive psychology mindset to guide us through life.

Francesca: I like the idea of seeing the world through new lenses…Michael, If you could give our readers only one piece of advice for optimal living, what would it be?


“D.I.E. less, S.M.I.L.E. more”

Basically, stop Demanding, Insisting and Expecting, instead, Savor life, spend more “Me” time, Interact more with others, Listen and Laugh more, and Empathize with others without judging others. In other words, when you rid yourself of the beliefs that you “MUST” do well, that others “MUST” treat you well, that your life “MUST” be easy, and you fully realize that your problems are your own and you control your own destiny, you will live a more fulfilled, optimally healthy life…that’s my Rx prescription for optimal living.

Francesca: I like this acronym! It’s something easy to remember and practice on a daily basis. Michael, thank you so much for your positive message.

If you want to discover the treasures hidden in Michael’s book, you can purchase it on Amazon.