Cleaning Out Those Tolerations

As we say goodbye to winter this month (hopefully!), our thoughts turn eagerly to spring. And with the beginning of spring, some of us feel the urge to do a little spring cleaning. This month I offer you the coaching version of spring cleaning — reducing your tolerations. “Tolerations” was a word that cropped up early in the coaching world thanks to one of the profession’s pioneers, the late Thomas Leonard. In his seminal book, The Portable Coach: 28 Surefire Strategies for Business and Personal Success (1998), Leonard devotes a whole chapter to the concept of tolerations and eliminating them. He defines tolerations as “things that bug us, sap our energy and could be eliminated.” He goes on to say “tolerations are holes in your personal success cup; they drain away your contentment and your good fortune. They drain YOU.” I often assign reduce tolerations homework with new clients as a way to develop momentum toward creating the life they want. I suggest they take a look at all areas of their lives and write down a list of what’s bugging them. Areas can include home, car, office, equipment, job, habits and behavior. In Leonard’s book he suggests you should be able to come up with 50 items in 20 minutes. If this sounds daunting, just start and see how many things you write down. And of course you know the next step. Start knocking those puppies off the list! A couple years ago, I took my own advice (for once) and made a list of what was bugging me around my house, things that sapped my energy every time I looked at them. The big offender for me was a paint-chipped bathroom cabinet. It should have been a weekend project, but I never got around to it. The lovely thing about tolerations is that you don’t have to take care of them yourself; they just need to be taken care of somehow. So with a call to my friend Mr. Murphy, handyman extraordinaire, I requested time for him to come paint that awful cabinet. And now instead of cringing each time I walk into the bathroom, I smile. One distinction to make here is the difference between “toleration-free” and “intolerant.” Leonard clarifies this in his book saying “someone who is intolerant refuses to allow others the enjoyment of their opinion. To be toleration-free simply means that you don’t put up with other’s behavior, or with situations, when they are bad for you.” So, you can be tolerant and at the same time, be toleration-free. What we’re going for in this exercise is to generate momentum by getting rid of those things that are bugging us. They can be the less emotional items like my bathroom cabinet. They can also be the more emotionally draining things like getting sucked into yet another problem-disguised-as-a-story of your narcissistic friend or tolerating a co-worker’s disrespect. The more we can eliminate the things that drag us down, the more energy we will have for the things that are most important to us. So as you look toward spring and spring cleaning, include a list of tolerations and see what you can knock out in the next 30 or 60 or 90 days. If you set a goal to eliminate one toleration a day, you could be basking in the warmth of a toleration-free summer. Now isn’t that a nice vision to help carry us through this last month of winter.

Tags: Business coach


Susan Combs

Susan Combs, MBA and Professional Certified Coach, works with coaching clients to create fresh starts, enhance their leadership skills and increase their confidence. She is an authorized licensee of the Fit Leader's Program. Susan provides one-on-one coaching, DiSC team-building training and manages corporate mentor programs. She lives in Lansing with her son, Max, and their golden retriever puppy. Visit or for more information.

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