Stress is one of the most ubiquitous feelings that exist in the world. From the hunters and gathers in Africa braving deadly predators to the desk jockey punching numbers and confronted with too much month at the end of his money, we all are confronted with stress on a regular basis. For the purposes of this article, I am going to forgo my attempt to deal with stress of hunting in the African bush because it is something I have no experience with. Instead I am going to attempt to tackle what I believe to be a more pervasive element that afflicts millions and millions of people around the world – mental stress. I am reading a fantastic book now called The Myth of Stress and while I am no psychologist or expert in the academic field of stress, I have been an expert at creating stress in my life and my sincere hope is that you can learn from my experiences. I have found the 7 most common ways that I have created stress in my life.
Let’s get started.
1) SET UNREASONABLE TIME FRAMES
This is a favorite of mine. I am exceptional at setting big goals and setting completely unrealistic time frames. Take my website/project for example. I went from barely knowing how to send an attachment in an email to wanting to be a technology and internet information guru. To me this was a very worthy and noble goal because it would allow me to educate, inspire, and transform millions of lives. However, wanting to get to this level in a matter of a few months and then beating myself up over and over again as I continued to move farther and farther from the self-imposed ridiculous deadline was just insane.
Now don’t get me wrong. It is absolutely necessary to stretch ourselves but we must be careful not to drive ourselves to exhaustion and mentally debilitate ourselves in the process. I am an extreme advocate of goal setting and mapping out our path but we must do so in a way that is inspiring and growth directed.
What are you stressed about? What are you holding back on due to fear of it being too big or too challenging? What have you set unrealistic expectations for that is driving you crazy? Rework your stuff and get back to work. Life is a big game and should be fun. If you aren’t having fun then figure out what you need to do to make it fun.
2) FOCUS ON THINGS THAT ARE OUT OF YOUR CONTROL
There are too many occasions to count where I have chosen to exercise a level of mastery around focusing on things that are completely out of my control. This has occurred with everything from a breakup to my business to my health and just about everything else I can think of. People have a tendency to crave control. We like to mould and adapt and manifest things exactly as we would like them to be. When things don’t manifest as we would like, it can get very frustrating.
Just think about the financial crisis of 2008. That financial crisis wiped out the retirement accounts of many people. I lost quite a bit of money during that time period and it was at a point in my life where I couldn’t afford to lose anything. Not only was I left with nothing, but I was left in the red. I am not going to lie and say it was easy, because it was not. What I realized from speaking to a mentor of mine is that while it sucked and was painful at the time, focusing on something that was completely out of my control was detrimental to my life. Not only did stressing about it do nothing to make the situation better, it wasted valuable time where I could learn and grow from the experience. I knew people that 6 and 7 years later still had major emotional wounds around the incident.
We must look at things that happen in our lives and ask better questions. Do I have influence over this situation? Do I have the ability to influence the outcome? If the answer is no, then get to work on the things that you have influence over. If the answer is yes, then why are you sitting here reading this? Get to work.
3) NEGLECT YOUR RELATIONSHIPS
One of my mentors, Robin Sharma, taught me to ask some very powerful questions. “Who will show up to my funeral? When I am on my death bed do I really want to be surrounded by my accountant, my banker, and my attorney or surrounded by my family and friends?”
Another mentor, Brendon Burchard, taught me to ask myself “Did I live? Did I love? Did I matter?” Jim Rohn said we are a reflection of the 5 people we spend the most time with. The theme that appears over and over again among the happiest, most successful, and most fulfilled people on the planet are deep, meaningful relationships and contributing to the lives of other people.
There are times in life when we all become ultra self-centred. There are times when we go through a challenge and set a goal and we shut off from the people around us. Yes, it gives us more time to be personally productive, but at what expense? Not only is sharing our love, our passion, and our life with other people more exciting and fulfilling, but these people can also act as fuel to help us achieve more and be more. Put your relationships first and watch your productivity and fulfillment skyrocket.
4) TAKE NO PERSONAL TIME
In today’s day and age we’ve been overcome by a seemingly innocent 4 letter word – work. We get caught up in the pursuit of achievement and productivity that we forget to take time to recharge. For some of us, it may mean changing jobs or careers if our work is not inspiring and meaningful. For others, it may mean taking a holiday or a day off to explore, read, and watch a movie.
Life has many dimensions and all are meant to be lived. We must be careful not to get so caught up in achievement and work that we lose sight of our other domains of life – such as exploring new and different ideas and cultures, quieting our mind, and attending to the things that are really important to us.
Powerful recharges for me are reading, meditation, exercise, movies and holidays. Usually when I find myself stressed or overwhelmed, I am neglecting one or more of these areas. I caught myself recently being overwhelmed and stressed more than usual and realized that I had no holidays planned and I have not been reading lately. The moment I scheduled a holiday and began reading again my stress immediately quieted down.
It is amazing that when you neglect your needs and highest values, your body will create signals to help you get back to balance. Pay more attention and you just might save yourself from a lot of unnecessary suffering.
5) DO NOT REST OR RECHARGE
Ahhh! This is one I am the king at. There are many times where I feel as if I have mastered the art of working to exhaustion without taking time to recharge. Last year in 2014, I made it one of my goals to take a total of 4 weeks holiday. I committed for the first time to take more than 1-2 weeks holiday to create more of a work/life balance. I can honestly say it was a goal I failed pretty miserably at.
Granted, I did take a few long weekends but I did not get even close to the 4 weeks that I planned on. I can’t remember more than a couple of days in the last few months that I took a day to do nothing; a day where my mind was clear from work and focused only on play. Sure, there are periods during the day where I watch movies, go for a hike, work out, have regular date nights with my girlfriend, but a full day focused solely on play? Not a chance. We all have areas to grow in. This is definitely one of mine.
But you know what? Even though I did not complete my 4 week holiday plans in 2014, I still went away more than I ever have before. I still took more time to play than I ever have. It was due to the realizations I had while writing this article that I planned a weeklong trip to the Maldives which was fantastic. The four weeks of holiday is going back on my list this year and will continue to increase as I master it.
6) COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS
There is a right way to do this one and a wrong way to do this one. Let me share the wrong way first.
Do you ever do one of these two things? Either compare yourself to someone doing “worse” than you in relationships, business, finances, or whatever and justify why you are sucking, or conversely, compare yourself to someone doing much “better” than you in those areas and it makes you feel like crap because you feel like you are not doing enough, creating enough, or having enough?
I know I fall into this second category quite a bit. I have a massive vision and giant goals and I have a tendency to compare myself to people that are doing more than me to a point that it is stressful. I look at what they’re doing and say to myself that I should be doing more. The word “should” is one of the worst words we can use in our lives. When we use the word “should,” we are essentially saying that where we are at this moment is not good or not enough. Live your life never thinking you are good enough and watch your stress levels rise! Also, comparing yourself to people not doing as much as you can be very de-motivating. It can make us complacent and stagnant.
On the other hand, comparing ourselves to other people can be an effective way to create more inspiration and gratitude in our lives. If we use people who are doing more than us as a demonstration about what is possible, it can inspire us to be more and create more of an impact on the world around us. We can use them as models to accelerate our learning curve. Comparing ourselves to people who do not have as much as us or do not possess the opportunities and gifts as us can be used to cultivate a deep sense of gratitude that we are enough just was we are.
True progress and growth occurs at the intersection of gratitude and inspiration.
7) FOCUS ON WHAT IS MISSING
As human beings we have the unique ability CHOOSE what we focus on. We can choose to focus on what’s missing and what we are lacking in our lives. We can choose to be miserable because we are single, have too much free time, and no one to share our life with. Then we get into a relationship and we complain that we have no time for ourselves. We dream of earning more money and are stressed that we have none. Then we earn more money and are stressed because we are working so hard and do not have enough time to enjoy it. We wish we had the body of the person with a washboard stomach. Then we realize what we would have to give up to get that and that alone stresses us out enough to quit before we even begin.
I distinctly remember when I injured myself back in college. At the time, I thought I was indestructible. I would work out at least 2 hours every day. My life revolved around working out and playing sports. It was a major part of my life. My senior year I started having right shoulder pain that just kept getting worse and worse. It got so bad at one point that I had to stop working out my upper body for a while. To make up for it, I started overdoing it working out my lower body and suffered an injury there as well. Now, I had my identity around being in great shape and working out all of the time and I had a busted shoulder and a busted knee. Honestly, I was a mess. I became really depressed because I lost a major part of what made up my life.
It took me a long time to see the gift that was covered in a pile of crap. For so long I focused on what I couldn’t do and all of the limitations I was under. After a long time of feeling sorry for myself, I began to ask better questions. One of these questions was very simple. “What can I use from this situation to make me a better person?”
It was a powerful question for me. I began to see the possibilities where before I only saw the limitations. The two greatest things that came out of this were growth in my health and growth in my compassion towards other people.
Before this injury my focus was on bodybuilding. I did not really care how healthy I was as long as I was strong and I looked great with a shirt off. This injury really made me prioritize my health and focus on healthy movement patterns. One of the ways I pursued healthy movement patterns was creating a passion for yoga. Now I have a balance of weight lifting, kettle bell training, yoga, gymnastics, and mobility that I never would have decided to pursue if it wasn’t for hurting myself.
The second thing it did for me was grow my compassion towards others. I was really arrogant towards people who were struggling with health issues. I predetermined that the only reason there was a problem was because they did not take care of themselves. I prejudged them as lazy or unmotivated. When I struggled through my own stuff, I began to better empathize with people. I developed a deep and intrinsic connection with the people around me who were suffering and struggling through their pain and challenges. I could feel what they were going through and connect with them on a level that inspired them to follow a path that would make their lives better.
While stress seems to be a natural byproduct of life and the mastering of your stress is ever elusive, there are absolutely ways to reduce your stress and there are ways to increase the stress in your life. If you want to create an unparalleled level of anxiety and stress in your life and make all the mistakes I have made, then follow these seven ways to increase the stress in your life. If not, work through each one of these distinctions and create a level of clarity and rawness and honestly about where you are in life and where you would like to head. This is not an exercise that is meant to be mastered in an afternoon, but it is meant to begin immediately.
Save this page. Print it out. Carry it with you. Put it up on your bathroom mirror. Re-define what this means to you and make it a pursuit of yours to master these fundamental elements of stress. It is a goal as worthy of pursuing as I have ever seen. The only byproduct of accomplishing this feat is a level of inspiration and gratitude that can never be accomplished with stress and anxiety hanging over your head.