There is a common myth that You need to be doing some sort of practice outside of your busy life that will cause your busy life to be less stressful. That’s about as dumb as this; let’s say you were jumping out of an aeroplane without a parachute so before you go you sit down and get a massage in order to relax. Recovery from stress takes on average twice the time it took to cause it. Do you have that sort of time?
Maybe it’s a good time for a change of heart about how you work.
Start with this very simple proposition:
Change how you think about events of the day so that they don’t cause you so much grief. That’s called a change of process and it’s in complete contrast to conventional HR driven life balance advocates who would have you doing yoga, flexi time, less work days and getting foot rubs (not that this stuff isn’t fun, but it’s cure rather than prevention).
In the old days, when you had a few hours free during the day, stress relief was a great and necessary option. But that was yesterday, when we were out of control, blaming the world and the world itself for stressing us. You know, when T model Fords were on the production line and smoking cigarettes was still sexy. It’s time to let it go.
We are in absolute and complete control of the cause of stress. We are also in absolute and complete control of the cause of depression, grief, sadness, misery, anger, frustration and bad balance. Those are our decisions and we make them 10,000 times a day. Nobody chooses those choices for us. It’s our choice to be depressed or stressed. And those are our so called spiritual choices. Yet, spirituality for what it’s worth has become all tangled up with back bends, leotards, long beards and living green. It’s time to ditch the cosmetic and really start looking after ourselves.
If you drive a Ferrari car, would you put bike tires on it? No of course not. So, if you have an executive job would you spend the whole day blaming the work, discrimination, obesity, and stress or would you actually feel the courage to say “holy crumpets, what am I doing to myself?”
We choose whether to be upset by somebody. We choose whether to be rattled by something going wrong or to go with the flow. We choose whether to be deep or shallow. There are the multitudes of choices we make throughout the day that result in what we call quality of life.
And those choices affect more than the quality of our life. They impact the decisions we make in business, the intimacy we share in relationships, the stress we place on our biology and therefore our ageing, the impact we have on our goals and ambitions and the price we pay to achieve them.
It all begins with the awareness that stress is a choice. We choose stress, most often because we like it and even though we can die from it, are addicted to it. It’s worse than cigarette smoking or alcohol, which we all acknowledge can be an addiction that’s hard for people to break, well, so is stressful working.
Why is stress addictive? Well for some people there is an association between feeling and meaning and stress. In other words, when I take people to the Himalayas, and ask them to slowly walk up a hill, most find it hard because they only know one way to feel good about doing anything, and that’s to suffer a high price in order to win a high reward. In the mountains, of course, that’s suicide. But still, people do it over and over because it’s a habit.
Relaxed working, balanced living does not generate that sense of excitement most people need when they walk up a mountain. So, it feels too, too, well it feels too easy so they add velocity to the equation and put head down, bum up and speed up the hill. I usually meet them half way as they gasp for air trying to do what they do at home, come to a standstill and painfully celebrate the trials and tribulations of the day thus far. We usually have another 6 hours of uphill walking left to do. They soon learn about the benefits of balance and calm and the drawbacks of hype, stress and emotion as a driver for their working day.
It’s not what you think
99% of stress is driven from how you think not what you think. So this provides you with an immediate intervention, an opportunity to take back the control of your stress in every thought, reaction, situation and confrontation you may have. I’ll share a little insight about it for you here. Then why not give it a try in the way you think, rather than what you think and in this way, integrate you spirituality (thinking) into your reality (working and loving).
Events are events until we choose to make them otherwise. An example of this might be a car accident in which we are involved but not hurt. 10 seconds after it’s happened we are free to think what we want, we could even, if we chose, be happy that it happened.
Firstly we are free because there is nothing we can do about it. Secondly we are free because we are not hurt and therefore there is something to be thankful for. Thirdly, we have control over our emotions we can choose to be distraught or we can choose to be philosophical. The value of being distraught is that we cope with the shock but sometimes this coping mechanism leads us to secondary stress points that add extra weight to the event.
I was in the dentist chair recently having my front tooth re-crowned and wasting another few hours of my day. The crown, which was the result of about 8 hours of stuffing around so far, didn’t fit, was the wrong colour, and was too big. I had a choice didn’t I? I mean, what value was anger going to achieve? What value was being passive going to achieve. I chose my emotion based on the result I wanted to encourage from the dentist… the point being, I chose.
It’s that ability to chose stressful responses or depressive thoughts that we must be aware of and try as often as possible to prevent. That way we also reduce the recovery time needed from being stressed. It makes sense and it’s quite easy right?
It does sound very easy but sometimes easy isn’t so easy, so lets not load ourselves with yet another spiritual expectation that makes us feel like a total loser just because we can’t apply what others call, easy.
When I went through a marriage breakup I struggled to apply my own philosophy because the emotion got the better of me before I had the chance to get the better of it. Emotions have a momentum of their own. You might get angry, then angry about being angry, then sad that you were angry, then frustrated that the other person won’t forgive you and then angry that …. you’ve been there I’m sure.
That marriage breakup was a long time ago and I’ve learnt a lot since then. I’ve learnt that the stronger our emotional response to a stress the more likely it is that the emotion has nothing to do with the event, and more likely to have triggered something deeper.
For example, in the breakup I was ticked off and hurt, therefore emotional. But the main cause of emotional struggle during a break up is not the loss of a partner or a loved one but the shattering of the dream of the future. Sometimes those dreams were built on a bicycle built for two not for one. You see, when we lack self awareness we become shallow and when we become shallow we look around for something to anchor us to make us feel secure and strong. That anchoring is usually an attachment to something that is, in our view, more stable and stronger than us. And in a relationship break up, it’s not the loss of the partner but rather it’s the shattering of this illusion that we could cover up our insecurities in a relationship, that causes the emotional struggle.
This is why we need to hesitate before we respond to anything emotionally. Which is the next topic.
Hesitate and Trust it
We love the clattering bang of noise such as TV, activity and excitement and so when it comes to a moment of decision as to whether an event justifies an emotional reaction we find it really uncomfortable to hesitate. Hesitation means silence. To hesitate means to be patient, to sit for a moment and contemplate without trying to resolve something. This is the art we have discarded as we’ve moved further and further towards the technology spectrum of life and further away from the nature and the beauty of connectivity to the Earth.
This ability to hesitate is not lost. It is their inside us. However it has become more and more uncomfortable. Some people even call it a pregnant pause. As a keynote speaker I have experienced this discomfort over and over again as I stand on stage presenting a challenging topic that needs a moment of stillness and calm and yet, I am agitated by the situation and find it hard to stop.
The larger our emotion the more likely it is that hesitation will benefit us. The stronger we feel something the more probability of making a mistake. Our feelings are, for the most part, emotions and emotions are for the most part, lies.
Emotions are lopsided thoughts. In other words if we see an event with equally good and bad consequences, we cannot have an emotion, we will have ambivalence. Ambivalence is a very sacred and spiritual state because it is state of open-minded truth. It in moments of ambivalence that inspiration arrives or, as it is referred to in the East enlightenment happens.
Add gratitude to a moment of ambivalence and you have a very wakened state of being, stress-less.
Going back to the car accident scenario, putting the need for shock aside, a series of challenges will run through our mind as soon as the accident happens. Where were we going and how do we get there now? Am I in the wrong and what will be the personal challenge of sorting out victim and Victor in the resolution of the financials. Why did it happen to me? And did I do anything to cause this? These are the four general questions we are asking ourselves day and night and these are the four questions that get negative answers when things go wrong.