Stress management may be one of the most important challenges facing businesses in the 21st century. The good news is, you can learn to eliminate most of your stress and manage the rest of it, with "The 14 Point Plan For Kicking Stress Out Of Your Life".
For hundreds of years, when you asked someone how they were doing, you could expect the standard answer "Fine". Now, when you ask someone how they're doing, you'll probably hear "Busy. Really busy".
And to make matters worse, many people wear their "busyness" as a badge of honour. The busier they are, the more important they must be. But it's a cruel hoax.
When people are continually saying they're "busy, busy, busy", they're simply covering up the real truth ... that they're "really stressed out". And that's a very dangerous way to live your life.
The 14 point plan for kicking stress out of your life
- Pay attention to your body
Most of the time, your body will tell you when you've got too much stress or when you're off balance. Pay attention to your body. Don't ignore those signals. If you notice changes in your weight, appetite, or sleep patterns, pay attention. If you're experiencing more colds, headaches, and upset stomachs, pay attention.
After all, if you don't pay attention to the dis-stress - and do something about it - you're going to have dis-ease. So get to know your body and the way it communicates with you. Listen to the signals your body is sending you; care for it appropriately, and your stress will be dramatically reduced.
- Think about what you REALLY want out of life
I see too many people who work too hard, live too fast, and then feel somewhat empty - instead of excited and fulfilled - when they're successful. The reason is simple: they never took the time to figure out what they REALLY wanted out of life or out of work. All they ever did was think about their next project or what else they had to do.
If that sounds like you, if you're living an overly busy, hurried and hectic life, you may be wasting your life. Oh sure, your calendar may be filled with "good" things, but those "good" things may be crowding out the "better" things ... or the things you REALLY, REALLY want.
Maybe it's time for you to take an honest look at yourself. Are you living your life by default, letting your pressures control your life? Or are you living your life on purpose, using your priorities to create your life?
The more you know what you want, the more focus on getting what you want, the less stress you'll have.
- Refuse to be proud of your busyness
This will be a difficult rule for some of you to follow, but let me tell you, when you're proud of your busyness, you're going to carry a huge load of stress. So please, forget the comparisons. Take the focus off your busyness. After all, no tombstone ever read, "He led his department in the number of hours he worked".
Just remember, you're the one paying the price if your work and family life are out of balance. As Lee Iacocca, the former chairman of the Chrysler Corporation, said, "Over the years, I've had many executives come to me and say with pride: 'Last year I worked so hard that I didn't take any vacation.' It's nothing to be proud of. I always feel like responding: 'You dummy. You mean to tell me that you can take responsibility for an $80 million project and you can't plan two weeks out of the year to go off with your family and have some fun?'".
Don't wear your busyness as a badge of honour.
- Do only the most important things
Even Oprah Winfrey says, "I've learned that you can't have everything and do everything at the same time". She's right. There isn't time for everything. So you'd better decide what's most important and do more of that.
And if you happen to be one of those people who doesn't know what's most important, just ask yourself one question: "If you had 6 months left to live, would you be living your life the way you're living it now?" If your answer is "Yes", you don't need to change anything. You're living a well-balanced life.
On the other hand, if you had only 6 months left to live and your life would change dramatically, that's a pretty good sign you're overstressed and off balance. You're spending too much time on things that won't make any difference ten years from now.
Focus on doing the most important things. And then, as time permits, you'll get around to some of your lower priorities. It will automatically de-stress your life and your work.
- Remind yourself "you'll never get it all done, and that's okay"
I was raised in a family where my parents repeatedly told me, "Get all your work done and then you can play". It wasn't a bad thing for my parents to say, and it isn't a bad thing for you to tell your kids. After all, most kids haven't been to a time management seminar.
The trouble is, if you take that advice literally - get ALL your work done and then play - you'd never have time to play. There's always more work to do.
No matter how hard you work or how fast you work, on the day you die there'll still be a few things left in your in-box. So be it. Let it go. Remind yourself "you'll never be finished, and that's okay".
- Look at how your career is affecting your family
Not only now - but five years from now. Every project you take on and every commitment you make has a personal price tag. Are you aware of those costs?
I remember in the early days of my speaking career, one of my daughters would often interrupt me when I was preparing a program. She'd say, "Dad? Dad?" ... and then ask a series of questions ... or want me to come out and play with her. More often than not, I'd reply, "Not now ... Later ... I'm busy ...Leave me alone". Eventually she left me alone, and as a result we had a very stressful relationship for several years.
Time passes more quickly than you think. You'll soon be facing the consequences of your present work decisions. So make sure you make those decisions in the context of how they will affect your personal and professional life ... if you want to kick the stress out of your life.
- Balance your "get" goals with your "be" goals
Too many people are unbalanced workaholics because they only have "get" goals. They want to "get" ahead, "get" that promotion, "get" that new boat, "get" that trip, and so on.
While goal setting is good and healthy, if you only have "get" goals, you're almost certain to burn out. Well balanced individuals know they must have some "be" goals as well.
In other words, what do you want to "be"? Who do you want to "become"? Maybe you want to "be" happier, more content, and more confident. Maybe you want to "be" more effective in your job or with your customers and family members.
You see, 10, 20 years from now you will "be" a different person. Are you planning for it by setting your "be" goals? Or are you merely leaving your destiny up to whatever happens?
When you get to the bottom line, a stress-free life or a balanced life has a lot more to it than merely "getting" things. It's also about "becoming" the kind of person you want to "be".
- Examine your attitude and ... if necessary ... change your attitude
The research says 85% of people have a less-than-positive attitude.
And if you're not sure if your overall attitude is positive or negative, look at your first reaction to any bit of news you receive. If, for example, you find a note on your desk from your boss that says, "See me immediately", what is your first reaction? Is your first reaction, "Great, the raise is coming early this year", or is your first reaction, "What did I do wrong this time?". 85% expect the negative, and as a result, live with an abundance of self-induced stress.
If that sounds like you, there are four things you can and should do to create a stress-releasing instead of a stress-inducing attitude.
- Shun the lie that says, "I can't help the way I feel. That's just the way I am"
The truth is ... you may not know HOW to change your attitude, but it is totally changeable if you spend 5 minutes a day practicing a few simple disciplines.
- Use affirmations
As silly as it sounds, tell yourself, over and over again, "I'm a positive person with a positive attitude. I keep stress at bay, and I maintain a healthy work-life balance". Through the power of osmosis, your affirmation will move from your conscious to your subconscious mind and re-shape your attitude.
- Avoid mind binders
Stop telling yourself anything negative. Stop thinking negative thoughts, such things as: "I'm so stressed out ... I can't take much more of this job ... and ... I've only got 7 more months, 3 weeks, and two days and I'm out of here." The more you think or say such things, the more stress you'll have.
- Ask a couple of people to hold you accountable
Ask them to praise you when you're showing a more positive attitude, and ask them to encourage you when you're getting down.
- Be an actor
As creativity expert Natalie Goldberg says, "Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency". In other words, the most stressed-out people react to everything happening around them or overreact to everything people say or do to them.
By contrast, the least stressed-out people, the ones with the most work-life balance, choose to be actors rather than reactors. When things happen to them, instead of reacting instantly, they stop and think for a moment. They choose to act or respond in a way that seems good, right, appropriate, and professional. They act in a way they will forever feel good about.
- Weigh the pros and cons of greater "success"
If you're trying to get more work-life balance into your life, just remember ... corporate promotions almost always come with a corresponding increase in workload. It may not be worth it. The same is true if you're self-employed. More projects, customers, and staff may look like you've achieved a higher level of success - but have you really? You may have acquired more stress than it's worth.
When you're trying to get less stress and more balance, when you're offered a promotion at work or given the chance to take on more responsibility, ask yourself if it's worth it. Sometimes your answer will be "Yes" but there will be other times your answer will be "No". Either answer is okay ... as long as you take time to weigh the pros and cons of greater "success".
- Choose your fights carefully
Don't get sucked into a conflict unnecessarily. Choose your fights carefully. Some challenges are worth your time and energy. Others are not.
To help you make a conscious choice and an intelligent decision as to when you should fight and when you should pass, ask yourself three questions:
If you can answer "Yes" to all three questions, your chances of success are fairly high. But if you get one or more "No" answers, your chances of success are fairly low, while your chances of stress are fairly high.
- Does a threat exist? Is the other person doing something that threatens your success, security, or happiness?
- Is it worth a fight?
- If I fight, can I make a difference?
- Set your spending limits in advance
Few things cause more stress than money issues. And you may be spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about how you can make more money or pay the bills you've already accumulated.
If that's the case, you need to take heed of Marcel Duchamp's advice. As a 20th century artist, he observed, "Living is more a question of what one spends than what one makes". Or as my father has always preached, "It's not the high cost of living that causes the stress; it's the cost of living high".
To avoid financial stress, set your spending limits in advance. Know what you are comfortable spending and stick to that decision. Don't be tempted to spend more because somebody else is spending more.
You might even approach your financial stress with a bit of humour. As actor Walter Matthau quipped: "My doctor gave me six months to live, but when I couldn't pay the bill he gave me another six months."
- Schedule your recreation
It may sound strange to put some fun time on your calendar, but I've learned if it's not on the calendar, it doesn't happen.
It's all too easy to say to your friends and family members that "We've got to get together real soon". But if you don't immediately ask "when" and put it on the calendar, chances are you won't see those people for weeks and months.
Quality friendships are a huge part of creating a healthy work-life balance. So my wife and I sit down at the beginning of each season (winter, spring, summer, and fall) to schedule our recreation. We make sure we get all the people we want to see on our calendar, and we put those fun, just-the-two-of-us getaways on the calendar as well. We even schedule our vacations two years in advance. Our motto is: "If it's not on the calendar, it doesn't happen."
Having a recreation schedule is a great way to kick the stress out of your life and keep your work-life balance. But don't overlook those spontaneous moments when you can indulge in a little de-stressing activity. As J. Dent says, "A perfect summer day is when the sun is shining, the breeze is blowing, the birds are singing ... and the lawn mower is broken!"
- Practice an attitude of gratitude
The more thankful you are the less stressed you can be. So spend two minutes every day to list all the things you're thankful for. Focus more on what you have and less on what you don't have. And then take a walk outside, by yourself, and say out loud a thousand times, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you".
If you practice an attitude of gratitude, the next time a stressor comes into your life, your list of thanks will come back into your mind and neutralise the impact of the negative, stressful things that are bound to happen. You will keep your blessings and your problems in perspective and your work-life in greater balance.
No one on his deathbed ever said, "I wish I had spent more time at the office". No! Most deathbed regrets have to do with spending too little time on living a fully balanced life. But with these 14 strategies, you're equipped to keep the stress at bay as YOU ... and not somebody else ...creates a healthier, more balanced work and family life.
You can't afford an overstressed life. Neither can your company. But the good news is you can kick most of the stress out of your life and out of your work if you follow my 14 Point Plan.