“The greatest weapon against stress is the ability to choose one thought over another.”– William James
I’ve been thinking lately about how Covid and all the other world issues might affect our mental health. My primary concern right now is that people are wearing out. Long-term stress and ambiguity have a real impact on judgment and decision-making. For the last ten years, leading Tahzoo has been an exercise in finding “the balance.” The question is not, how can you avoid stress, but how do you manage it? With stress left unchecked, you’ll lose your mental health and make errors in judgment. I’ll share for me, the secret for keeping the stress at bay boils down to four things; exercise, planning, losing track of time, and empathy.
Exercising – It doesn’t matter what you do, do it regularly; anything that gets you up and moving for twenty minutes. Long walks are great, working in the yard, going to the gym, up to training for a marathon – just be active. Do something moderately physical three or four times a week. Fill your lungs, get your heart rate up, and enjoy it wherever you are from a fitness perspective. The last point: don’t make the goals for exercise so difficult that they become unachievable; just do it. I won’t pummel you with reams of data about the benefits of being active. We all know it’s true. I never want to go to the gym, but I always feel better when I do.
Planning – Write out a to-do list every day. This will help you see your progress and remind you of what is important. I write a list every day, and it’s just a daily habit that gives me my sense of direction. Your to-do list will always contain more items than you can accomplish in any one day, and that is ok! Break your list into two sections, tactical things you can finish in a day and longer-term projects requiring your continued focus and attention. I get so much joy from crossing off an item on my “to-do list” that sometimes I write down stuff that I already did so that I can have the joy of crossing it off. On the term paper items, do one thing, big or small, every day towards the goal. Give yourself grace – you deserve forgiveness. There are days when you’ll kill your to-do list and days when you won’t get anything done. The point is writing the list, not completing the list.
Losing Track of Time – When you do something you love, your brain turns off its “time tracking mechanism.” This happens because your mind is fully occupied, and therefore it reduces your stress levels and produces healthy endorphins. Although your brain is engaged, you’re actually giving your brain a rest; it’s akin to sleeping. If you want to know more, read up on “Flow” by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. I have a simple exercise for you; write down a list of 10 things that, when you do them, you lose track of time. Then make sure you do these things more often. In fact, as much as possible. Work them into your day and your routines.
Here are the things that cause me to lose track of time… Playing Chess, Tennis, Reading, Writing, Cooking, Drinking Wine, Playing Card Games, Math, Golf, Selling, Giving Speeches, Listening to Music, Solving Strategy Problems, Studying Physics, and Spending Time with My Family. Go write out your list and do those things more often.
Empathetic Decision Making – Every day, we make tradeoffs around allocating time to people and prioritizing our to-do list. You can’t make everyone happy, nor should you try; it’s not good leadership. However, I want to offer a model for decision-making that naturally creates empathy. The goal here is that you make managing your relationships your priority. Before you make a decision, take a moment to consider, “How will the people in my life be emotionally impacted?” More specifically, put yourself in their shoes and ask, “How will they interpret and experience this decision?” This does not mean that you won’t need to make hard decisions or that you can shy away from hurting someone’s feelings. It means you’ll consider how you’re going to keep your relationship healthy as part of your decision-making process. To put yourself in someone’s shoes, you’ll have to get to know them. You’ll be building a foundation of empathy.
These are just habits. They take practice to become automatic. But I know you can incorporate all or most of this into your daily life. I’ve spent decades dealing with long-term, highly ambiguous stress, and it can wear you out. I’m still going strong after all these years, including 2020, 2021, and Covid. “Man, we have a bright future ahead!” and that’s something to be excited about. These habits continue to clear the path for me. Let’s talk more about stress. I worry about you… if you need anything or want to chat, call my cell.
These disciplines are so critical, and I cannot emphasize them enough. Just try it for one month, give me 30 days, then book a half-hour meeting with me to talk through your experience. I will give you an American Express gift card. We will get to know each other a little better.
Let’s go be great!