“Life is 10 percent what you experience and 90 percent how you respond to it.”
– Dorothy M. Neddermeyer
I wanted to follow up on my letter from last week. I ran into Tom and his wife Cori a couple of days ago and found out he closed two more remodeling contracts! Wow, I guess spending time at home has many people getting to all of those “Honey Do” projects that they have been putting off.
About three or four months ago I changed the locked screen on my phone to a quote from Mark Twain. “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” Read that quote again… it took me a second read to get it.
I put this on my lock screen because I spend every day running through scenarios in my head about how to drive the business, manage conversations, make decisions, etc. It’s a very useful habit for the job I have but it was also adding to my stress level. When I read this quote it gave me the freedom to be more dispassionate and analytical about things. It was a way to remind myself not to allow my brain to run wild, generating anxiety around worst-case scenario outcomes.
It got me thinking about anxiety and how I manage that in my life. First of all, let’s just be super clear, we are living in a time of heightened anxiety and stress. Each of our lives has been disrupted and the timeline for the end of all of this is at best, ambiguous. So, it’s normal and okay to be anxious these days and you won’t always recognize it when it’s happening to you. You could find yourself short-tempered, not sleeping well, or just having trouble motivating yourself … anxiety manifests in many different ways.
I want each of you to take a quick anxiety self-inventory – a little homework for each of you, so grab a pen and paper or open notepad and answer the following questions:
- How do you feel when you recognize you’re anxious? Describe the physical feeling … do you feel tension in your shoulders or sick to your stomach? Whatever it feels like for you, write it down.
- What was going on in your brain right before you become anxious? What were you doing or thinking about? For example, as I mentioned today, my Mom went into the hospital last night and I found myself working and the random thought of “what am I going to do if, God forbid she dies,” popped into my head.
- What triggers an anxious thought or loss of focus for you? For me, it’s two things, random thoughts and when I consciously play out worse case scenarios. As with all of these questions, everyone is different, so do your best to write down your experience. There is no right or wrong here.
- When you’re triggered how does your communication or thought process change? Do you talk differently, does your choice of language change? For example, when I am anxious, I talk a lot faster than normal.
- Write out a list of 5 things you do that cause you to lose track of time. For me they’re reading, writing, tennis, chess, playing with my kids, going on long drives, watching movies, and a few other things. Write out your list.
I want you to do this exercise so that you can be more aware of when you’re anxious, and what is going on for you when that happens. I don’t have a magic pill for you but as you can imagine I have a stressful job, so I’ll share some of my techniques to manage stress.
I watch comedies – laughter is great medicine. My brother Matt has a few impressions of President Camacho from Idiocracy that have left me rolling on the floor a couple of times.
I’ve turned off all of the notifications on my phone, except the ringer. I make a conscious choice to use my phone, but I don’t let all of those notifications trigger my anxiety or remove me from the moment.
I walk around a lot, I don’t mean I take a lot of long walks, but I mean I get up and move around.
Several times a day I stop what I’m doing to focus on breathing and relaxing. I also try to enjoy a view. I look out a window or at a piece of art or at something that’s aesthetically pleasing to me.
I exercise. You just can’t beat the restorative power of exercise. Get up and do something, go for a fast walk.
I write out a to-do list every day. Doing this gives me a feeling of control and I make conscious choices around how I am going to spend my day.
Lastly, try to do something every day that makes me lose track of time. Go look at your list and do more of it! It will help inoculate you from moments of stress. They call it being in flow, go look up Flow theory, there are many benefits to being “in flow”. If you’d like to learn more start here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flow_(psychology)
These are a few of my coping techniques. Each of us has our own patterns, take the time to be conscious and present about feeling anxious so that you can manage it. I realize that for some people anxiety is a medical condition and my techniques may not get the job done, that’s between you and your doctor.
I want each of you to know how proud I am of you. As a company and as a collection of teams, we’ve come together in this difficult time and done an amazing job of supporting one another. We have done some of our best work in the last few weeks. I see everyone hustling and working hard, I am so appreciative and proud. Remember we are agents of change, that’s who we are and that’s what we do. We can spread positive energy and we can reduce anxiety in ourselves and for each other. We can make the world a little bit better every day. We are Tahzoo.
Let’s go be great,