It seems to come with the territory these days.
No matter what kind of work you do, there’s the propensity to feel beyond stressed about it.
What’s stressing you out?
Here are 3 examples I’ve heard recently:
- My boss is a control freak. She’s micro-managing everything. It’s stressing me out.
- I get more emails a day than I can handle, and I have to spend most of my time in meetings. I don’t feel like I’m getting to my real work and it’s driving me crazy.
- I’ve hit a brick wall in my small business, and am not making the money I want to make. I’ve no idea what to do to turn the situation around and I’m drowning in panic and despair.
Does any of this sound familiar?
And, if so, what’s the secret to solving it?
It’s not what you’re thinking
Chances are you came to this page looking for a quick fix. Some reframes and clever “how to’s” to get you back on track.
I have no magic bullet to offer.
Instead, I’m going to invite you to step back and consider how your experience of life is created. Because it’s having this level of understanding that’s going to make the lasting difference.
Until now, pretty much everyone, including me, has worked on the assumption that the world works outside-in:
You affect me.
If you’re nice and treat me well, I’m happy.
If you’re nasty and behave badly, I’m not.
Our circumstances dictate our moods.
When everything is fine on the outside, we feel good.
When things are difficult, we feel bad.
Turns out that it doesn’t actually work this way.
Instead our ability to experience anything starts inside-out.
It’s through our powers of perception, and our brain, that we experience anything at all. In terms of pure cognition, everything out there is neutral. But in our minds, and thanks to thought, that we give things meaning. Good and bad.
Our feelings come from our thinking.
If we’re stressed or anxious, it’s because we’re having stressed or anxious thoughts. I know that it looks like your overwhelm is coming from your circumstances. But it isn’t.
It’s coming from whatever you are making of them.
Let’s look at this in the context of the three earlier examples.
The guy with the control freak boss?
Well, it looks like the boss’s micro-managing is causing the stress. But, ask a few more questions and you’ll understand that the source of the uncomfortable feelings is the guy’s own thinking. Which runs a bit like this: my boss is controlling me, therefore I can’t do things the way I want to do them. I’m looking stupid to my people and my colleagues. And because she’s my boss there’s little I can do to change the situation. Besides I don’t want to piss her off. So I feel totally helpless.
What would happen if this guy could see that his helpless feelings were coming from his helpless thinking?
The person overwhelmed by the sheer volume of his work?
In her case too it looks as if the workload is the cause of the problem. Dig further and you’ll hear: I could just ignore some of these emails but I hate people to think bad of me. And I could decline the invitation to a lot of the meetings but my colleagues will think it’s odd if I’m not there.
I know what my priorities are. But if I go after them in a real focused way, I’m afraid of being judged too single-minded. So I feel out of control.
What would happen to this woman if she could see that feeling out of control was coming from out of control thinking?
The small business owner who has hit a brick wall?
In this case it looks as if a downturn in the economy, or some loss of business may be to blame for the guy’s stress. Keep listening to what he says, however, and you’ll hear: I thought I had such a good idea for the business, but it’s just not catching on. And I’m feeling less enthused about it than I was in the beginning. I’m worried that I’ll never get past this and people will think that I’m a failure. Or that, if I change tack, they’ll think I’m flaky. I’m really feeling uncertain about things.
What would happen to this guy if he could see that feeling uncertain was coming from uncertain thinking?
Grasp the relationship between thinking and feeling, and you’re on your way to de-stressing.
Understand that you’ve not got a stress problem, you’ve got a thought problem, and you can begin to let it go. As I said in my habits post, our minds have a built in orientation to health. So you don’t need to overlay your stressful thought with anything else. You just need to notice you’re having it.
Your mind and your wisdom will then do the rest.
But it’s worth understanding why our minds generate such superstitious thinking.
In large part it comes from insecurity.
We’re so accustomed to believing that our happiness comes from outside of us, that that’s where we continue to look for it. The boss’s approval; our colleagues’ endorsement; the market’s backing.
We’ve forgotten that happiness is our innate nature. Just look at children.
However, as I once heard Syd Banks say, “Insecurity is the biggest game in life.” And I really think that’s true.
But what if you chose not to play it?
What if you chose to see that who you are, and your well-being aren’t dependent on anything outside of you? No matter what that is?
Sure, it doesn’t necessarily mean that anything on the outside changes.
But you change.
The less you’re thinking about anything, the calmer you’re able to be.
The more calm you are, the more resourceful.
And the more resourceful, the better and easier your results.
Talking of results, let’s go back again to our three examples and see how these people fare when they realize the role their own psychology is playing in their experience of stress.
So, the person with the control freak boss understands that it’s his own helpless thinking that stressing him out. When he lets go of thinking, hence feeling, helpless, he sees ways he can work within the situation. He even develops some compassion for his boss which allows him to interact with her with less tension.
The girl overwhelmed with stuff has no less stuff to deal with. But because she’s understood how much her own mind is making up stories about what’s going on, she’s neutralized a lot of it. Allowing her to become far more attentive to what really matters.
The small business owner grounds himself in the understanding that, succeed or fail, his happiness is never in doubt. Then has an insight about a creative direction in which to move next. And the energy and confidence to run with it.
It’s not what you’re thinking?
Okay, maybe the title really was a play on words. Turns out stress is entirely about what you’re thinking.
Mastering that possibility, however, holds the key to you having a completely different experience of work.
And indeed of life.
I’d love to know what insights you have as you read this.
How it strikes you.
What is opens up for you.
Share your thoughts in the comments below!