Stressed

A handful of ideas to help you live your life and career with less stress and greater enjoyment.

Always move on.
“Move on.” These two simple words will save you more stress than any others I know.

  • Don’t dwell on your mistakes or other people’s successes. Don’t wonder “what if.” It will drive you insane. The past is past and cannot be changed. Move on.
  • Don’t corrupt your mind with jealousy. It won’t change your life for the better, but it will absorb time and effort that just might. Move on.
  • Don’t give in to guilt. It’s a worthless emotion. If you screwed up, admit it, apologize, and focus on not doing it again. Move on.

Take your time to find out where to head for and how to get there.
It’s easy to fall for conventional assumptions about what constitutes a “good career” or a well-balanced life. There’s no one-size-fits-all way of living that is satisfactory. What works for you may be quite different than the so-called “norm.” The only way you’ll find out is to spend enough time exploring your options and discovering what’s right for your specific circumstances.

Where you go matters less than whether it’s going to make you feel good about yourself. If you don’t, you’ll feel wretched whatever success you achieve in the world’s eyes. In fact, knowing that you’re a fraud playing a part that isn’t authentic to who you are will likely make you feel even worse.

Enjoy the ride as much as you can.
It’s fashionable today to encourage people to focus on their goals. There are two ways that can build unnecessary stress. First, you may set impossible goals, or find life doesn’t run your way, and end up convinced that you’re a failure. Secondly, too much focus on the future will mean you miss most of your life today.

Life happens now. If your mind is locked into plans and dreams way ahead, you’ll spend the present in a fog, scarcely remembering what happened and enjoying very little of it. Whatever your intentions for yourself, your eventual destination is not yours to control. Might as well enjoy the ride, then you’ll have experienced something good wherever you end up.

Happiness, like sexual attraction, is all in the mind. Look for it there.
Most people assume that you need to get something first—success, power, wealth, the right mate—and happiness inevitably follows. Since everyone wants to be happy, they pursue these “bringers of happiness” with grim determination. Marketers know this and join in the fun by suggesting that every possible product, from a luxury apartment to a pair of jeans, is a sure-fire bringer of instant joy.

It ain’t so, of course. Happy people are far more likely to be successful as a result of being happy—and certainly more likely to have good friends and find the right mate—than successful people are to be happy simply through achieving some supposed success. There’s good evidence that working on cultivating a happy outlook on life first is the right path. Then, even if success doesn’t come, you’ll still have been happy. Making your happiness contingent on something—or someone—else means handing it over to events to play with. Much of the misery and anger in this world arises because people blame their misery on things or people that they believed would make them happy, but let them down instead.

Take it gently. Slow and steady usually beats fast and erratic.
The media, including the business media (and many bloggers), love whatever is dramatic: sudden breakthroughs, road-to-Damascus conversions, complete changes of lifestyle. In reality, such events are extremely rare and often don’t last for much longer than it takes to write about them. True and lasting changes are nearly always made up of many small, unspectacular steps, repeated again and again.

Don’t worry if you haven’t yet made that elusive personal breakthrough or totally overhauled your career choices. As long as you’re moving steadily in the right direction, you’re doing better than most people.

Don’t rush to judgment or jump to hasty conclusions.
Your path through life is driven by many, many decisions, some big, most rather small. Chance and circumstances constantly change the rules for you. If you don’t change with them, a good many of these decisions will be taken on some incorrect basis. The passing of time is a wonderful way to sort out what’s true and what only looked true.

Today’s fashion for proving decisiveness by hasty, snap decisions is a foolish fad. Anyone can make a snap judgment. It takes courage, intelligence, and patience to make a good one.

Don’t go faster than you feel comfortable.
This is good advice for driving and living. If you can’t handle your vehicle safely at 75 miles per hour, don’t try driving at 90. You’ll be a danger to yourself and everyone else. One of the reasons why so many unfortunate teenage drivers kill or injure themselves and their passengers is that they drive too fast for their ability, often egged on by “friends” who dare them to go faster.

It’s much the same in your life and career. There will be a pace that suits the way you are and your current levels of skill and knowledge. Going faster, even if the boss is yelling at you, is a recipe for more mistakes, greater stress, and greater risk of a real disaster. Never do it.

If you’re tempted to sacrifice some part of your life to get what you think that you want, make sure what you get isn’t worth less than the value of what you sacrificed.
People are always giving up something—relationships, family life, personal interests, even their health—as the “price” for gaining some longed-for goal, like a promotion, a fancy job title, a fat share-option package, or a seat at the top table. There’s nothing necessarily wrong in doing so, just so long as the benefits, when and if they come, are worth more than whatever you gave up.

Sadly, human beings tend to overestimate the value of things in the future, influenced by a combination of desire and rose-tinted spectacles, and under-estimate the value of what they have already. Make sure that your calculations of relative values are sound. Usually, there’s no going back.

Relax and take the long view.
Short-term success comes at a high cost if the result is long-term problems. It’s easy to be dazzled by immediate prospects or pressing concerns.

When I was a child, and got upset by something to the point where I was losing perspective, my grandfather used to say: “Relax. It’ll all be the same in 10 years time.” Of course, I thought that was a silly statement, but time has proved it true. It’s amazing how many triumphs and disasters are forgotten in far less than 10 years; and how many times we look back on something and wish we had the power to change it, though it seemed like the most obvious thing to do at the time.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include Always give yourself time and Stress-busters: How to worry less and live more. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

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