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Feeling stressed? Here are some recipes for slowing down

Feeling stressed? Here are some recipes for slowing down
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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    Last Updated on January 21, 2020

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Becoming Self-Taught (The How-To Guide)

    Most of the skills I use to make a living are skills I’ve learned on my own: Web design, desktop publishing, marketing, personal productivity skills, even teaching! And most of what I know about science, politics, computers, art, guitar-playing, world history, writing, and a dozen other topics, I’ve picked up outside of any formal education.

    This is not to toot my own horn at all; if you stop to think about it, much of what you know how to do you’ve picked up on your own. But we rarely think about the process of becoming self-taught. This is too bad, because often, we shy away from things we don’t know how to do without stopping to think about how we might learn it — in many cases, fairly easily.

    The way you approach the world around you dictates to a great degree whether you will find learning something new easy or hard.

    The Keys to Learning Anything Easily

    Learning comes easily to people who have developed:

    Curiosity

    Being curious means you look forward to learning new things and are troubled by gaps in your understanding of the world. New words and ideas are received as challenges and the work of understanding them is embraced.

    People who lack curiosity see learning new things as a chore — or worse, as beyond their capacities.

    Patience

    Depending on the complexity of a topic, learning something new can take a long time. And it’s bound to be frustrating as you grapple with new terminologies, new models, and apparently irrelevant information.

    When you are learning something by yourself, there is nobody to control the flow of information, to make sure you move from basic knowledge to intermediate and finally advanced concepts.

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    Patience with your topic, and more importantly with yourself is crucial — there’s no field of knowledge that someone in the world hasn’t managed to learn, starting from exactly where you are.

    A Feeling for Connectedness

    This is the hardest talent to cultivate, and is where most people flounder when approaching a new topic.

    A new body of knowledge is always easiest to learn if you can figure out the way it connects to what you already know. For years, I struggled with calculus in college until one day, my chemistry professor demonstrated how to do half-life calculations using integrals. From then on, calculus came much easier, because I had made a connection between a concept I understood well (the chemistry of half-lifes) and a field I had always struggled in (higher maths).

    The more you look for and pay attention to the connections between different fields, the more readily your mind will be able to latch onto new concepts.

    How to Self-Taught Effectively

    With a learning attitude in place, working your way into a new topic is simply a matter of research, practice, networking, and scheduling:

    1. Research

    Of course, the most important step in learning something new is actually finding out stuff about it. I tend to go through three distinct phases when I’m teaching myself a new topic:

    Learning the Basics

    Start as all things start today: Google it! Somehow people managed to learn before Google ( I learned HTML when Altavista was the best we got!) but nowadays a well-formed search on Google will get you a wealth of information on any topic in seconds.

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    Surfing Wikipedia articles is a great way to get a basic grounding in a new field, too — and usually the Wikipedia entry for your search term will be on the first page of your Google search.

    What I look for is basic information and then the work of experts — blogs by researchers in a field, forums about a topic, organizational websites, magazines. I subscribe to a bunch of RSS feeds to keep up with new material as it’s posted, I print out articles to read in-depth later, and I look for the names of top authors or top books in the field.

    Hitting the Books

    Once I have a good outline of a field of knowledge, I hit the library. I look up the key names and titles I came across online, and then scan the shelves around those titles for other books that look interesting.

    Then, I go to the children’s section of the library and look up the same call numbers — a good overview for teens is probably going to be clearer, more concise, and more geared towards learning than many adult books.

    Long-Term Reference

    While I’m reading my stack of books from the library, I start keeping my eyes out for books I will want to give a permanent place on my shelves. I check online and brick-and-mortar bookstores, but also search thrift stores, used bookstores, library book sales, garage sales, wherever I happen to find myself in the presence of books.

    My goal is a collection of reference manuals and top books that I will come back to either to answer thorny questions or to refresh my knowledge as I put new skills into practice. And to do this cheaply and quickly.

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    2. Practice

    Putting new knowledges into practice helps us develop better understandings now and remember more later. Although a lot of books offer exercises and self-tests, I prefer to jump right in and build something: a website, an essay, a desk, whatever.

    A great way to put any new body of knowledge into action is to start a blog on it — put it out there for the world to see and comment on.

    Just don’t lock your learning up in your head where nobody ever sees how much you know about something, and you never see how much you still don’t know.

    Check out this guide for useful techniques to help you practice efficiently: The Beginner’s Guide to Deliberate Practice

    3. Network

    One of the most powerful sources of knowledge and understanding in my life have been the social networks I have become embedded in over the years — the websites I write on, the LISTSERV I belong to, the people I talk with and present alongside at conferences, my colleagues in the department where I studied and the department where I now teach, and so on.

    These networks are crucial to extending my knowledge in areas I am already involved, and for referring me to contacts in areas where I have no prior experience. Joining an email list, emailing someone working in the field, asking colleagues for recommendations, all are useful ways of getting a foothold in a new field.

    Networking also allows you to test your newly-acquired knowledge against others’ understandings, giving you a chance to grow and further develop.

    Here find out How to Network So You’ll Get Way Ahead in Your Professional Life.

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    4. Schedule

    For anything more complex than a simple overview, it pays to schedule time to commit to learning. Having the books on the shelf, the top websites bookmarked, and a string of contacts does no good if you don’t give yourself time to focus on reading, digesting, and implementing your knowledge.

    Give yourself a deadline, even if there is no externally imposed time limit, and work out a schedule to reach that deadline.

    Final Thoughts

    In a sense, even formal education is a form of self-guided learning — in the end, a teacher can only suggest and encourage a path to learning, at best cutting out some of the work of finding reliable sources to learn from.

    If you’re already working, or have a range of interests beside the purely academic, formal instruction may be too inconvenient or too expensive to undertake. That doesn’t mean you have to set aside the possibility of learning, though; history is full of self-taught successes.

    At its best, even a formal education is meant to prepare you for a life of self-guided learning; with the power of the Internet and the mass media at our disposal, there’s really no reason not to follow your muse wherever it may lead.

    More About Self-Learning

    Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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