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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 September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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