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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 July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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