Stress is something we need to survive and something we live with. There is good and bad stress, obviously we want more good and less bad happening, along with stress we need rest also. I find it interesting that most of us would say, if surveyed, that a stress free life would equal happiness. But I think stress free would get boring quickly for most people. Instead, I think a better approach is finding a good ratio of good and bad stress with frequent rest periods.
If stress is here to stay then instead of eliminating stress we need to management it. We want more good stress and less bad stress and we want and need to rest and recover.
This got me thinking, what is the difference between good and bad stress?
Good stress challenges, motivates and drives us. Good stress is short-term, it’s the good aspects of fight or flight mode. Good stress enhances our feelings of control.
Bad stress is distressing, makes us feel out of control, and unmotivated. Bad stress can be short-term or long-term. Bad stress can impact our emotional, psychological, and physical health in negative ways.
So if stress is something we live with and is not going away a better way is to manage it. To this end I am pondering the stressors in my life and asking the following questions.
- How do I increase my good stress?
- How do I manage all my stressors?
- What does rest look like for me?
- How much rest do I need?
It’s funny now recalling my time as Marine and later as Marine Drill Instructor hearing the phrases, “stay motivated recruit, stay motivated” or “get motivated Marines.” Understandingly, these encouragements and pleas came during moments of weakness or at least diminishing motivation and in the Marine Corps, in the past at least, it was common to attribute failure with lack of motivation, you just haven’t done enough, worked hard enough, or tried hard enough. But is it that simple to get motivated?
Interestingly, we can get more motivated through choosing and practicing our “internal locus of control — a belief that we can influence our destiny through the choices we make.” According to Charles Duhigg in Smarter, Faster, Better in order “to motivate ourselves, we must feel like we are in control.” The author did not write we must be in control but instead feel like we are in control, this is an important distinction, and one that anyone can take advantage of. We can feel more in control when we make choices and the more we practice making choices the more control we feel over our lives and the outcomes that result.
To over simplify things here is an equation: Choices + control = motivation.
Image above retrieved from: http://free-ebook-downloads.net/_/_/643525/the-pink-marine-unloaded-a-collection-of-letters-i-sent-to-m
How often do we talk ourselves out of decisions or choices for reasons that are just irrational, to others but, make perfect sense to us. I do it often but I suspect I am not alone. Perhaps, besides if numerous ideas are generated it makes sense to weed things out, after all, everything cannot be done, can it?
And there is the challenge, everything cannot be done so who, what, or how do we choose what to pursue?
This is a dilemma I see the college students face daily and one I wrestle with, just as often, it seems.
So I have been on a quest of sorts for methods and approaches to help me and my students narrow down my choices. It has been interesting and I have found as with many things some seemingly contradictory approaches. I wonder if these seemingly contradictory approaches can somehow be merged at some point allowing us to make choices more readily with less negative stress and anxiety?
Here are some thoughts/rough outline on such an approach:
- On passion: If you have one, great, go forth and try stuff but pay attention and be willing to move beyond your passion if something better is available or appeals. If you don’t have a passion, don’t stress, find where your interests and strengths intersection move forward, but again, try stuff, pay attention and prepare to move beyond this point if something better is available or appeals.
- On choices: More choices are great, if you can maintain your sanity, make your best choices and ride off into the sunset. However, if to many choices freaks you out then employ constraints, real or imagined, to narrow your choices and do as Barry Schwartz’s says in the “Paradox of Choice” and come to terms with good enough over best when choosing, it’s a secret to happiness and living with our choices.
- On comparison: Stop it, okay, if that does not work, how about switching up the how and why, meaning, what if we compared ourselves against a more realistic measure than what typically happens. Think about it, there is always someone smarter, taller, skinnier, fatter, better looking, more talented and someone with better hair than us. There is no winning the comparison game unless you change the parameters. So instead of comparing ourselves to others do as Jordan Peterson says in the “12 Rules for Life” and “compare yourself to who you were yesterday, not to who someone else is today.”
- On calling: We are all unique and as such we each have somethings we are more suited to do than other things, simple I know, but its profound stuff. The trick is finding that unique something (calling) that will give our lives meaning and purpose. According to author of the book “Mastery” Robert Greene writes “What we lack most in the modern world is a sense of a larger purpose to our lives.” I am convinced that we if can remain patient and observant as we meander toward our unique thing we will find our meaning and purpose along the way.
Image above retrieved from my sketchbook 3/13/18.
On those days when you are just in a shitty mood and everywhere you turn you are sticking others (being rude, short-tempered, irritated, etc…), what do you do? It must be hell living as a porcupine going around sticking and being stuck.
Anyway, is there a way to handle those porcupine days?
I recently had one of those porcupine days and I was surprised and a little confused but I am not sure why, we all know that life consist on both good and bad days…My second thought after surprise and confusion was why not. I mean, no one is immune to porcupine days and instead of rolling around in this state and sticking others perhaps I am not thinking about this in the right way. Okay, so this second thought is not usual for me, I often think my thinking needs to be checked, lol.
Here are a few things that occurred me to about my porcupine moment.
- My moment was not someone else’s fault, it was all me.
- Who says I am supposed to be happy-go-lucky everyday, that is not realistic.
- What if my moment was due to lack of sleep or just fatigue in general instead of some mysterious character flaw.
- It is likely that I am thinking about the moment in the wrong way or better yet maybe I need to stop thinking about it or trying to resolve it.
Finally, perhaps on our porcupine days we just need do as Thich Nhat Hanh (buddhist monk) says and “keep our appointment with life” in all it’s shades and hues.
Image above retrieved from: https://goo.gl/images/QLFzH5
I read recently in an ebook by Mark Manson the author “The subtle art of not giving a Fuck.” In the ebook “The guide to Self-Knowledge” Manson presents the idea of being responsible for everything that happens in our lives, all of our experiences, and I thought that is scary but it makes sense. Also, it felt slightly similar to what Jocko Willink (former Navy Seal, Speaker, author) talks about in his book “Extreme Ownership” and his popular TED talk and YouTube channel “Jocko podcast.”
Okay, Manson’s and Jocko’s approaches are different but both authors bring that “in your face” and “take action and not sit back and wait for things to happen” style that I like.
So here are a couple of takeaways from Manson and Jocko:
Whatever happens in our lives accept it, this idea has its roots in Buddhism and ACT (Acceptance and Commitment therapy). Accepting everything is tough and there are specifics and some myths that need to be outlined and understood in the process. But in as simple terms as I can muster this morning, shit happens and if we accept it and then decide and sort out what it means to us and how it will impact our lives, we can gain more control, meaning in our lives and experience less anxiety.
Taking responsibility or ownership for everything gives us control of how we will experience things, what we will learn, how we will grow, etc…
The process of taking responsibility is a decision, a tough one, but a decision nevertheless. If we have a clear view of things, the unvarnished version of reality, something that takes practice to develop (both Manson and Jocko provide techniques to help you) we can find more meaning in our lives.
So ultimately owning it, whatever it is, can be a better way to handle the stuff that happens in our lives.
Most people who know me are aware of my fondness for books, reading, and learning new stuff. They may or may not know that I maintain several books in a sort of informal queue and I am often reading, taking notes and extracting information from several books as I read them. Anyway, I read something interesting in “To Sell is Human” by Daniel Pink about talking. Pink writes, “Everything good in life–a cool business, a great romance, a powerful social movement–begins with a conversation.” Pink continues to talk about how conversations help us relate and understand one another, it’s a uniquely human thing.
Okay, it’s a human thing to talk and a great deal of our conversations are internal. We are all talking to ourselves sometimes the conversations are positive and other times the tone is negative and often the statements are declarative.
Pink writes again about a form of self-talk that I often use with myself and others in my daily work with students and the author points a little known master of the technique is “Bob the Builder” and I thought, what does Bob know, it turns out, he has some insight for us all.
So Bob does not make declarative statements instead he ask questions such as “can we fix it?” So self-talk that takes the form of questions does two things. First, the questioning self-talk technique “elicits answers–within those answers are strategies for actually carrying out the task.” Second, the questioning self-talk is more likely to “inspire thoughts about autonomous or intrinsically motivated reasons to pursue a goal.”
So talking to yourself like Bob the Builder is a better way, I am honestly surprised and pleased by this insight. It’s these sort of things that keep me curious and constantly asking myself and others questions and the answers can come from multiple sources so I think we should ask more questions and prepare to be amazed by the answers that come our way.
Image above retrieved from: http://www.dailyedge.ie/bob-the-builder-makeover-reaction-1720666-Oct2014/
This week I had “aha” moment in the classroom and I was more clearly more excited about the topic being discussed than my class, not the first and certainly not the last time, but this moment felt different.
So as a class we were discussing living a complex or simple life and a few students claim to be living a simple life and they shared things like going to school, eating a simple meal, not paying bills, going sleep, etc…as examples of a simple life. We discussed the elements of a simple life as a class it dawned on me that perhaps our lives are more complex then we realize and that we take it for granted or miss the level of complexity and it’s so common place it feels simple to most of us.
At this point in the short discussion I experienced my “aha” moment and the class moved on to something else. My moment now feels sort of dark and sinister in a “black mirror” sort of way. My conclusion was that the process and level of complexity in our lives is not likely to slow down or decrease and if we don’t make a conscious effort and decide to do something or lives we continue to grow more complex and we will not notice it and for many it will continue to look and feel simple despite being complex.
My ever-present question is this, does a complex life equal a happy life or is the opposite true? The whole thing feels like something I have wrestled with in the past and I will continue to wrestle with in the future, perhaps a lifetime.