“Hold fast to time! Use it! Be conscious of each day, each hour! They slip away unnoticed all too easily and swiftly.”
Thomas Mann, novelist
Life can be very stressful. So can work. But oftentimes people create (or at least tolerate) more stress than is necessary due to their unrealistic expectations and processes.
For example, people often say such things as: “I can’t wait until our new product is launched … I can’t wait until the kids get back to school … or … I can’t wait until Christmas.” Somehow they think when that new product is launched, when the kids get back to school, or when Christmas is finally here, they’ll have less stress in their lives. But it’s probably not going to happen … IF they don’t have the skills and strategies to bring it about.
That’s why my keynote and seminar on “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On and Off the Job” is so popular. Most people really want to do a good job, but they also want a life that works. So they’re looking for techniques that can use neutralize the stress that comes their way.
Considering this is the holiday season, I think there are three techniques that are especially appropriate and useful.
1. Decrease your wants.
If you look at the origins of most holidays, you’ll find that most of them have some deep emotional, relational, or spiritual meaning. Thanksgiving, for example, is an emotional holiday; it’s all about taking the time to feel and express your gratitude. Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Father’s Day are relational holidays; they’re all about communicating your love to those who mean the most to you.
Unfortunately, the original meanings of many holidays have been buried under a mountain of commercialism that puts the emphasis on “stuff.” We’re told by advertisers that if we just spent more money on “stuff” during these holidays we’d all be a lot happier.
The problem is … there’s little or no evidence to support that. The supposed connection between how much you have and how happy you feel just isn’t there.
Talk to anyone who has spent time on a mission trip or a humanitarian venture. Ask them what they noticed about the people in some remote village, and you’ll hear them comment on how happy the people were. The people they were helping had almost nothing in terms of “stuff,” but they seemed to have more joy than the well-to-do folks back home.
Somehow or other, the least stressed people have broken their bondage to “stuff.” They don’t need the biggest, best, and newest of everything to be happy.
That’s why I recommend Donald Horban’s strategy of “decreasing your wants” during this holiday season … where the overwhelming emphasis is on “stuff.” Horban says, “We don’t need to increase our goods as nearly as much as we need to scale down our wants. Not wanting something is as good as possessing it.” As soon as you do that, you will experience an immediate increase in your contentment, satisfaction, and peace of mind at home and at work.
2. Decrease your speed.
As changes come faster and faster, as more and more tasks are added to our schedules, it’s only natural to speed up in hopes of keeping up. But that seldom works. More often than not, speed does little more than increase our stress … and decrease the quality of our life and work.
Such was the case with one carpet layer who rushed through his job. When he finished his work, he stepped back to give it a final look. While looking, he reached into his pocket for his cigarettes and realized his pack was missing. At the same time, he noticed a lump under the carpet, in the middle of the room, about the size of his missing packet of cigarettes. Frustrated with his hasty job, the carpet layer realized he was in a predicament. There was no way he could retrieve his cigarette pack without ripping everything up and starting over.
So he decided to beat the object flat, thereby destroying any evidence of his mistake. Satisfied with the outcome, he picked up his tools, loaded his truck and couldn’t believe his eyes. There on the seat of the truck was his missing pack of cigarettes. At the same moment, the homeowner’s voice broke his disbelief by asking, “Hey, have you seen my gerbil?”
The carpet layer tried to reduce his stress by speeding up, but his speed led to mistakes and even more stress. And chances are … you’ve done the same thing.
So take comedian Lily Tomlin’s advice seriously. She says, “For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.”
I know I had to learn that. For years, I was guilty of taking my family on rushed, hurry-up, hurry-up vacations. I would rush the family to a particular site, stay a couple of minutes, take a couple of pictures, get back in the car, and rush off to the next site and the next photo opportunity. I would herd the family around that way for a few days, and then I’d rush them home to develop our pictures and look at our vacation.
No wonder our vacations were exhausting and stressful. I had lost site of the very purpose of the vacation by speeding my way through it. I needed to change and eventually did when I learned another stress-management technique from another comedian, Eddie Cantor. He wisely observed, “It’s not only the scenery you miss going too fast, you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.”
Do you need to slow down once in a while? Probably so. And would you enjoy the holidays more if you slowed things down a bit? Absolutely.
I know one yard worker would have enjoyed his job a great deal more if he had just slowed down. As Arnie Kunz tells the story, a woman hired two men to do some yard work. The day they came, she was giving a bridge party. During the afternoon, a guest looked out the window to see one man raking and the other performing majestic leaps and spirals in the air. “Hey, look at that,” she said to her friends.
“What a wonderful gymnast,” remarked another lady. “I’d pay him a hundred dollars to perform for our aerobics class.”
The hostess opened the door and asked the fellow raking if he thought his friend would like the job. So he hollered to his partner, “Hey, Fred, do think for a hundred dollars you could step on that rake one more time?”
The point is simple. Too much speed turns into too much stress. The good news is … YOU HAVE SOME CONTROL over the speed at which you live your life. Perhaps it’s time you exercised some of that control.
Finally, in your quest to manage or eliminate your stress, especially during the holidays,
3. Give it to your Higher Power.
As I mentioned above, most holidays have an emotional, relational, or spiritual origin and meaning. And few holidays if any have more spiritual meaning than Christmas and New Year’s Day. These two holidays say there is “something bigger” and more important in the world than me and my fears.
Of course, that “something bigger” is defined differently by different people. Some call it “God” while others call it their “Higher Power.” Some call it “inner wisdom” and still others refer to their “guiding spirit.”
I’m not here to argue theology with you, but I do know that millions of people have found incredible release from their stresses by giving their stresses to their so-called “Higher Power.” That’s why I liked the “Memo From God” sent to me by my friend and colleague Kathy Brown. The memo went as follows:
FROM: The Boss
SUBJECT: Your life
I am God. Today I will be handling all of your problems. Please remember that I do not need your help. If life happens to deliver a situation to you that you cannot handle, do not attempt to resolve it. Kindly put it in the SFGTD (something for God to do) box. It will be addressed in My time, not yours. Once the matter is placed into the box, do not hold on to it.
*If you find yourself stuck in traffic, don’t despair. There are people in this world for whom driving is an unheard privilege.
*Should you have a bad day at work, think of the man who has been out of work for years.
*Should you despair over a relationship gone bad, think of the person who has never known what it’s like to love and be loved in return.
*Should you grieve the passing of another weekend, think of the woman in dire straits, working twelve hours a day, seven days a week to feed her children.
*Should your car break down, leaving you miles away from assistance, think of the paraplegic who would love the opportunity to take that walk.
*Should you notice a new gray hair in the mirror, think of the cancer patient in chemo who wishes she had hair to examine.
*Should you find yourself at a loss, pondering what life is all about, asking what your purpose is, be thankful. There are those who didn’t live long enough to even get the chance to think about it.
*Should you find yourself the victim of other people’s bitterness, ignorance, smallness or insecurities, remember things could be worse. You could be one of those people!
Stress is not a disease you catch. Stress is the result of the choices you make.
This season, make new choices. Make better choices. Choose to decrease your wants, decrease your speed, and give it your Higher Power. You will see the stress in your life and your work go away.
Which of the three stress-reducing choices will you make this week? How will you start? How will you keep it up?