To Have Stress or Not, THAT is the Question

In the last issue of The Coach’s Corner I wrote about the debilitating nature of worry and how many have accepted this state of mind as a natural consequence of life in this world. Given how many of you responded with appreciation for the article, I thought I’d address an equally debilitating state of mind: stress.

Just as we seem to accept worry as “natural,” so do we seem to think stress just comes along as part of the reality of life. Indeed, most people do experience it. But is it really necessary? Better yet, is it really required?

Let’s go in the back door of the house of stress by looking at what we call an “interruption.” Webster defines an interruption as follows: stop or hinder by breaking in; 2. to break the uniformity or continuity of.

By that definition, notice that a phone ringing is not an interruption when you can't wait to hear certain news, and the minute after you get the news and are working with it, the same phone ringing is now an nterruption.

The same event is an interruption in one moment and not in the next.

See if you can see the joke in the following story: When I first got started as a lawyer, I had very little work and so I actively promoted myself.  I went to many Bar Association functions. I would come back from the functions waiting for the phone to ring.  When it rang and it was with some work, I was elated.  My strategy worked and after awhile I got busier and busier.

One day I found myself working hard on a case and the phone would ring and I would say, "Damn, I can't get any work done around here - there are too many interruptions".

The point is that you and I relate to the circumstances of life like there are these “things” called interruptions. But I want you to see that is not the case. There are events and circumstances, they are real, but there is no such “thing” as an interruption. An interruption is purely an interpretation that you assign to a given situation or set of circumstances.

And that is true about many things. Yes, there are forks and oranges and automobiles, but there is no such “thing” as leadership, charisma, motivation, and on and on. All of those later things are interpretations that you and I make when we react to the events, things and circumstances of life.

Now to stress: Same conclusion. As strange as this may sound, THERE IS NO SUCH “THING” AS STRESS!  I get such a kick out of the term “stress management.” Why in the world would you want to learn to manage something that doesn’t even exist?

So why do we experience it? Because we don’t understand that stress, like an “interruption,” is purely an interpretation that we give to the circumstances of our lives. And, what we also don’t realize is that in almost every case, stress occurs when we (unconsciously) compare whatever is going on in our lives at the moment with our picture of what we think SHOULD be going on in our lives at that moment and conclude that what IS is not what SHOULD BE. And we couple this with the conclusion that WHAT IS, is bad or wrong.

Maybe, what people call stress is their life showing up!

Here’s an example. You’re in sales. You spend a day calling on potential customers. Without much thought, you have a picture that everyone you meet should welcome you with open arms, they should all be gracious and respectful, most should buy and you should be making a ton of money. Now you likely don’t tell yourself that that’s your picture, but if you are in sales, you so much want to believe it will be that way.

So after a day of calling on rude, disrespectful prospects, none of whom buy, you’re all stressed out. And now you have bills to pay and you’re not sure where the money will come from (and of course you have another picture which says that life should be easier than it is) and so the stress grows. Get the point?

Again, maybe, what people call stress is their life showing up!

I promise you, whenever you are under “stress,” you are fighting or resisting what is. In fact, essentially all human suffering comes from resistance. So if you would seriously like to minimize or even eliminate the “stress” in your life, learn to accept your life just the way it is and just the way it is not. And, when you think about it, that makes total sense anyway since it is the way it is and it isn’t the way it isn’t!

Here’s your assignment for the next 2 weeks: 1. Start noticing what you are resisting. 2. Start noticing what the facts are. 3. Start distinguishing your interpretation from the facts. 4. Make a list of those “facts” that you can do something about and those that you can’t. 5. Work on accepting the facts that you can’t do anything about (stop fighting them.) 6. Create a plan of action to deal with the facts you can do something about and get into action. Trust me, this really works.

Have a great two weeks.

PS. As always, I welcome your comments about what I write in this newsletter.