Stress.The popular view is that stress is a “thing” that affects us. But I think the opposite is true. I think we create stress, and then blame it for affecting us. Every time something happens – the tiny things or the big things – we have a choice. We can either freak out and start talking to ourselves negatively (“Oh, this always happens!” “I can’t believe he did that!” “I’m such an idiot! Why didn’t I see that?”). Or, we can just look at it for what it is, and deal with it. As my husband says, success in life boils down to “doing the next right thing.” Once you get into that habit, you literally remove stress from your life, because you’re always doing the next right thing – and not wasting any time on negative thinking. As a result, life starts to turn out pretty darn good. By the way, worry and stress are the same type of thing; stress is just a more intense version of worry. In both cases, we are thinking about things that aren’t happening or might happen, while not focusing on what IS happening. Changing this habit – so that stress no longer is a part of your life – starts with awareness of when you are “stressing” – so you can decide, in that moment, to ditch the negatives and say something new to yourself: “OK, so this is happening. What is the next right thing?”
Entertainment as escape.I interviewed a job candidate for a client the other day, a woman who had a good strong sense of self. She also immigrated from Poland as a child, and has memories of her parents getting up at 2 or 3 AM to stand in line for bread. I’m sure that made a distinct impression on her; she later worked her way through college and has a strong work ethic. She’s fully involved in her life, partly because she knows how different her life could be. She mentioned during the interview that she doesn’t watch TV or movies that much. I wasn’t surprised. Every minute we spend “escaping” – which is amazingly easy these days – our life keeps ticking on and we literally remove ourselves from engaging in it. Now, I’m not saying that we should never be entertained – watching or reading or whatever else we do – but we all know when we’re going overboard and it is robbing time from our lives. There is that obsessive thing that creeps in, where we can’t stop thinking about that, instead of whatever we’re doing that advances our life. Again, this requires awareness and a different choice. “That thing will be there later; maybe it’s better to do that more productive thing, in this moment.” Moments add up.
Jerks and egos.The problem with jerks and other ego-centric people (divas, super fearful people, selfish people, etc.) is that they purposefully make things difficult or even impossible, in order to draw attention to themselves. Everything, whether it is obvious or not, is really about them. So while 5 members of a productive non-jerk team are working on something and helping each other and it just moves right along, the Jerk/Ego person jumps in and starts derailing things. “Did you think about X? I don’t think we can do this without doing X.” Now, a nice person can say the exact same type of thing in the midst of a process, but it will be the right and helpful thing to say. A non-nice person says it just so he/she looks like the smartest person in the room. It’s all about competition, not cooperation. And then the nice people get frustrated and start to obsess, because they like solving problems and the jerk is starting to make the problem unsolvable. Personally, I go far, far out of my way to avoid having jerks in my life, including being tough about it. One jerk can really mess up a team. Jerks, assuming any make it past our filters, don’t last very long around here.
Substances.We’ve all seen those before and after pictures (and the stories) of people who get addicted. It’s so sad. It’s the ultimate “escape from my life and pay severe consequences” situation. I’ve never been addicted to a substance (assuming you don’t count chocolate), so I can’t give much advice here. When I have seen someone beat it, it’s usually with a 12-step program or something similar to it, which harks back to the “behavior replacement method” I wrote about recently. It ain’t easy, but anyone who has succeeded will tell you it’s worth it.
Wrong priorities.Fears about our own worth and performance can lead us to obsess on the wrong things. It can be a micro obsession, like being a “people pleaser” – being too worried about what other people think of us. So we get unduly upset when we make a mistake, which takes our thinking away from “now” while we spend time thinking about “then,” which again, separates us from our real life. And, we think less of ourselves, which fills our brain and body and soul with negative energy. We simply can’t perform at our best while our brain is telling us, “You suck.” Listen to your self-talk sometime – and you’ll realize that if you heard someone else talking that way to a child or a dog, you would have a very low opinion of the person talking. (“That is so mean! How can that person treat that child like that?”) You’re not helping yourself if you are talking to yourself that way. Telling yourself you are worthless is pretty self-defeating. On a macro level, we can give our work more importance than our loved ones, so that we neglect our responsibilities as parents, siblings, or other family/friend roles. My personal hierarchy is God, spouse, family, friends, work, play/rest. Thankfully I have a spouse who loves what I do as much as I do, so the spouse/work balance is very comfortable. This also requires a frank self-assessment. When given the choice, what do you tend to do? Is there a feeling of guilt associated with someone or something in your life? Could you pay attention to that and work something out?
_____I’m sure I missed some distractions/obsessions, but you get the idea. It’s an interesting way to look at life; to realize that success and happiness depends so very much on being fully engaged in the life we have – the one right in front of us – and that when we disengage, bad stuff happens.