Stop trying to manage stress; learn to live stress-free.

Learn to live stress-free

Many of us live very complex lives. Some complexity is necessary and serves a purpose. But, most of us have areas in our lives that are more intricate than they need to be, and can be simplified.

Most of us confuse pressure with stress, or think that they are the same. Pressure comes from demanding circumstances. How we react to those circumstances is an emotional choice. We often default to feeling stressed without considering our options.

Like any other emotional reaction, we have the ability to choose to feel stressed, or be resilient. If we see stress as our reaction, detached from the cause, it’s easier to process it as an emotion.

Our daily pressures may be intense, but they only result in stress if we ruminate on them. That is, if we focus attention on them beyond what’s useful, to the point where we feel anxious. So instead of questioning how we stop stressing, it may be easier to consider how to stop ruminating.

Here’s a solution… evaluate the pressures. Split them into things we can and can’t control. Ignore the ones we can’t, or choose not to change. Focus on the ones we can, and are willing to affect, until we figure out a realistic plan. Then, quickly distract our mind by moving on to something else so that there’s no space for rumination.

For example, if we are under pressure because we’ve overcommitted ourselves, we should figure out what we really need to do, and the things we can delegate, put off, or eliminate. Then quickly, before our mind starts harping on useless worry (rumination), let go of the situation and move on.

Take action: The solution in this tip may sound easy in theory, but it will take practice to build up the reliance needed to choose where to focus your attention before it hits your emotions. Try having mindful distractions at the ready, such as time with kids, or learning a new physical skill. Better yet, teach yourself how to switch emotional gears through a mindfulness practice such as gratitude or meditation.

:: Inspired by Derek Roger, Ph.D and Nick Petrie’s book, Work without Stress: Building a Resilient Mindset for Lasting Success.



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Trade complexity for simplicity.

Trade complexity for simplicity

Many of us live very complex lives. Some complexity is necessary and serves a purpose. But, most of us have areas in our lives that are more intricate than they need to be, and can be simplified.

Simplification creates space for good things to appear. It enables us to think more clearly, and it makes it easier for other people to connect with us.

There are numerous ways to move towards a more simple life. Some key areas include; prioritization, decluttering, and saying, “No” to situations.

  1. Prioritization – Keep in mind your values and goals, then cut out activities that don’t align. For example, it’s common to consume way more media than is useful for us; TV, articles, social, etc. If we cut back here, we’ll have more time for family and friends.
  2. Decluttering – It’s generally easier to feel calm when we’re surrounded by a peaceful and tidy environment. A clear mind can be created with a clean physical space. To help, we could pair back the number of material objects we accumulate. Try taking something out of your home, for every item you bring in to it.
  3. Saying, “No” – This concept is about avoiding complexity in the many forms that it comes. By avoiding complicated relationships, we open up to meaningful connections. By staying away from chaotic routines, we can appreciate precious moments. And by saying, “No” to the little things that we don’t need, we create space for purposeful thought.

Take action: If you can’t communicate something simply to someone else, it’s likely a good indication that you’re involved in something that is too complex. Consider if you are overthinking the situation, or if it’s become more complicated than it needs to be. Then figure out how to simplify or streamline it, or if it’s useful for you at all.

:: Inspired by Leo Babauta’s zenhabits.net article, Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life.

 


 

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Focus on net worth instead of income.

Focus on net worth instead of income

Many of us put a lot of emphasis on the dollar amount of our income, thinking this number is what will make us rich. But, like being a business that focuses on revenue instead of profits, our income amount is meaningless until we subtract our expenses. If we focus on our net worth instead, we’ll have a much better awareness and be able to hit a financial goal.

Net worth is found by subtracting all our liabilities (debt, including mortgage and loans) from our assets (savings, investments, price for which we could sell real estate, vehicles, etc.).

The phrase “pay yourself first” is widely used to refer to a good habit of putting a percentage of each pay received directly into savings or investments, before we even see it or miss having it. Many people have had success with this concept. Bit by bit they increase their net worth, gain compound interest, and watch their money grow on its own.

Putting a small percentage of each pay automatically into a harder to access account, can push us to evaluate how we spend what’s left. It’s the same concept as using a smaller plate at a dinner buffet. It forces us to be more discerning about what we choose to put on that plate. Having a smaller number in our daily account will force us to be more discerning about how we spend and can lead to wiser decisions.

Take action: A great financial cleanup, that should be done at least annually, is to cut out any unused recurring payments such as subscriptions, memberships and bank fees, that no longer serve their purpose. Recurring fees may seem insignificant, but over time they really add up. Take that money and transfer it to your harder to access account.

:: Inspired by Mike Michalowicz’s book, Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine.

 


 

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The benefits of giving thanks before meals.

The benefits of thanks before meals

Yes, this tip is something we’ve known for years, but let’s go deeper than just saying the words. We are fortunate to have food to eat, and since it’s such a necessity for us, we should appreciate its significance in our lives.

We eat several times daily, which makes a terrific schedule for taking moments to enjoy something pleasurable – eating good food. These mindful moments will help shift our focus from what we don’t have, towards how fortunate we are. Food is valuable and many of us have it in abundance.

Mixing gratitude into our diet also helps us eat mindfully. Paying attention to what we put in our bodies can have massive health and weight benefits. Take a look at the food, it’s color, texture, aroma, taste, and how it makes you feel. If we appreciate what we are eating, we’re likely to slow down and eat better. If we eat natural foods in appropriate portions, we’ll not only physically feel the benefits, we’ll also grow an awareness and respect for how we treat ourselves.

Plus, it’s important to be thankful for the sacrifices made by others to bring us food – consider the farmers, growers, fishers, butchers, store clerks, all working hard so that we can eat. And if we eat meat, an animal has given it’s life to feed us. The least we can do is be thankful.

With regular appreciation, we’ll grow to see the world as a more giving place that nourishes us.

Take action: A great way to gain an appreciation for food is to connect with where it comes from. Try visiting a farm, going fishing, growing your own food, or at minimum, have a conversation with a vendor at a farmers market and ask them what happens behind the scenes to bring their food to market.

:: Inspired by Robin Sharma’s book, The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO: A Remarkable Story about Living your Heart’s Desires.

 


 

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Constructive thinking beats positive thinking.

Constructive thinking beats positive thinking

Our attitude is the one thing in life we can fully control. We can be a victim of circumstances, or victorious over them, by choosing our own mental outlook. Our frame of mind can set us up for expectations of success, which leads us in that direction, enables good decisions, and often comes to fruition. A positive disposition shows in our character, and attracts more of the same sort of people into our life.

However, many of us confuse “positive thinking” with “wishful thinking,” which ultimately is just a temporary mask covering our true thoughts and leaving us emotionally stuck.

The term “constructive thinking” may be more suitable, because it implies open mindedness and growth. We all have hardships in life, we can choose to manage them constructively, learn from them and grow mentally stronger. Constructive thinkers are aware of negativity, use it to assess and work through underlying problems, and then let it go when it’s no longer useful. They are careful about what they allow to manifest in their brain. They choose thoughts that build strength and lead to growth.

Take action: Everything that seems doom and gloom has an optimistic, hopeful and positive side to it as well. Definitely challenge yourself to find the sunny side, but also take the time necessary to deal with the negative feelings. Accept them, mentally process them, learn from them, and as soon as they no longer serve you, then let them go and get back to positivity.

:: Inspired by Hal Urban’s book, Life’s Greatest Lessons: 20 Things that Matter.

 


 

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Make meaning as well as money.

Make meaning as well as money

Money is very important in our society. In fact, a significant way to avoid increasing the poor population, is by making sure we can support ourself, and our family. But, happiness requires more than just money. We’re also here to enrich this world.

One of the greatest factors for work satisfaction is feeling that we are spending our time with a purpose, we’re creating value and meaning. So here are some thoughts to ponder… Can we shift our work life towards being more rather than having more? Can we find a purpose greater than ourselves in what we do? When we leave this world, will there be a legacy that we’ll be proud of?

Great companies and workers give a valuable service to their community. Their profit and pay comes through enriching lives. Happiness and financial success should be by-products of building value in this world. The two aspects can work hand-in-hand, rather than be opposite ends of the spectrum.

This servitude approach can be applied to an enormous range of jobs – from taking care of city streets, to teaching, to having meaningful conversations with colleagues, mentoring, or creating a product that solves a problem. Focus on how you’re contributing, beyond your basic job description.

Take action: What value are you creating for people through your work? Try focusing on how you can increase that value until you feel a greater pride in your worth, and others are noticing too. Once you’re giving more and enriching people’s lives, then ensure the financial reward is on par with your work’s value. Be generous with your giving, and enable others to be generous too.

:: Inspired by Robin Sharma’s book, The Saint, the Surfer, and the CEO: A Remarkable Story about Living your Heart’s Desires

 


 

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Higher housing costs = fewer job options.

Higher housing costs = fewer job options.

Our housing choice is likely the biggest financial commitment we’ll make. Yet, so many of us blindly choose the route of buying the greatest home we can, over a commitment-light renting/investing combo. We don’t consider how it can become an anchor in our careers.

We may grasp the “house rich, cash poor” meaning, but we also need to think on the flip side – the pressure it puts on our work life. Most of us spend so much time working, that we really deserve the freedom to be able to take career risks, and shape our work lives to something that makes us happy.

High housing costs can make us feel like we’re stuck in our jobs because we don’t want to jeopardize steady pay, and then default on our mortgage. A need for what we perceive as financial security, means we are less likely to take time off to find what would make us happier. It’s scary to risk shaking things up to improve our current situation, or to contemplate a lesser paying job that would allow us more personal time. If we reduce our consuming level, and housing can be a huge consumption, we are in a better position to improve our work lives.

Here’s the kicker; we may even make more money in the process. If we know we can walk away from a job at any moment, we’ll approach it differently. We’ll get better at setting boundaries, and defining what we will work on, with whom, and by when. We may be freer to speak our mind and express concerns, and take risks that could could lead to greater opportunities.

Even if we are currently working our dream job, over time it can change. So instead of thinking of working smarter so that we can afford a better life, think of living smarter so we can afford a better job, which in turn of course, should lead to a better life.

Take action: Find and interview people who have work lives you admire and see if there’s a connection to their personal financial security. Maybe it’s a freelancer who chooses their clients wisely, and leases a small apartment. Maybe it’s a teacher who rents out their home while travelling for a sabbatical year. Or someone gutsy in the office who’s had several promotions and won’t settle for less than they are worth.

:: Inspired by Alex Avery’s book, The Wealthy Renter.

 


 

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Use “empathetic listening” to deeply connect.

Empathetic listening leads to deeper connections

Empathetic listening is similar to active listening in that they both enhance engagement and a connectedness between the people involved. However, when someone is emotionally attached to an issue, we need to go beyond active listening to truly understand them. That means going beyond a two-way conversation and encouraging one person to fully express themselves and feel understood.

Both empathetic and active listening methods require reading body language and other non-spoken forms of communication to find deeper meaning. For empathetic listening, we don’t try to form our reply or next question in our head while the other is talking. Nor do we try to relate from our own perspective, or solve their problem from our point of view.

To truly see the world from another’s way of thinking, we not only need to get inside their head, we also need to understand their heart and soul. It’s about understanding how they feel. This takes time and patience and is not something that we can control or direct. We need to let go of our self-serving desires, and open up to being influenced by them, which means we will be vulnerable like they are. It’s not until we fully understand how they feel and what really matters to them, that we can help them find a meaningful solution.

Take action: Empathetic listening can be very difficult at first because you don’t have trust already built in this area. It gets easier over time, but initially, you may need to be upfront and say that you are trying to fully understand how they feel without “fixing” them. Note to parents: this method really helps when trying to connect with teenagers.

:: Inspired by Stephen R. Covey’s book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

 


 

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Too small to fail.

Kaizen: Tiny actions for big results

The Japanese term, Kaizen, refers to using small steps to accomplish large goals. We may be used to building upon small successes, but Kaizen goes further. It goes into tiny actions that seem trivial and are too small to cause resistance.

Our brains are programmed to resist change. We survived as a species by being able to assign very little energy to repetitive tasks. When we introduce something new, it induces fear or stress, and the amygdala part of the brain becomes alert and goes into fight or flight mode. In this mode, it allocates the majority of our energy to reacting to the change, and restricts functions such as rational thinking.

Sometimes the change can be perceived as excitement instead of fear so it doesn’t set off amygdala alarms. It’s common to have some success starting a new habit, until the excitement wears off, and then not be able to rely on rational thinking to continue. It’s because the amygdala kicked in and transferred our energy to fight or flight mode.

So here’s the trick to not activate that automatic response… Make the changes tiny, and repetitive, until it’s so normal our brain craves it. For example, exercise for one minute a day for a week. Then add a second minute for another week. Keep adding minutes on a weekly basis until you hit the desired amount. Be careful to keep it effortless and not go too fast.

Be sure to give your brain enough repetition at each tiny stage to lay down the neural network required to make the change easy. Repetition, even for a few seconds, signals the brain to start committing cells to the new behavior. You’ll know you’re ready when you start doing the action without thinking about it.

Take action: Not sure where to start? Ask your brain, it loves questions. Just remember to keep it small, and you may need to give it processing time. Here are a few example questions… How can I remind myself daily to drink more water? What can I do today to grow my relationship with ___? Where can I find time to add more learning into my routine?

:: Inspired by Robert Maurer, Ph.D.’s book, One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.


 

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Use design-thinking to expand options

Design-thinking is a problem-solving process that’s been used globally for decades. It involves 5 steps which at their simplest can be described as: 1. Research. 2. Ideate (brainstorm). 3. Plan. 4. Prototype. 5. Iterate (tweak).

Step one is all about asking questions that lead to a full understanding and defining the right problem. Often what we set out to solve, evolves as we dive deeper. Done well, this stage will set us up for the whole process.

Then step 2, brainstorming for a large quantity of diverse options, can produce better and more innovative results. The key is to not edit ourselves at this stage. Just express ideas non-stop without blocking anything that seems too far fetched. This brainstorm can continue over several days and it’s a good idea to ask others for their ideas as well. Once we have a large quantity, consider what jumps out, brings us joy and energizes us.

Now we can narrow it down and plan some details on how to make the stand out ideas possible. Test drive a few ideas. Figure out how to experiment and get some feedback in your areas of interest. You have to actually execute part of it (prototype it), to be able to understand the details and nuances. Be continually iterative. That is, every time we hit a roadblock, tweak the direction and revise the path.

Take action: For those of us considering a shake up to our work life, here are some thoughts to get us started… What would we do if money were no issue? How could we make a positive social impact? What value can we add to the world? What countries/cities would we like to work in? What skills do we have that could make us lots of money? Are there any companies we’d like to work with? What if we started our own business? Is there an evolution to what we currently do? What kind of people do we want to work with? Can an interest or hobby bring us an income?

:: Inspired by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans’ book, Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life.


 

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