The chaos of life can become overwhelming at times. Deadlines, multiple demands, significant uncertainty in one or more areas of life can make it feel like the world is spinning out of control. No matter how hard we work or how fast we move, the situation doesn’t seem to improve and we feel incredibly stressed and frustrated. We’re at risk of becoming physically sick, mentally exhausted and emotionally burned-out.
A very different, but equally challenging experience occurs when we feel stuck—unable to make a key decision, undertake a major change, or build and sustain momentum in a positive direction. Here are some tips for eliminating stress and jump-starting positive change.
Accept Uncertainty and Eliminate Resistance
The experience of stress is intricately related to the “fight or flight” decision our evolutionary ancestors faced when confronted with predators. Modern residents of Silicon Valley and the San Francisco Bay Area are not often faced with life-or-death situations, but on a biological level, that is how our bodies respond to stress.
Fortunately, there is a third option to the question of fight or flight: acceptance. In the face of uncertainty, simply accept the situation for what it is. Don’t run from it, and don’t mobilize your defenses in a protracted battle for “survival.” Simply acknowledge and understand that things are going to be unpleasant for a while, and begin to focus on a solution. Take the energy that might normally be used for complaining and resisting and apply that to creative problem solving.
Become Unattached to Outcomes
Often we add to our own stress by becoming emotionally invested in the outcome of a situation. If the outcome is not what we hoped for, we feel devastated, resentful, and pessimistic about future efforts.
Fortunately, it is possible to be committed to goals without being attached to outcomes. Non-attachment is a key principle in Zen Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism, and it has excellent applications for business. Learning how to become detached will reduce our fear of failure and our overall stress.
Decision Making vs. Problem Solving
People often get stuck when it comes to making a major decision. “Paralysis of analysis” is a very common experience. One common source of confusion is not recognizing the distinction between decision making (what to do) and problem solving (how to do it). First decide what you ultimately want out of a situation, and understand why it’s important to you. You can handle the how-to later.
Ask Yourself Empowering Questions
Another way to build momentum is to ask good questions—questions that will empower you to take action. For example, “What would be a good first step in resolving this situation to my satisfaction?” Notice that the question implicitly assumes that the question can and will be resolved in a manner acceptable to you. Also notice that the question isn’t asking for the entire solution, but rather just a possible first step.
Keep Momentum Going
The tips mentioned in our blog posts on positive attitude during a job search also apply here. Focus on the positive, be confident in your own abilities, and seek out people who will encourage and reinforce positive messages in your life. Before long you will be back on track—able to manage your stress effectively and act decisively when challenges arise.