Misfortune nobly born is good fortune.― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I don’t handle stress well. That’s a kind way of saying I’m actually pretty terrible at dealing with both professional and personal stress. Yes, stress is inevitable, but it shouldn’t be chronic. The issue isn’t everyone else. It’s me. I’m creating behaviors that magnify my stress rather than remedy it.
I react emotionally to things I cognitively understand are likely to happen. My blood pressure spikes. I mutter outbursts of exasperation under my breath. I say things like “Really!” “I can’t do it all!” and “Jesus Christ!” These are just a few of my ramblings that have only got worse after the pandemic. It seemed harmless at the time. No one could hear me. I thought it was a novel way to release stress. Instead, it just increased it. I was hearing my own negative thoughts. Worse, I was vocalizing them. I’ve been programming myself to respond to stressful situations with unproductive and unhealthy behaviors. I’ve actually made my life more stressful.
Now, stress is a habit. It’s become a reflection of my mind.
- We are what we believe.
- We believe what we think.
- We think what we say.
If we live our lives focused on our stress, we can only become stressed. We’re not giving ourselves any other options. Why do we do this to ourselves?
I know there is a better way. I know I can end the cycle. If I change my thoughts, I can change the behaviors. And yet, somehow I don’t do it. I’ve stopped recognizing that I’m in control. I’m merely enduring the day to repeat the cycle tomorrow. That’s absurd. I know I’m not alone in this struggle. I see others go through the same madness. We’re creating a cycle of endless and mindless suffering.
We could do the opposite. We could focus on what we can control. We can control our response to the world. We can focus on what we can change, and stop bemoaning what chance throws our way when it’s inconvenient.
I’m going to take up that challenge. I’m going to break the cycle and live a nobler life. With a little resilience, Seneca, Epictetus and Marcus will be my guides to breaking the stress habit for good.
“I find it amusing that when we look to nature we never find perfection. We find beauty. We find organization. We find purpose. So, why is it we’re always looking for more than those simple truths?”
We need to stop looking for perfection in our everyday life. Otherwise, we just end up wasting time chasing after an impossible dream. However, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t seek excellence. We should push ourselves, and others, to perform better, stronger, more amazing feats, but recognize that it’s excellence we’re after and not perfection.
Excellence is about overcoming obstacles by creating systems for success. When we focus on perfection as a goal, we can only be disappointed. This is because perfection can only be achieved in the imaginative mind. Perfection is an idea but not tangible goal. We have to stop setting ourselves up for failure. We need to search for purpose instead.
Try using purposeful intent to drive your performance to new levels of excellence. One key idea to keep in mind is that all systems of success are based on a solid foundation of good habits. Maybe it’s time to take a look at our habits and ask some uncomfortable questions?
- In what ways am I taking shortcuts and not living to my fullest potential?
- What excuses have I made about my recent performance or poor decisions?
- What’s one positive habit I’ve put off adopting? Can I commit to accomplishing it for a day? A week? A month?
- What is the driving force behind your desire to change or grow today? How is this different from your desires to define yourself in the past?
It only takes perseverance and time to turn short term commitments into lifelong habits. Growth can’t happen without active engagement. We have to make the tough decisions to initiate change. We own our experience. We accept responsibility for what is within our control and acknowledge that there will plenty of obstacles outside of that control. Our acceptance, and resilience in the face of hardship, begins our journey toward excellence.
“It is not events that disturb people, it is their judgements concerning them.” – Epictetus
I find it strange to remember that my perception of the world has more influence on my opinions than the actual events I experience. After all, how I choose to react to my day is entirely within my power. It’s only when I sacrifice that control that I suffer needlessly.
Stuff happens. No matter how you try and frame it, at any given moment, there’s a chance something will go wrong. That doesn’t mean I have to become angry or upset. Maybe my alarm didn’t go off. I could be late for an appointment. At some point, something will go wrong, and I will have to accept and adapt to that reality.
What happens if I choose to accept that sometimes things won’t go according to my plans? What if I simply move on to the task at hand—changing my plans to accommodate the situation? Do I have to allow external events to create internal stress? Of course not. In the end, all I really control is how I respond to the world. The key is that I get to choose how I respond.
Every time a disaster lands on your lap, you could work on fixing the situation rather than complaining about it. I like to say I never have a bad day. That’s because no matter how messed up my day’s been, I’m in control of how I react. I get to choose how I frame my day.