5 Questions Guaranteed to Lower Your Stress Level

5 Questions Guaranteed to Lower Your Stress Level

According to the American Psychological Association, 42% of Americans reported lying awake at night due to stress while an additional 33% reported eating too much and/or eating unhealthy foods for the same reason. Stress is now considered to be one of the worst degenerative issues of all time, and it’s easy to see why after combining statistics like these with other issues such as depression, lack of willpower, and an overall greater risk of chronic disease. Stress is silently killing all of us, and that’s an ironically stressful statement.

The human reaction to stress is actually a three-stage physiological response. It begins with a secretion of your fight-or-flight hormones, elevating your heart rate and blood pressure. This is followed by adaptation to the stress and then eventually exhaustion. While we may not have to enter full-on survival mode every day, our body doesn’t do a great job distinguishing between a lion attack and our boss dumping extra work on our desk.

The good news is your individual response to stress can largely be controlled by your mind and your perception of situations. Just like our ancestors adapted to fighting off predators, we can adapt to added workloads, rejection, public speaking, or other stressful situations.

In this article, you will find five thought-provoking questions intended to change your perception of stress at any given time. I’ve implemented these questions with great success in my own life as well as the lives of my clients. By no means is this a panacea for your stress, but it could be another tool in your proverbial stress-fighting utility belt. Similar to weight gain, stress accumulates over a period of months, even years, and you shouldn’t expect to eliminate it immediately. It’s going to be a process of training your mind to perceive stress differently, and I hope these questions aid in that process.

1. Will This Matter in Five Years?

Asking if something will matter in five years forces you to look at things from a grand-scheme point of view. The insurmountable problem causing you stress seems a lot smaller when standing next to your long-term goals, relationships, or even your physical and spiritual health. I’ve yet to find a stressful situation that could negatively affect these most valuable aspects of life.

A great example would be losing your job, undoubtedly a high-stress scenario. Will it matter in five years? It’s possible – but probably not as much as you think. It depends on how you perceive your situation. If your focus is solely on how losing your job affects your current plans of early retirement or the hit to your children’s college fund, it matters a lot. On the other hand, if your focus is on the health and well-being of your family, the gifts and abilities of your children, or the fact you’d be bored out of your mind in retirement anyway, it matters a lot less.

Chances are you’ll find another job in a reasonable amount of time, and the setbacks to your long-term plans will be minimal — you may even find a better opportunity than before. What happens in between losing and finding a job is entirely up to you. Like the legendary coach John Wooden said, “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

2. What’s My Plan for Tomorrow?

screen-shot-2017-02-21-at-7-43-38-pmWaking up with a clear vision for the day automatically reduces the overwhelm of not knowing where to start. Putting together a to-do list before bed allows you to wake up the following morning focused and goal-oriented instead of reactive and scatterbrained.

I write my plan by hand, and I always feel a sense of relief as my thoughts are seemingly transferred from my mind to the paper. This not only allows me to wake up focused, but it also creates a better environment for restful sleep.

3. Is This Stress Any Different Than Past Stress?

The next time you have a serious worry that works itself out, write it down. Capture exactly how you felt leading up to its resolution and how your stress and concern did nothing to affect the outcome. I think you would be surprised how often your current stress is no different than stress you’ve conquered in the past.

Think about how powerful a personal memoir of all your conquered stress would be in the future. It could serve as a constant reminder of how strong you are, and that’s never a bad thing.

4. Am I Being Too Selfless?

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Between our friends, co-workers, and family, we all have someone (or many someones) demanding too much of our attention. And for most of us, it’s easy to get stuck in caregiver mode and neglect our own needs.

If you are feeling stress due to a lack of personal time, use this question as a time audit. Family included, could you take time away from someone to devote to yourself? The answer may be an easy one like avoiding the toxic co-worker or saying no to the college friend who regularly invites you for drinks.

Or the answer could be a bit more difficult if you’ve been devoting too much time to a significant other or your children. It may seem inappropriate to take time away from loved ones, but would you agree that if anyone deserves more than half of your attention, it’s your loved ones? Address the stress so that when family comes, you can be present and not just a presence.

5. What’s My Worst-Case Scenario?

I don’t think I’m completely irrational or alone in this — I have a fear of being broke. Despite coming from a fairly well-off family and never experiencing true poverty, I fear it. So naturally when stress creeps in, particularly work-related stress, it’s where my mind goes. I catch myself wondering what would become of me and my life if I lost my job or failed in business. It’s always the negative repercussions of a given scenario that haunt my thoughts, never the possibilities.

That’s where this question comes into play. Once you have established your worst-case scenario for a stressful situation (losing your job, going broke, etc.), you can work through the problem and overcome your fear. Take going broke, for example. If you ever lost all sources of income for whatever reason, you still have options. You could sell unnecessary items, dip into savings, cut expenses, get a roommate or couch surf, borrow money, wait tables or deliver pizzas, live off the grid, or even declare bankruptcy. Once you have established the worst that could happen from your stress and thought through your solution, it’s never as scary as it seems.

The Takeaways on How to Lower Your Stress Level

  • Don’t blow stressful situations out of proportion. There’s a lot more to life than your problems.
  • Know tomorrow’s plan before you go to sleep tonight.
  • Are you stressing about a situation similar to one you have conquered in the past? It worked out before, why wouldn’t it now?
  • Nobody knows your needs like you do. Take care of yourself first, and everyone else will benefit in return.
  • Chances are your worst-case scenario will never happen. But if it does, it helps to have already worked through it in your mind.

 

17 Lessons on Success from “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss

17 Lessons on Success from “Tools of Titans” by Tim Ferriss

Pick up Tim’s new book here. Be sure to read the earlier article, “11 Lessons about Business from ‘Tools of Titans’ by Tim Ferriss.” 

  1. “If [more] information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.” TF: It’s not what you know, it’s what you do consistently. – Derek Sivers
  2. “Well, I meet a lot of 30-year-olds who are trying to pursue many different directions at once, but not making progress in any, right? They get frustrated that the world wants them to pick one thing, because they want to do them all: ‘Why do I have to choose? I don’t know what to choose!’ But the problem is, if you’re thinking short-term, then [you act as though] if you don’t do them all this week, they won’t happen. The solution is to think long-term. To realize that you can do one of these things for a few years, and then do another one for a few years, and then another. You’ve probably heard the fable, I think it’s ‘Buridan’s ass,’ about a donkey who is standing halfway between a pile of hay and a bucket of water. He just keeps looking left to the hay, and right to the water, trying to decide. Hay or water, hay or water? He’s unable to decide, so he eventually falls over and dies of both hunger and thirst. A donkey can’t think of the future. If he did, he’d realize he could clearly go first to drink the water, then go eat the hay. “So, my advice to my 30-year-old self is, don’t be a donkey. You can do everything you want to do. You just need foresight and patience.” – Derek Sivers
  3. As Tony recounted, Buffett told him, “Investing in yourself is the most important investment you’ll ever make in your life. . . . There’s no financial investment that’ll ever match it, because if you develop more skill, more ability, more insight, more capacity, that’s what’s going to really provide economic freedom. . . . It’s those skill sets that really make that happen.” – Tony Robbins
  4. Jim Rohn famously said, “If you let your learning lead to knowledge, you become a fool. If you let your learning lead to action, you become wealthy.”
  5. “What is the ultimate quantification of success? For me, it’s not how much time you spend doing what you love. It’s how little time you spend doing what you hate.” – Casey Neistat
  6. “If you go back 20 or 25 years, I wish I would have known that there was no need to wait. I went to college. I went to law school. I worked in law and banking, though not for terribly long. But not until I started PayPal did I fully realize that you don’t have to wait to start something. So if you’re planning to do something with your life, if you have a 10-year plan of how to get there, you should ask: Why can’t you do this in 6 months? Sometimes, you have to actually go through the complex, 10-year trajectory. But it’s at least worth asking whether that’s the story you’re telling yourself, or whether that’s the reality.” – Peter Thiel
  7. The World Doesn’t Need Your Explanation. On Saying “No”: “I don’t give explanations anymore, and I’ll catch myself when I start giving explanations like ‘Oh, I’m sorry, I can’t make it. I have a doctor’s appointment that day. I’m really sick. I broke my leg over the weekend’ or something. I just say, ‘I can’t do it. I hope everything is well.’” – James Altucher
  8. I would consider myself a world champion at avoiding stress at this point in dozens of different ways. A lot of it is just how you look at the world, but most of it is really the process of diversification. I’m not going to worry about losing one friend if I have a hundred, but if I have two friends I’m really going to be worried. I’m not going to worry about losing my job because my one boss is going to fire me, because I have thousands of bosses at newspapers everywhere. One of the ways to not worry about stress is to eliminate it. I don’t worry about my stock picks because I have a diversified portfolio. Diversification works in almost every area of your life to reduce your stress.” – Scott Adams
  9. If you want an average, successful life, it doesn’t take much planning. Just stay out of trouble, go to school, and apply for jobs you might like. But if you want something extraordinary, you have two paths: 1) Become the best at one specific thing. 2) Become very good (top 25%) at two or more things. The first strategy is difficult to the point of near impossibility. Few people will ever play in the NBA or make a platinum album. I don’t recommend anyone even try. The second strategy is fairly easy. Everyone has at least a few areas in which they could be in the top 25% with some effort. In my case, I can draw better than most people, but I’m hardly an artist. And I’m not any funnier than the average standup comedian who never makes it big, but I’m funnier than most people. The magic is that few people can draw well and write jokes. It’s the combination of the two that makes what I do so rare. And when you add in my business background, suddenly I had a topic that few cartoonists could hope to understand without living it. I always advise young people to become good public speakers (top 25%). Anyone can do it with practice. If you add that talent to any other, suddenly you’re the boss of the people who have only one skill. Or get a degree in business on top of your engineering degree, law degree, medical degree, science degree, or whatever. Suddenly you’re in charge, or maybe you’re starting your own company using your combined knowledge. Capitalism rewards things that are both rare and valuable. You make yourself rare by combining two or more “pretty goods” until no one else has your mix. . . . At least one of the skills in your mixture should involve communication, either written or verbal. And it could be as simple as learning how to sell more effectively than 75% of the world. That’s one. Now add to that whatever your passion is, and you have two, because that’s the thing you’ll easily put enough energy into to reach the top 25%. If you have an aptitude for a third skill, perhaps business or public speaking, develop that too. It sounds like generic advice, but you’d be hard-pressed to find any successful person who didn’t have about three skills in the top 25%. – Scott Adams
  10. Stephen Hawking actually has the best quote on this and also [a] legitimate story. . . . [He] has the right to complain probably more than anybody. He says that, ‘When you complain, nobody wants to help you,’ and it’s the simplest thing and so plainly spoken. Only he could really say that brutal, honest truth, but it’s true, right? If you spend your time focusing on the things that are wrong, and that’s what you express and project to people you know, you don’t become a source of growth for people, you become a source of destruction for people. That draws more destructiveness. – Tracy DiNunzio
  11. “It is essential to get lost and jam up your plans every now and then. It’s a source of creativity and perspective. The danger of maps, capable assistants, and planning is that you may end up living your life as planned. If you do, your potential cannot possibly exceed your expectations.” – Scott Belsky
  12. “Follow Your Passion” Is Terrible Advice “I think it misconstrues the nature of finding a satisfying career and satisfying job, where the biggest predictor of job satisfaction is mentally engaging work. It’s the nature of the job itself. It’s not got that much to do with you. . . . It’s whether the job provides a lot of variety, gives you good feedback, allows you to exercise autonomy, contributes to the wider world—Is it actually meaningful? Is it making the world better?—and also, whether it allows you to exercise a skill that you’ve developed.” – Will MacAskill
  13. “An analogy I use is, if you’re going out for dinner, it’s going to take you a couple of hours. You spend 5 minutes working out where to go for dinner. It seems reasonable to spend 5% of your time on how to spend the remaining 95%. If you did that with your career, that would be 4,000 hours, or 2 working years. And actually, I think that’s a pretty legitimate thing to do—spending that length of time trying to work out how should you be spending the rest of your life.” – Will MacAskill
  14. “Action may not always bring happiness, but there is no happiness without action.” —Benjamin Disraeli, former British Prime Minister
  15. “Our life is frittered away by detail. . . . Simplify, simplify. . . . A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” —Henry David Thoreau, Walden
  16. The Three Options You Always Have in Life “In any situation in life, you only have three options. You always have three options. You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it. What is not a good option is to sit around wishing you would change it but not changing it, wishing you would leave it but not leaving it, and not accepting it. It’s that struggle, that aversion, that is responsible for most of our misery. The phrase that I probably use the most to myself in my head is just one word: accept.” – Naval Ravikant
  17. “Earn with your mind, not your time.” – Naval Ravikant

The 4 Step Path to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Change

The 4 Step Path to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Change

Let’s get it out in the open – we all have things we don’t like about ourselves. Many of us have a long list of things we would love to improve, and that’s perfectly natural.

According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a motivational psychology theory, we have a wide array of needs ranging from food, safety, and water to more advanced needs like social belonging, love, and personal growth. Sitting atop this hierarchy lies self-actualization, or as Maslow said, “The desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.” In other words, accepting who you are and what you have to offer to become the strongest version of yourself. Easier said than done, right?maslows-hierarchy

A common criticism of Maslow’s theory, and one I whole-heartedly agree with, is in his estimation that only one in 100 people will reach self-actualization or self-acceptance. For starters, that’s a bit grim and pessimistic, and I’m a natural-born optimist. The truth is not everyone is cut out to make it to the promise-land, but my bet is that every single person reading this has the ability to prove Maslow wrong.

Start by Loving Your Weakness to Death

It all begins with your focus. I’m sure you have heard this paraphrased Nietzsche quotation, “Stare for too long into the abyss and the abyss will begin to stare back at you.” When your focus lies solely on your weaknesses and never your strengths, it’s only a matter of time before your weaknesses dominate your focus.

Instead, shift your focus to your strengths. Maybe you are the woman who stores more fat around the midsection than you’d prefer, but you have long, lean, and strong legs. Or maybe you are the man with the legs that never grow, but you have broad shoulders and a nice set of arms (that’s what pants are for anyway). In both cases, you should definitely work on your weaknesses – after all, you would be ignoring your top tier needs if you didn’t pursue improvement – but there’s no reason to beat yourself up day in and day out over the fat that will go away rather quickly with attention to diet or the legs that will grow over time with dedicated training.

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Why? Because you have awesome long legs, or arms that other guys envy, or you’re a great athlete, or I don’t know, maybe you have a golden personality, but that’s why. There’s something to love about yourself, and you know what it is because you’re probably thinking of it right now.

As a reinforcement exercise, ask yourself the following questions:

  • “What are three of my best physical strengths?” Examples might be a chiseled jaw line, being strong, a lean midsection.
  • “What was the last compliment you received that made you feel great about yourself?”
  • “What is one weakness you have improved in the last year?”

Strive for Progress, Not Perfection

The next hurdle is accepting that turning your weaknesses into strengths may take a long time, and there’s a good chance your weaknesses never will become strengths at all. If you think you can change your genetic code to store less fat in your midsection and more in your rear-end, grow skinny legs to massive tree trunks, or change the color of your feathers, you’re in for a rude awakening. The good news is, if you do a good job at shifting your focus to your strengths, this won’t bother you all that much.

Don’t get me wrong, you can make incredible, drastic changes to your body with dedication and perseverance. I’ve seen sustained body transformations that defied every genetic limitation or barrier. But every one of these transformations had one thing in common: consistent effort for an extended period of time. Remember, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Some say it actually took nearly a thousand years, for what it’s worth.

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Nobody Should Believe in You More Than You

It won’t be easy, but self-efficacy, or the belief in one’s self and ability, can be improved in many different ways. One of the best strategies I’ve experienced is to start small. Focusing on a single, attainable goal makes it nearly impossible to fail and allows you to “get a small win.”

Even the most resilient of people may get discouraged if they never saw the finish line or completed their goals. But if we continue setting lofty, unrealistic goals, that’s exactly the fate we suffer. When you focus on one small goal at a time and accumulate small wins, your psyche becomes conditioned to being a winner over time, and you create lasting change.

Focusing on smaller goals isn’t the only way to improve self-efficacy and acceptance. Another strategy I have seen work wonders is words of affirmation in the form of self-talk. I don’t mean carrying on a conversation with yourself in public, only reminding yourself that you are awesome and worth working hard for. Here are a few examples:

  • I quickly forget my mistakes because everyone makes them
  • Today was a great day, and I progressed toward my long-term goals
  • I am going to sleep tonight a better person than when I woke up this morning
  • I will skip the pizza and opt for something healthier, not because I can’t have pizza, because I want something healthier
  • Today wasn’t my best day in terms of nutrition, but tomorrow is a clean slate and will be my best
  • I have the courage to face and overcome my fear of backsliding, binging, or lifting weights with the guys at the gym

The Cherokee would tell their children that every tribe member had two wolves within. One wolf was positive and constructive, while the other would bring negative, destructive things upon its host. When children would ask which wolf would win, an elder would answer, “The one you feed.”

Simply put, you are made of your thoughts. If you project positivity through your thoughts and actions, positivity is what you will attract. Likewise, negativity is equally if not more magnetic. We all know better than to surround ourselves with negative people, for they bring us down. But what if we are the negative friend in our own life? The only way to get away from yourself is to change your mindset.

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Take a Minute to Stop and Smell the Roses

I love it when people reach their goals, fitness or non-fitness related. But I love it even more when people reach their goal and realize they’ve actually been awesome for quite some time already. It’s easy to lose sight of the changes you’re making in the midst of chasing your inner-greatness. Never forget to look back at how far you have come over the weeks, months, or years. Every journey will have unanticipated benefits and byproducts of your success – notice them.

The 4 Step Path to Self-Acceptance and Lasting Change

  1. Focus on your strengths, not your weaknesses. Learn to appreciate the gifts you were given and improve the gifts you weren’t given over time.
  2. Trust in the process. You may not reach your goal in the first quarter of the new year, and there’s a chance you won’t reach your goal at all. But in the following year, you will be miles ahead of where you are today. Coming to terms with that is one of most important things you can do.
  3. Believe in yourself. Remember to feed your good wolf and not the bad – positive in, positive out.
  4. Appreciate how far you have come. Your progress may inspire more people than you think. Never slight yourself for improving your body, fitness, or mindset even the tiniest amount. Change is tough, and you are a rock star for creating lasting change.

How to Be a Loser in the New Year

How to Be a Loser in the New Year
Now that the holidays are behind us, and we’ve devoured everything from turkey and dressing to milk and cookies, many people are suffering from a condition known as Hope Reflux (HRD). For those unfamiliar with HRD, here’s a quick definition pulled from a reliable source:
Hope Reflux
noun
noun: hope reflux; plural noun: hope refluxes
  1. a condition in which hope for an improved, better life is regurgitated into the mind due to the conclusion of one year, causing eventual failure and heartache by mid-year.
The statistics are unclear on exactly how many people fail to achieve their New Year’s Resolution each year, but the consensus seems to be somewhere between a 90-99% rate of failure. In spite of the disheartening odds, we continue to set goals for each and every new year without fail. After all, if we fail we can simply try again next year, and the year after, and the year after.
I’m only picking on New Year’s Resolutions due to the time of this article’s writing (December 26th). My beef is less with resolutions and more with goals in general. With roots in the fitness industry, I too started out as a formally-educated-goal-setting-robot, never failing to come up with SMART goals. Eventually, I began to notice that results and success – in all areas of life – hardly ever came from goal setting. Before we dive in, let the following excerpt be the final nail in the proverbial “goals” coffin.
Scott Adams said it best in his book, How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big:
To put it bluntly, goals are for losers. That’s literally true most of the time. For example, if your goal is to lose ten pounds, you will spend every moment until you reach the goal—if you reach it at all—feeling as if you were short of your goal. In other words, goal-oriented people exist in a state of nearly continuous failure that they hope will be temporary. That feeling wears on you. In time, it becomes heavy and uncomfortable. It might even drive you out of the game… If you achieve your goal, you celebrate and feel terrific, but only until you realize you just lost the thing that gave you purpose and direction. Your options are to feel empty and useless, perhaps enjoying the spoils of your success until they bore you, or set new goals and reenter the cycle of permanent presuccess failure.

The answer to not being a loser in the new year is not goal setting. It’s systems.

System
noun
1. a set of connected things or parts forming a complex whole, in particular.
  • a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism or an interconnecting network.
    plural noun: systems

Think about your goals. Whether you’re aiming to lose twenty pounds, get a promotion and make more money, or be a better spouse and parent, your goal is to simply improve as a human being. And improvement, growth, progression, or whatever you want to call it is a mechanism or an interconnecting network.

Your body composition is comprised of what you eat/drink and how much you exercise on a regular basis. 

Losing 20 pounds is a goal (albeit a terribly specified goal). Tracking your food daily and maintaining a calculated calorie deficit through diet and exercise for 12 weeks to lose 2lbs/week for a total of 24 pounds is a system. 

Your job performance, or lack thereof, is comprised of how productive you are, how you interact with your coworkers and superiors, and how much value you bring to the business in one way or another.  

Getting a promotion is a goal. Reading a book or taking a course each month to develop/learn a new skill that’s lacking in your company to make yourself invaluable is a system. Likewise, finishing all of your work before noon by avoiding Facebook or other distractions so that you can collaborate on other projects (or maybe start your own side hustle to make more money and forget the promotion) is a system. 

Hitting your monthly sales quota is a goal. Making 50 potential customer contacts, following up with 20 prospects, and setting 5 appointments or meetings daily is a system. 

Your relationship with your spouse and family is comprised of how much focused time you spend with them, your patience and conflict resolution skills when things go awry, and your resilience to fix things no matter what. 

Improving your relationship with your spouse and kids is a goal. Turning your phone off after work, having a designated date night each week, and doing one unexpected act of kindness each month is a system. 

There’s a lot more that goes into every scenario above, but you get the point. Systems rule and goals drool.

As the end of this year approaches, let’s spend more time developing systems and less time worrying about goals. The ultimate goal, after all, is nothing more than growth. And there’s potential for that every second, not every year.

10 of My Personal Systems for the New Year

  1. Read 30 minutes daily – leading to the ultimate goal of reading 50ish books in 2017
  2. Delete and avoid all easy order food apps (pizza, fast food, etc.) from my phone – ultimate goal of maintaining my level of health and fitness with a less intense and less frequent exercise regimen
  3. Avoid checking email before 9 AM – working toward a goal of creating a healthier work-life balance and having a clearer mind in the mornings (i.e. maker vs manager)
  4. 30+ minutes of strength training 3x/week minimum – anything extra is icing on the cake – ultimate goal of maintaining muscle mass, losing a bit of body fat, and continuing to lead a healthy lifestyle
  5. Daily 5-10 minute calls with each of my six managers – ultimate goal of creating great relationships, developing my team and unlocking their potential for success inside and outside of work, and having the best performing team out of our four area managers (competitive much?)
  6. Deposit no less than $450/month in my Roth IRA – goal: to reach yearly contribution limit
  7. Avoid checking on stocks or reading market reaction articles daily – ultimate goal of not selling stocks that I’m holding for the long term based on short-term changes in businesses
  8. Blocking off one hour each week to work on non-work related projects (writing, consulting, creating, etc.) – ultimate goal to continue adding passive income or creating opportunities beyond my day job/career
  9. Dedicate 20+ minutes for one quality conversation (phone or face to face) with both of my parents each week – ultimate goal to show my appreciation for everything they’ve done and further our relationships/maximize my time with them in this life
  10. Read two books from the fiction, history, or any non-self-development genre for every self-development book this year – ultimate goal of being more well rounded, making connections between nonfiction and fiction (more on this later), and exploring new areas of interest

What system(s) will you be implementing in the new year? Let me know in the comments!