Insanely practical way to reduce stress

What if I told you that just describing how you’re feeling can help you feel better? That’s exactly what neuroscience confirms. fMRI scans showed brain activity/response to various positive or negative feelings evoked by images. When the volunteers were asked to describe what they were feeling, the emotional part of their brains (the amygdala) immediately quieted.

In plain English, that means that simply saying “I feel annoyed” makes us feel measurably less annoyed. The Buddhists use the term “noting”, to describe this phenomenon. Of course, it won’t make a problem go away. But much more important than the problem itself is our reaction.

If a simple inner dialogue can reduce your stress, why not give it a try? (Note: this is why it’s important that we teach children how to properly articulate their feelings. This stress-reduction hack works with humans of all ages.)

Without reciprocity

Happy memes that say “pay it forward” are nice, and they might spark momentary inspiration. But to be someone who consistently offers advice, support, and generally seeks to spark joy without regard for what one will get in return…that is life-changing.

Serving as an example to others who are then inspired to do the same normalizes it and allows it so spread and scale. And that is world-changing.

Daily focus

Never underestimate the compounding effect of repeatedly doing small things that push you toward your goals. Ten minutes of daily focus for six months adds up to 30 HOURS. In six months from now you could be near functional fluency in a foreign language, looking and feeling healthier, or free of some annoying habit…

Or you can simply be a half a year older.

Making huge habit changes fast

Aircrafts use most of their fuel during take-off. Starting is the most difficult part of creating new habits or making life changes.

Here’s a hack to help create a new habit: if you want to meditate start by taking only three mindful breaths every day.  Wake up just five minutes earlier.  Floss only one tooth.  Write just one paragraph of your novel. Do three push-ups.

Do this and you’ll have done the hardest part.  You’ll see that doing a bit more doesn’t burn much fuel. Most importantly, you will soon subconsciously see yourself as the kind of person who flosses, meditates, writes, exercises…

High quality questions to help you get unstuck

  • What would be ideal? (I find this to be MUCH more informative than “what do you want?” or “what would make you happy?”)
  • What one thing can I let go of such that my level of stress will be significantly reduced? 
  • Can I convert this thought or belief from shame/fear to hope/compassion? 

Dependability

Dependability is a high-ranking “soft skill” that employers, colleagues and customers desire.

When it comes to your career, there are many worthwhile investments you can make to sharpen the saw of your particular expertise. On top of this, try to cultivate a reputation for being dependable. People want to know that they can count on you, and that your word is reliable.

Don’t make the mistake of thinking that so-called soft skills are not trainable. All of them are. For this particular skill, all you have to do is make sure you always do what you say.

Desires

It’s healthy to have desires, goals, and hopes for better versions of the future.  But so often we fall victim to as-soon-as syndrome, making our desires much like contracts we make with ourselves to be unhappy until we get what we want.

Defining and striving for things in line with our desires is essential.  Just be sure you’re not trading a possible future for an unmistakable now.

Negativity bias

My music has received over 50 million streams and downloads, hundreds 5-star ratings, and the kindest reviews and compliments. Yet I can recite verbatim the ruthless critique of my voice from an anonymous user 10 years ago. A decade-old review from one person.

This is negativity bias in action. We’re all susceptible to it. We too quickly forget the praise we receive and tend to highlight the cynical people and opinions.

I keep an email folder called “inspiration” where I file the kind words I’ve received from people who clearly value what I do. It helps to keep a reminder that most of the time you’re doing a stellar job.

This too shall pass

Life has ups and downs. Where you are right now, and how you feel about it, is much like a balance sheet. It’s just a snapshot of your emotional assets and liabilities for a moment in time.

The most important thing to remember is that where you are right now (physically, financially, emotionally) does not reflect what you are.

Motion and action

People confuse being busy with getting things done.  And then we confuse getting the right things done – the things that matter.  As my dad would say: “don’t confuse motion with action.”

Working long hours doing unimportant things efficiently accomplishes nothing but burning resources that could be used on important things.

Before getting busy painting rooms, make sure you’re in the right house.  Working hard on the wrong things is demotivating and takes you further from your goal.