During this year’s BetterWorks Goal Summit, closing keynote speaker Srikumar Rao, author of the book, “Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful – No Matter What”, shared with us his views on stress and goals. I must admit, it was a great way to wrap up our day.
I don’t know about anyone else…but I love going to conferences for the learning and ideas. At the same time, I also find myself creating massive “to-do” lists for myself – things I want to look up or read, projects I should start, and overall reminders of habits that I need to start doing again. Of course, this means I’m learning and adding to my own stress.
Stress continues to be is a major issue for employees and organizations. And there are many reasons for it. Rao shared several and I found they fell into three buckets: individual, work, and life.
The “me” issues.
- I’m putting in this category financial stressors such as not having enough money or savings. Or if you’re a freelancer, not having customers pay on time.
- Health issues like not feeling well and the stress associated with trying to resolve health insurance issues. Fighting with insurance companies can really take a toll.
- We love our family and friends, but sometimes they get on our nerves. And we get on theirs. Dealing with misunderstandings, gatherings, and holidays can be stressful.
The workplace stuff.
- Our careers don’t always move as fast as we would like. It can be frustrating. We think we’re ready for a promotion (and more money). Or we want to be on a special project that will get us noticed.
- Too much work! We never seem to get a breather to get organized and focus on our goals. We no sooner get done with one project and another one is dropped on our desk.
- And let’s face it…sometimes our boss, co-workers, and customers can be a PITA. I’m sure there are days they feel the same about us. It’s all part of work.
Life in general.
- Regardless of your political affiliation, it’s hard to escape today’s political environment. It’s on our Facebook pages and everyone wants to share their point-of-view. Whether we want to engage or not…
- Time is precious and we don’t always have as much as we would like. We’re thinking there’s no such thing as work-life balance, or work-life integration, etc.
- As you can see, these examples aren’t mutually exclusive. Politics at work = stress. No work life balance = hard on relationships.
Now you might be saying to yourself, “Yep, I knew all of these things are stressors. I don’t need someone to tell me what I already knew. Tell me how to make the stress go away!” Well, that’s the interesting part. Rao says that the reason we have stress is because we have a rigid idea of what the universe should be like and the universe isn’t cooperating.
Stress is the result of control. And the key to reducing stress is realizing that we aren’t in control. And we never will be. But we can learn how to manage control better.
Stress – How to Manage our Need for Control
Rao outlined three activities we can do to manage our need for control.
- Practice appreciation and gratitude. This could also be in the form of mindfulness. Rao pointed out that we tend to spend more time focused on the things that are wrong around us instead of focusing on the things that are right. He suggested that things are only bad if we say they are. It’s important for us to reframe change in the context of the things we appreciate versus the stuff we can’t stand.
- Become aware of mental chatter. Speaking of focusing on positive messages, that also goes for the messages we send to ourselves. I refer to this as self-talk. It’s that little voice inside our head. Does it send us positive messages or negative ones? We should make sure our mental chatter doesn’t wear us out. It will take some time and activities like mindfulness could help.
- Invest in the process, not the outcome. Rao shared his view that we are a goal obsessed society. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Goals are important because they set direction. What we need to change is the mindset that if I meet the goal, that’s great and if I don’t, that’s bad. The experience is equally as important as the outcome. Rao suggests, “The more detached you are from the goal; the higher the probably that you will achieve it.”
Think Like a Civil Engineer
Rao compared the steps for managing control to being an engineer. You have a road to build. How are you going to handle the obstacles (i.e. stress)? Because we know the project will have some speedbumps along the way (pun intended). But the road still has to be built. So, we need to learn ways to manage those obstacles.
Managing the stress in our personal and professional lives isn’t easy. But I can definitely see how trying to control everything adds to our stress. And learning how to manage control could be helpful.
Thanks to Author Andrea Beaty for sharing this image (and others!) with the March for Science organizers around the world.1