A CEO of a start-up sat in my office to talk about the relationship with a key team member that had “turned bad.” He told me this person “was creating unbelievable stress for everyone.” Yet another client was on the phone with me several months ago telling me his job was “stressing him out.”
The interesting thing is that both of these people are very smart—but that doesn’t mean they understand stress or their part in creating it. They’re not alone. We talk about “stress” as if it’s something that happens to us. We talk about “having” stress, “experiencing” stress or we talk in terms of “being stressed.” We also say things like, “I’m under too much stress now” and “I’m stressed out.”
They’re all passive statements. They infer that something is happening to us—something outside our control. There is no ownership of anything or a hint that we’re involved in what’s happening. We’ve been taught that stress is something that happens to us. The best we can hope for is to learn how to manage what has happened to us. That’s why we have so many “Stress Management” books and workshops.
Think about it. No one says, “I’m creating stress now.” And no one says, “I’m doing stress to myself right now.” Have you ever heard someone say, “I didn’t get my promotion and I’m stressing myself out over it?” I have and you probably have as well. But they don’t mean what they’re saying. If you want to find out if they mean it, ask them, “Why don’t you stop doing that?” and see how they respond. It’s likely they will take offense and want to hit you. That’s because they don’t really think they’re doing anything at all related to the stress they’re feeling.
Have you ever heard anyone say, “My boss gave me too much work but that’s not the problem. The problem is that I’m making myself miserable over it because I’m afraid to assert myself and to ask for what I need—that’s how I’m creating all this stress for myself.” It would be a rare person to take that level of responsibility—or maybe it’s fair to say it would be a rare person to be aware of what they’re doing.
We’re not aware that we create our stress. That’s because we’ve been taught to view stress as coming from something “out there.” The problem with that is it puts us in the victim role in life and we have little to no power. I’m not saying we want to have victim thinking; we don’t. I’m saying that when it comes to how we think about stress we unintentionally turn ourselves into victims.
The truth is we can put a stop to what’s “stressing us out.” For the most part. We can do that by realizing stress is an inside job. Just like happiness or peace of mind is. However, most people don’t really believe stress is an inside job. We believe stress comes from the outside and we have no real say in the matter. But what if we really could end our stress—if we knew how?
We can’t stop difficulties, challenges,and setbacks from coming into our lives. So what do I mean that we can end our stress? I’m saying that eighty percent of what we call stress isn’t coming from what happens to us. What if you could eliminate eighty percent of your stress?
You can, and I will address that in the next blog post. For now, if you have any questions or comments, please let me know and I will respond to them.
–Alan Allard, Executive Coach