Giving Up Stress

Stress is what happens when hard work and good intentions collide with uncertain or unclear outcomes.

If you want to cure yourself of stress, then, you have to be wiling to give up on one of those sets of conditions.

The challenge is, which set will you choose to give up?

The hard work and good intentions? Or the attachment to certainty and clarity?

True stress relief comes from realizing that the future is always subject to change.

Churn Less, Express More.

How much mental, physical and emotional energy have you expended today

… worrying what people will think?

… wondering if they’ll understand or appreciate what you’re trying to say?

 

What if, instead of wondering, you just said what was on your mind?

Churn less, express more.

Where To Start When You Have Absolutely No Clue

It’s one thing to have goals. It’s quite another to actually know how work toward getting those goals achieved — especially when those goals are big.

You may have heard that the solution is to “break the goal down into bite-sized chunks.” Or “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” But what about when you don’t know what those chunks or single steps are? In this post, I’ll give you a practical approach you can use to help you get started when you don’t know how.

(The following is applied in part from Barbara Sher’s Wishcraft, with my own twist based on my experiences, of course!)

Identify the Reasons You Can’t

This part is easy. Imagine your goal. Now, in your best devil on the shoulder voice, list the obstacles to reaching your goal. No money, no time, not an expert… I’m sure you can come up with a few.

Now, get creative. For each obstacle you identified, ask yourself all the possible ways you could overcome that obstacle. For no money, your options might be robbing a bank, begging on street corners, getting a grant or scholarship, whatever. Nothing is off limits.

For each solution, identify what you like about the idea and what you don’t like. For example, I might like the immediacy of robbing a bank, but the whole go-to-jail and be-a-criminal doesn’t work for me. Use this second list to generate even more ideas (it’s amazing how ideas will flow when you start focus on finding solutions, rather than on the problem itself).

Finally, once you’ve exhausted your brainpower entirely, look at your list. Pick one solution to each obstacle — the solution you like the best. It doesn’t matter if you know how to accomplish that piece or not. The actual plan of attack is what comes next…

Obstacles Turn SubGoals

When your brain has recovered enough from all that feverish brainstorming, it’s time to look at what you’ve come up with. All those obstacles that were in your way before should now be turned into mini-goals.

If you’re like me, some of those mini-goals look immediately do-able. You look at them and know exactly how to do them. And that’s fantastic! Set those aside for the moment, and focus on the ones that you have absolutely no clue where to begin.

Now for each mini-goal, you’re going to create a reverse flow-chart. You do that by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Can I do this tomorrow?
  2. If not, what would I need to do first?

For each answer you come up with for question #2, repeat the process, until the answer to question #1 is “yes”. Then put it on your to-do list for tomorrow.

That’s it! It’s really no more complicated than that.

An Example of the Reverse FlowChart

Here’s an example from Wishcraft:

  1. Getting into medical school is a subgoal in its own right. Now, can I do it tomorrow?
    • “Hardly”
    • “What would I have to do first?”
    • “Well, I’d have to apply to medical schools.”
  2. “Can I apply tomorrow?”
    • “No. There are two things I’d have to do first: get high scores on the MCATs, and send for application forms.”
  3. “Can I send for applications tomorrow?”
    1. “Not until I’ve decided which schools to apply to.”
    2. “Can I decide which schools to apply to tomorrow?”
      1. No, first I’ll have to go to the library and read catalogs. (I can find out about regular loans and scholarships at the same time.) And that I can start doing tomorrow.
  4. “Can I get high test scores tomorrow?”
    • “Obviously not. First I have to take the tests.”
    • “Can I take the MCATs tomorrow?”
      • If I did, I’d flunk them! First I’d better take some kind of premed review course.
      • “Can I take a review course tomorrow?”
        • No—first I’ve got to find out where there is one. I can do that tomorrow, by making phone calls to all the, local universities, college and medical schools. Another thing I can do is dig up my old college class notes and start reviewing them on my own.

You can see the full flowchart (from Wishcraft) below to see how it would all come together (click to enlarge).

flowchartLarge

Now Go Do It!

If you follow these easy steps, any goal can be made achievable. Simply by changing your mindset from “I can’t do this” to “How can I do this”, you will allow your own creative nature to bring all sorts of fantastic solutions and actionable steps to mind.

And if you’re still having trouble getting started, there is help. You can catch up with the #ideaparty that happens ever Thursday starting at noon EST on Twitter (go to http://search.twitter.com and search for #ideaparty). You can send me a message on Twitter (@maverickstruth) for some brainstorming help. Or you can go read Wishcraft (by the way, did I mention it’s a free PDF and it’s one of my favorite books, all time?).

168 Hours

How do you spend most of your time? If you’re like me, your immediate response is probably one of “working” or “sleeping”.

Is that really accurate, though?

24*7=168

In each week, there are  168 hours. Just for fun, I did some back-of-the-napkin type accounting of how I spend my time. I’d encourage you to do the same.

Of those 168 hours, I found that I personally spend approximately:

  • 45 working, commuting to or from work, and eating lunch at work
  • 60 sleeping
  • 12 cooking and eating when not at work

Which leaves about 51 hours every week for “other stuff”. That’s more time than I spend sleeping, and more time than I spend working. But for some reason, it never registered for me.

Catching the Time

And, if you’re like me, you might just look at your own numbers and say “my God, where is all that time going? What am I doing with it all? And what do I have to show for it?”

Here’s the thing. Every week, we all have 168 hours to do with whatever we want. That could be working, eating, sleeping, reading, exploring, exercising… whatever.

This is especially good news for scanners. That’s a lot of time to spend exploring your various interests. When I realized how much time I had, even apart from work and sleeping, I realized that I could pick ten different activities or interests, and spend 5 hours on each of them, every week.

Making the Time

Now that’s all well and good, but for as much as the numbers say I have that much time, I can’t remember the last time I spent 5 hours a week on something — never mind on ten somethings.

As I was re-reading The 4-Hour Workweek last week, I realized why. In the book, Tim Ferriss discusses Parkinson’s Law, which states

Work expands to fill the time available for its completion.

In other words, I spend 45 hours a week doing things related to work, and my work tends to fill that time (regardless of how much of it is really just shuffling paperwork around). I spend 60 hours sleeping, because that’s how much time is between going to bed and my alarm. I spend 12 hours cooking and eating because I eat fast and J does a lot of the cooking ;-)

But I spend 51 hours “doing nothing” because that’s the amount of time allotted to “doing nothing.”

Now, we all need time to do nothing — to chill, relax, whatever. But I probably don’t need 51 hours worth.

Choosing Your Big Rocks

There’s a popular metaphor for time management, made famous by Stephen Covey. There are many variations on the story (and mathematicians will recognize this as a version of the Knapsack problem), but the gist of all of them is this:

Take a glass jar, a pile of rocks, a pile of pebbles, a pile of sand, and a pile of water. How can you fit the most of everything into the jar?

If you start by filling the jar with water or sand, and you won’t be able to fit anything else in. All you get is water or sand.

If you start with the pebbles, and then add water or sand, you’ll be able to get more in because the water or sand will creep in around the pebbles. But you won’t be able to fit in any big rocks.

The key is to fill the jar with the biggest rocks first. Then add pebbles, shake up the jar, and let them settle in the cracks. Then add the sand, and finally the water.

When all is said and done, you’ll have a very full jar — filled with the most of everything.

Jars of 168

If the metaphor isn’t already obvious, the meaning is simply this:

We each have week-sized jars that hold 168 hours. We can fill our time with one or two large rocks (work and sleep), one or two pebbles (eating) and then fill the rest up with water and sand (doing nothing).

And while the week will be full, it won’t have as much in it of the things we would want — like going for walks, reading books or catching up with friends. It will seem like there’s no time for doing what you want.

But if you first establish what you want your big rocks to be, and make time for them first, you’ll be able to fit them in. Parkinson’s Law will take care of the rest.

Note: for most of us, there are a couple of big rocks that seem fixed in size and importance: work and sleep. But there’s almost always room for one or two more — or, if you’re a scanner, you may not need more big rocks, but instead just focus on filling up your jar with lots of pebbles (small projects) before you add the sand and water. And maybe in the future, I’ll also write about some ways that people have been able to shrink the size of those biggest two rocks.

Making the Numbers Work for You

Take five minutes now, and figure out what your weekly breakdown is. Determine how much time you have, each week, to spend on things that you never seem to have the time for. Then make the time — book it off with yourself — and start making room for those pebbles and rocks.

Your numbers might be less (you may have kids, or work longer days, or have a longer commute), but the key is to realize that you do have time. We all have exactly the same amount, every week, to spend how we will. It’s our choice how we fill our jars and our hours.

What are you doing with your 168 hours?

The Myth of Passion

It seems as though everyone is talking about “passion” these days. From bloggers to career counsellors to even post-secondary institutions. The mantra takes on different forms, but usually contains elements of “find your passion and the money will follow,” “if you do the thing you love, you’ll never work a day in your life,”  and the like.

The implications are usually quite simple: everyone has a passion, a thing they love to do more than anything else, and if you’re not doing that thing, you’re missing out. And how do you know when you’ve found your passion? Well, lightning strikes, the heavens open up, there’s a glorious rainbow — in other words, “you just know”.

Finding Your Passion

So there’s a lot of people out there spending a lot of time (and money!) on books, exercises and programs intended to help them discover their passion.

But what of the people who get frustrated and feel like they’re going nowhere (maybe even going backwards!) every time they try to discover their passion. The message coming from all sides seems to be clear: everyone has a passion. If you can’t find it, there’s something wrong — either with your approach, or (gasp!) with you. Try harder. Try this other program. Do more soul-searching.

It can be devastating.

If you’ve found yourself in that position, I want to let you in on a little secret. There’s a good reason you may never find your one true passion: you may not have one.

The Myth of Passion

Okay, before you all start flogging me or rapidly unsubscribing from the site, hear me out.

Some people simply love many things. Rather than having all their energy funnelled into one passion, they distribute it across many things that they love equally. There are no angelic choirs, no booming voices from the sky, and no electric sparks. There’s never one thing that jumps out above all else as something you were truly born to do.

And that’s perfectly okay.

Yes, it’s okay to love painting and abstract mathematics and classical Latin and quantum physics and playing the jaw harp. It’s okay, even fantastic, to love all of them equally, and to be unable to choose one of them as your “true passion.” And you know what? You don’t need to.

Doing What You Love

The “find your passion” mentality tells us that our life’s work should be related to our one true passion. That turns out to be not very helpful to those of us who don’t have a solitary passion. So what do we do instead?

First, stop focusing on finding your passion. The longer you spend searching for that one thing, the less time you’ll have to actually do the things you enjoy.

Second, give yourself permission to explore the things you love. Yes, that’s plural. Remember, you’re not supposed to be looking for one thing — instead, realize it’s okay to spend your days doing more than just one thing! (This isn’t really all that novel — after all, no one ever only does one thing between waking and falling asleep — but it’s just rarely said out loud)

Third, do that which you love. It’s that simple, really. If you enjoy doing something, then do it. It doesn’t have to have lightning bolts, it doesn’t have to make you boatloads of money (although somewhere along the line, you’ll probably want some income, somewhere), it doesn’t have to be done for more than 5 minutes at a time (unless you want to) and it doesn’t even have to be important. It just has to be something that you like doing. End of story.

What If You Don’t Know What You Love?

Realizing that you can have many loves is liberating — but it can also be paralysing to suddenly be free. It’s like the prisoner who is released from prison for the first time in a decade, who just wants to go back to his cell because the opportunities “out there” are just too overwhelming.

There’s an exercise in Barbara Sher’s bestselling book Wishcraft (available for free to read online) in which you are challenged to describe your ideal day. For a long time, I was stuck trying to complete the exercise. I couldn’t figure out what I would want to do so much that I would want to do it more than anything else on that ideal day.

I’d fallen victim to the myth of passion. I thought my ideal day should be comprised of me doing the thing (or maybe two things) that I loved more than anything else in the world. And I kept drawing a blank; I couldn’t think of a single thing.

So I asked my Twitter friends for advice, and of course, they came through in spades. It’s not hard to figure out what you enjoy, or what you love to do. Simply think back to what you’ve enjoyed doing in the past. When was the last time you had a good time? And the time before that? It might have been a simple 5 minute breakfast with your significant other, it might have been a day out in the mountains, whatever.

What you enjoy and love doesn’t have to be grand, and it doesn’t have to be the first thing that jumps out as “oh my god, do I ever love doing X” (although, you might have a couple of those!). It just has to be something that made you feel good while you were doing it.

And you can have as many of those somethings as you like. The myth of passion is simply that: a myth. You may not have one. You may have as many as there are stars in the sky. And that’s okay.