In this accelerating world, many entrepreneurs are under enormous stress. This stress is the result of a feeling that something is not quite right, that there is a disconnect between a commitment we have made and what we know (either consciously or unconsciously) the situation to really be.
Stress is a sign that there is a block somewhere… you don’t have enough time, money or resources to carry out a commitment you made to others or to yourself. Stress is a valuable sign that you need to take a frank look at the situation and re-evaluate it. You can respond to stress by bearing it, letting it grate on your conscience day after day, wearing you down, or you can take constructive action to deal with the source of the stress.
When you learn how to constructively respond to stress, you will be able to take on larger and larger challenges with a sense of flow. Your productivity will shoot up, the impact you create with your efforts will multiply, and working hard will cease to be hard work.
Here are ten strategies to constructively respond to stress:
1. Have a personal WHY to your life, through a manifesto, a mission statement, or definition of success.
Each one of us is put on this planet to make a difference in a very specific, defined and powerful way. Defining your WHY creates an overall context for your life, allowing you to understand why the stress you are feeling is affecting you. When you have a clear life WHY, the stress you are feeling can be reinterpreted as a sign that you are off-course in some way. Going through a process to create a life mission statement is one of the best ways to put the situation you are currently experiencing into a long-term perspective. A source I recommend is Laurie Beth Jones’ book “The Path” (lauriebethjones.com). Another tool you can use is to create a Personal Manifesto, answering the questions: “What is the change I want to create in the world? Why this? Why me? Why now?”
2. Restructure your task to experience a small “win” as soon as possible.
A great source of stress is our hunger to succeed. Yet we often sabotage ourselves because we do not create a clear strategy to experience as many “wins” as possible. Delayed gratification is for martyrs. Real people need incremental, tangible results at the end of each working day to confirm that we are on the right path.
Here’s how to start a process of daily wins: Break down the milestone or delivery date you are aiming for into one-week subtasks. Now take the first sub-task and break that down in turn into a daily “heartbeat” – a small tangible piece of the overall task that you have the means to tackle now. Make sure that the heartbeat does not require more than 2-3 hours of continuous work (one hour is ideal). The day before (right before you start your bed routine), plan the next day in two-hour blocks, allotting enough time to complete the next day’s deliverable. When you wake up, you will have an hour-by-hour plan for your day. Write down what you accomplish in each of those time periods, with a focus to fine-tuning your ability to forecast how much time it takes for you do get things done. Celebrate when you achieve what you set out to do on an hourly basis.
3. Take extreme measures to be good to yourself first.
Don’t just roll out of bed, grab a coffee and dash to work, turning over all your waking hours to someone else’s control. Retake what you have direct control over: your own body. Eat right, exercise, meditate, get plenty of fresh air, sunshine and rest. Block off at least one hour a day that is your own. Regain personal time by turning off (or selling) the television set, cancelling your newspaper subscription, and limiting your internet use.
4. Find out what the stress is telling you.
If you are feeling under stress, this is a sign that something in your unconscious intuition knows that the situation is not right. What is it that is irking you? Do you know you do not have enough time? Just working harder will not solve the problem. Maybe the scope of your project needs to be redefined. Or you need more resources. Or this kind of project or job no longer is for you (you have evolved, or been doing the same thing for too long). One of the biggest sources of stress is underestimating the amount of time it takes to get something done. Create a time budget, listing all of the commitments (projects, tasks) you are involved in, divided into categories such as “work”, “personal”, “self-care”, “leisure”. Assign hours for each task, what you really think each one will take (ignore trivial constraints such as 24 hour days or 7 day weeks). Total up all the hours you have committed. A good rule of thumb is that the typical professional can concentrate on work tasks for no more than 5 hours per day, 30 hours per week (any time you are working more than that is wasted time). So by how many weeks are you overcommitted? Now would be a great time to call a personal coach to help you take back your life.
5. Live the truth. Tell the truth.
A huge source of stress is trying to live up to an image that we’re projecting – looking cool, in control. The most important step you can take is to keep a clear picture of what is really happening, what is reality. There are times to project your confidence, but let the confidence come from a true source rather than through false bravado.
6. Block out any extraneous messages
Advertising puts enormous stress on each one of us on a psychological level. And the content of newscasts is rarely positive (and usually downright depressing of late). Stop delivery of newspapers, turn off the radio and TV, disengage yourself from the negative information overload. If it’s important, you will find out sooner or later. To maintain mental stimulation, tune into intelligent sources that support you. Go to iTunes and discover a wonderful world of podcasts from major universities, the CBC, BBC, NPR and other sources.
7. Attack the issue head on.
Stand your ground. Reestablish your boundaries. Many times, other people play power games to provoke your stress reaction. Show them that you are serious about getting the job done, but not at the price of your self-respect. Setting your boundaries and sticking to them shows that you have the strength and clarity to tell the truth about what’s happening.
8. Examine what is keeping you in your “comfort zone”
Let go of your resistance. Reinterpret your situation by flipping your resistance into your strength. Don’t have enough time? Invest time into coaching support to help you prioritize. Don’t have enough money? Spend money on building your own personal network, prospecting and building business and personal contacts. In a tension situation, what you are most comfortable with is probably what is holding you back.
9. Underpromise and overdeliver
Only commit to what you know you can deliver. The stress you feel may be coming because you were overly optimistic in the first place. Prepare estimates: first create an optimistic one (everything goes well and works the first time), then a conservative one (think of all of the possible complications and allow for the more probable ones). Take the average of the two…that is your new optimistic estimate. When asked, only provide conservative estimates…keep the new optimistic estimate in your back pocket. As you start to meet and beat your conservative estimates, your sense of self-worth will increase and your estimating skills will improve. Amazingly enough, when you take an “underpromise” stance, the fact that you are able to deliver on what you promise will also increase your client’s trust in you (because so few people are able to deliver on their promises).
10. If all else fails, walk away.
Nobody or nothing has the right to make you do something that you do not want. Slavery was outlawed many years ago. Yes, you will probably pay a price for walking away (such as losing the contract). On the other hand, this situation was probably the push you needed to make a major step forward in your life. Life is too short to spend even one day in a stress situation.
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