Tell Yourself a Story.

August 13th 2014

Last week, I did a presentation on stress reduction for about 250 people. Apparently, I tapped into a vein, because they were very energetic in their answers to the question, “What stresses do you absorb from others?” 

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We discussed the idea that ordinary, everyday stress - as opposed to life-altering stressful events - is the result of the stories we tell ourselves. My approach to stories is simple. If your story isn’t working, change it. Simply select another one if you want to absorb less stress. Traffic is a good example. Let’s say a guy cuts me off in traffic, and I:

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  1. swear at him;
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  3. give him the one-fingered hello;
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  5. tell myself he’s not a jackass. He is, in fact, a surgeon on his way to a heart transplant.
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The best answer from a stress-reduction (and civility) standpoint is C. Fiction helps me because it prevents me from being a jackass, and it passes the time until the event is over. There are many other ways to deal with stress we absorb, including: recognizing that everything is temporary; distracting your mind with something positive; and realizing that, nearly always, your ego is involved somehow. If you can set aside your ego in most of these situations, you will feel better.

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It will not surprise you that, when I asked the audience, “What stresses do you create for others?”, they were somewhat less energetic in their responses. It’s possible they had never looked at stress as something they create. Certainly, they had not discussed the possibility in a large group before. It was great to see them open up a bit and realize that some of the things they do at work can create stress for others. Among them:

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  • Communicating poorly
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  • Complaining to too many too often
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  • Disdaining those who do not share their views
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The stresses we create also are the result of stories we tell ourselves. When we don’t communicate clearly, we’re telling ourselves that only what we think matters. When we complain too often, we are stuck in our own story of misery loving company. When we disdain others’ points of view, we tell ourselves that we’re smarter or more enlightened than they are. 

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Stress we create requires that we tell ourselves truthful stories, not fiction. In those stories, we need to be aware of the possibility that we are creating stress for others through our behaviors. 

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Stories are powerful tools for dealing with everyday stress. They can be fanciful or truthful, funny or philosophical. They can be productive or unproductive. The good news is, we are completely free to choose our stories.

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communication, professional development, personal development

Comments



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LJ
08/14/2014 5:51am
Of course there's always another option - change our stories in the literal sense. We can change our behavior, our job, etc.
Kyla
08/14/2014 5:22am
Good column.