You’re dreading something. A phone call with a family member. A confrontation with a client. Something on your calendar that you really don’t want to do. That you’re cringing about. Because it’s gonna be painful. That’s why you’ve been putting it off. Delaying it. Not responding to it or constantly rescheduling it. The anticipation is starting to eat you up. It’s consuming your every thought. It’s hanging over your head. It’s all you can think about. And the anxiety, if you’re not careful, will keep you from being productive in every area of your business and life. This post will help you manage that stress and put it into perspective so it doesn’t become bigger than it really is and rob you of what really matters.
We Imagine Worst Case Scenarios
Every time Jordan feels a lump or bump anywhere, it’s cancer. He’s Mr. WebMD around here. Once a month, he’s diagnosing himself with something different. And you know what? Knock on wood and praise God, up until now, it’s never been nearly as bad as his brain imagined it. Do you do that, too? Maybe not about health (like the Jordan, the Internet Doctor himself) but maybe it’s business. Or your personal life. Or your relationships. You think up worst-case scenarios, playing out every possible way a conversation could go. If they say this, here’s what I’ll say! But if they say this, then I’ll respond this way!
We play the “what if” game to death, and by the time the thing we’ve been dreading happens, it’s never – hardly ever – as bad as we thought it would be. But here’s the thing: that WHOLE time we spent worrying about it, adding extra stress? Think about all we lost! The hours wasted. The tasks we could’ve completed. The productive things we could’ve gotten done. The people we could’ve enjoyed time with. We wish we could go back in time. We wish we could get back the time we traded away worrying about something that never ended up happening in the first place.
Control the Controllables
Because if there’s one thing we’ve learned in business – and in life – it’s this: we can only control the controllables. That’s it. Nothing more. Nothing less. We CAN control our feelings. We can’t control someone else’s. We CAN control our thoughts. We can’t control someone else’s. We CAN control our actions. We can’t control someone else’s. The problem for us, though, if we’re not careful, we try and control the UNcontrollables… and it leaves us feeling out of control.
In marketing, experts say that the anticipation of a product or experience is as powerful as the actual product or experience itself. That’s why Apple does massive launches for their newest products. It’s why they leak secrets about the latest gadget to stir up buzz and anticipation. It’s why people wait outside in wrap-around-the-block lines and sleep overnight for days in tents just to get the thing nobody knew they needed. It’s all about anticipation. And if anticipation can be that powerful when it’s positive, can’t it also be that devastating when it’s negative?
Managing Your Emotions = Good Time Management
We’re crazies about productivity and time management, because after reading 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam we became convinced that we could win at home and at work if we just managed our time more intentionally. (If you’re more of a listener than a reader, we talk a lot about time management on this podcast.) What we didn’t connect right away, is that managing our emotions and stress is good time management, because the less time we spent worrying about something that what going to happen, the more time we had for what was happening right in front of us.
One time, when we were feeling anxious about something coming down the pipes, a mentor said something to us that really, truly, radically changed our life and how we manage our time through managing our emotions. Stress was scheduled. It was on the calendar. We couldn’t control it. We didn’t know what the consequences would be. At best, we were anxious. At worst, if we’re being honest, we were terrified. Our instinct was to talk it and “what if…” it to death. So we called person after person for advice. To get their opinion. To see what they thought. As if they all had crystal balls. When we called our mentor, he didn’t play along. He told us, “It’s going to happen either way, right? So why fight the battle twice?”
Don’t Fight the Battle Twice
We realized in that moment that we’ve spent the better part of our life worrying about things we couldn’t control that may or may not happen, and never usually ended up nearly as bad as we thought they’d be. And that was a life-changing moment for us, because, since then, every time (and there have been plenty of times) that we’ve felt nervous, anxious, or scared about something that we had to say or do – and we were anticipating a negative outcome – we just decided to stop ourselves, and only fight the battle once.
When it happened.
Not for the months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes leading up to it.
And you know what? We’re so, so glad we made that mind shift as a couple. We try to hold each other accountable to sticking to it. Because it’s been liberating. No pent up stress. We’ve been more focused at work and on each other, tackling things that actually matter, that we can actually affect and actually control and we’ve still been dealing with things that need to be dealt with – and it’s not always fun or pretty – but we don’t let ourselves dread it anymore. The dread, is dead.
So here’s our challenge for you today friends:
What are you dreading this week? What uncomfortable conversation is coming? What do you have to do that you don’t want to?
Maybe it’s a client meeting you’re scared you won’t book. Maybe it’s an upcoming deadline at your day job. Maybe it’s a tough conversation with somebody you love. Maybe it’s a big, overwhelming long-term project that you know you need to tackle.
3 Steps to Manage Stress
- Recognize the thing that you’re dreading. Identify it.
- If it’s something you can control, make it happen sooner so it’s over faster. Get the monkey off your back! If you can’t control it or make it happen sooner, do your best to let it go. Don’t fight the battle twice.
- Instead, be as productive as you can until the battle comes. If it’s not as bad as you thought, you’ll be thankful you didn’t waste your time worrying about it. If it’s worse than you thought, you’ll be thankful you didn’t waste time worrying about it — because now you’ve got a bigger problem on your hands than you realized.
We really, really hope that you can put this into practice right now so that you can have a happier, healthier, more productive week, not fearing the things you loathe, but instead doing things you love — and spending time with the people you care about most.
Just like you, we’re works in progress. We’re not perfect. We’ve made mistakes, and continue to make them! If you’re looking for more help with personal development and how to have the “hard conversations,” here’s a post about a time we messed up in our marriage and how we learned to set better expectations with each other and in all of our relationships. We hope these are a blessing to you.