If you’re part of the human race, there’s a high chance that stress is a regular fixture in your life.
It’s that feeling of being pressured, pressed, and always short on time.
We usually respond to this by adding something: a drink, a Netflix binge, or a night out. We try to unwind or forget by doing something that feels good.
Sometimes our unwinding technique is helpful and healthy: we do more yoga, go to an AA meeting, or meet up with a friend.
But what if we took a counter-intuitive approach? What if instead of throwing solutions at the problem, we eliminated what prompted it in the first place?
There are a few things that regularly stress us out yet remain habits for most of us. They seem obvious when put together in a list, but they’re damn hard to shake.
Cutting down on these will do more good than that 10-minute meditation you’ve been trying to do every morning.
Here are three things we could use less of; things that waste our time, drain our energy and steal our attention.
I define complaining as resisting reality.
Reality includes some crappy stuff: rude people, overbearing bosses, unexpected expenses, bad luck, and poor weather. Things don’t always go as planned and loss is real.
But that’s life.
No amount of complaints will change what has happened, is happening or will happen.
I’ve mentioned before my love of the term equanimity. It suggests a radical acceptance of everything—good and bad. It acknowledges the inherent randomness of life and our power to choose how we react to it.
Instead of fighting what lands in your lap, accept it and form your game plan: Is the situation changeable? Change it. If not, change your attitude.
Woe-is-me-ing puts you in a position of victimhood. You strip yourself of agency and the power to exercise control over your life.
So while your complaining may feel like a release, it does nothing to “solve” the situation at hand; instead, it effectively blinds you to any opportunity for growth, understanding or positive outcome.
When was the last time you felt completely still—at peace?
If you’re like most people, it’s been quite a while.
We fill our days, hours, minutes with things to do, to say, to finish.
Whether it’s work, errands, or emails, the day fills up quickly. And this isn’t even taking into account time spent with family and friends.
We try to make time, find time and save time, but any free time we may have is immediately gobbled up. We stuff those in between moments with busywork, TV, or irrelevant amusements.
This constant noise and movement has a tendency to feed stress, anxiety and confusion. A constant state of cramming starts to make your mind and body a pretty hectic place to inhabit.
But what if you removed some of the extra stuff?
What classifies as extra? The time-wasters, energy-drainers, and attention-stealers. It’s the stuff that—if you’re honest with yourself—is adding little or no value to your life.
Take a big axe and cut it out.
Let’s see if you don’t reclaim your time, energy and attention. And your peace.
As much as we like to think we are great multi-taskers, our attention cannot be divided. We cannot think about two things at once because our focus moves sequentially.
It follows, then, that if we’re caught up in what someone else has, we cannot be thinking about what we have. Any potential for enjoyment is wasted because we’re not paying attention.
Envy has the potential to negatively effect life satisfaction, as wonderfully illustrated by a recent study by Frans de Waal and Sarah Brosnan:
After completing a simple task, two capuchins were given one piece of cucumber each. Both accepted their reward and contentedly munched away. The next time around, however, the first monkey was given a grape, while the other received a piece of cucumber. The second monkey promptly threw his cucumber against the cage and refused to eat it.1
I laugh when I think of that petulant monkey sulking because he didn’t get his grape. I get it, grapes are delicious. But is it necessary? Is it absolutely vital to your happiness?
Envy is insidious; it spawns ungratefulness, discontent and bitterness. Feeding this feeling will have you always trying to measure up. But, statistically speaking, there will always be someone richer, smarter or better looking than you.
So just eat your cucumber.
Let it go
Which of these three things could you use less of in your life? Take inventory of which ones you’re feeding and try starving them out for a change.
Get rid of unnecessary things adding to your stress. Accept the space, love and peace that comes with doing just a little bit less.