“At some point, everything’s gonna go south on you… everything’s going to go south and you’re going to say, this is it. This is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work. That’s all it is. You just begin. You do the math. You solve one problem… and you solve the next one… and then the next. And If you solve enough problems, you get to come home. All right, questions?“–Matt Damon as Mark Watney in THE MARTIAN.
When your life is on the line, you have to access your problem-solving ability, or you will die. The survival emotions motivate you…but if they overwhelm you you get stupid. And that means there can be answers right in front of you, and you won’t see them.
I keep hearing people begging for help with their stress levels. These are generally people terrified by the news, and disheartened by the viciousness of internet arguments.
In other words…they engage with the world to try to improve their lives, but are overwhelmed by all the ugliness, see nothing they can do to improve the situation, and therefore fight the urge to curl into a ball and cry.
The trick is that by the time you feel the stress you are often in a “tunnel” where you can’t do the very things most efficient and effective to deal with it. What if you can’t do anything directly about a problem? Then seek peace and joy in your own life, and be a role model for others. When there IS something you can do…act with power and precision, be effective and efficient. That’s how it gets done: when you can do something, act. When you cannot…live. And prepare.
The Morning Ritual is a “sigil”, a compression of dozens of different ideas about human performance. Let’s tease out a few of the most important ideas dealing with stress.
- Stress creates perceptual “tunnels” in which you cannot see anything but the threat. In other words, denies you access to the very tools that could solve the problem.
- Stress is not the real problem–“STRAIN” is the real problem. Stress is just the amount of pressure you are under. But if you can handle it, stress actually trigger growth: you NEED it to become strong. Strain is a negative response, an “overload” situation. THAT is what you must avoid.
- External events don’t directly create internal response. Your perceptual filters, beliefs, values, expectations and so forth will determine how you react to the things that happen in life.
- The more important the situation, the more dangerous, the more critical it is that you remain focused and balanced. Especially if you are a leader of some kind–people look up to you to determine how they should react.
- The emotions are controlled by what we focus on, our self-talk, and the way we use our bodies.
- The most important aspect of the physical is the breathing, the only process that is both voluntary and autonomic.
- Your perfect choice is to integrate proper breathing and motion daily, BEFORE you need stress-relief. By the time you are panicked, it is often too late.
- Tai Chi folks have a good idea: twice a day for 10-20 minutes, morning and night. You focus, breathe, refine posture, control the internal dialogue. This maps over to life situations beautifully.
- IF YOU BREATHE AS IF YOU ARE CALM, YOU WILL FEEL CALM. It really is as simple as that.
- So…at a minimum integrate slow, steady, deep, diaphragmatic “belly breathing” into the Morning Ritual. If you are stressed, do this every three hours for sixty seconds. If you are REALLY stressed, do it at the top of every hour.
As simple as that. If you don’t interrupt the cycle of stress with PHYSICAL MOTION, you are pretty much choosing to be unhappy. Choosing pain. Which is irrational, and contrary to core survival programming. That implies that some part of you associates more pain to RELIEVING the stress than suffering through it.
Why? Perhaps we believe that fear and panic are NECESSARY. I submit to you that they are USEFUL in that they get your attention and begin the “preparation for action” spiral. But necessary? No. If you find that your fear turns to anger, and you are using that anger to motivate you to action…GREAT!
But if it is chewing you up alive, I suggest that you are pouring too much gasoline on the fire, and cannot control the burn.
The more important the situation, the more life-threatening, the more responsible you are for the welfare of others…the more important emotional control is.
And this is where a daily, a MORNING ritual of focus, motion and emotion can literally save your life. You don’t have to be lost on Mars to need every “little gray cell” in your head.