The amount of stress that you experience everyday might well be increasing. Instead of letting everything you come into contact with master you, seek to master your environment, only allowing those things you choose to come into your consciousness. Attempting to do too many things at once only leads to stress. Taking a strategic pause every now and then can lessen the time pressure you feel, help you to be more productive for the brunt of your career and probably help you to live longer.
Years ago, a Time magazine editorial lauded one of their senior writers who died of a massive heart attack at age 44. They described him as a “vivid personality, first-class intellect, bracing professionalism.” The editorial/obituary said that this fellow did an extraordinary number of things extraordinarily well. He vigorously filled his post, and also wrote extensively about politics, social issues, the media and books.
In addition to those things, he frequently appeared on TV panels, ready to express provocative, but well-thought-out opinions. This gentleman lectured, wrote books and freelanced for other publications. Amazingly, they say that he had a wide, varied circle of friends—people at every level.
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A ghastly tribute
I was aghast when the editorial/obituary said that this fellow rarely did fewer than two things at once and lauded him for doing so. He “opened his mail while discoursing on story ideas. When he went to lunch with a co-worker, he often took a book.” Apparently, he never turned down an assignment and he attacked the most mundane task as if a Pulitzer Prize “depended on it.” The piece concluded by observing that this gentleman had a forthcoming book wherein he decried that “it was a simple fact that ‘some people are better than others—smarter, harder working, more learned, more productive, harder to replace.’”
Don’t the good people at Time magazine understand that cramming everything into your life at hyper speed can contribute to early death? I wrote to the magazine following this commentary, although I didn’t expect them to answer. I asked, “Where was the reflection in his life? When did he pause? When did he ever reset his body clock? I understood that he was a notable individual, but to praise him publicly for doing two things at once, and in the same breath recount that he died of a massive heart attack at 44 is dripping with irony.”
This person was the antithesis of someone who masters his personal environment. Rather, he let all assignments, all intellectual queries, all interests, anything, apparently, that appeared on his personal radar screen, to master him.
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What about you?
In your life, what are some techniques that you could use daily to pause, collect your thoughts, reduce your level of stress and move on with relative grace and ease?
1) Close your eyes for as little as 60 seconds and visualize a pleasurable scene. It could be a waterfall, a favorite hiking trail, a mountain top view, the shoreline, a campfire or simply the image of a loved one. Any time that you can visualize a pleasurable scene, it is like resetting your internal clock. You get an immediate “time out.” Think of it as a vacation of the mind. When you return to where you are, invariably, you will be in at least a slightly better frame of mind.
2) As a variation on this theme, with your eyes closed, listen to music with your headphones. When you are concentrating solely on music that you like, giving it the undivided attention of one of your senses, the time begins to expand. A three- or four-minute-long song goes by, perceptually, in ten minutes.
3) Allow one of your senses—smell, taste or touch—to dominate. For the next several minutes, close your eyes and simply explore your immediate environment by touch only. Yes, I know that you already know how many of these things will feel when you touch them. Make a game out of it. Pretend that your sense of touch was the only vehicle that you had for understanding your environment. When you open your eyes again, the world will look a little different, and things will be a little less intense.
Do the same with your sense of smell. If you are in an office environment and think that you don’t have options, look around you. Perhaps there is a non-toxic smelling magic marker nearby. How about a flower or lead pencil or a cup of coffee? When have you stopped and actually smelled the coffee?
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4) Play with Rover. Interacting with pets enables you to reset your internal clock. A growing body of evidence shows that pets have a calming, tranquil effect on people.
5) Notice your breath. Breath is the key to life. If you can’t breathe, you can’t live. In a particularly stressful environment, you might be engaging in shallow breathing. If you can draw three deep breaths, you will find that you can more easily feel in control.