Would you like to know how to get rid of stress? Want to know what causes it? Even better, want to know how to control and end it? This is one of the things I’ve learnt over the past year or so to realise that I am the only person who controls my happiness and stress levels. It’s pretty easy to understand how stress comes about, and once you know about it, most stress becomes a decision – you can choose.
There are 2 aspects to your life – the internal and the external. The external parts of your life are your circumstances, the actuality. The internal aspect of your life we’ll be looking at is your expectations.
Your actuality is factual. Let’s say your bonus for the year was 10 000 rand/dollars/whatever. This is the fact. Now, if you were expecting to get a bonus of 8 000 then you’re thrilled. But if you were expecting 11 000 then you’re disappointed. So what gives? Same fact, different emotions? Obviously the facts aren’t what causes the emotions. Here’s what’s going on:
Actuality + Expectations = Your Reality
facts + what you told yourself about those facts = your emotional state
While we can’t totally control our annual bonus, we can control our expectations. The more we spend our time building up our expectations, focusing on a certain outcome, the more we set ourselves up for stress. When our actuality and our expectations don’t match, that’s when we experience stress. I’ll say that again – stress happens when our expectations and our circumstances don’t match. But we can control our expectations.
The other day I wrote about the stress my daughter put me through when I was trying to get to sleep (I had to get up early the next morning). But the actuality was that I was driving myself nuts. It wasn’t my daughter’s antics that was causing the stress, it was my expectations. I had built up what I wanted, what I expected, in my mind, so when my daughter was keeping me awake, my circumstances (actuality) didn’t match my expectations of getting to bed early – bingo, source of stress.
Instead of focusing on the circumstance I couldn’t control (my daughter’s lack of sleepiness), I could have focussed on changing my expectations. Heck, I didn’t even have to change my expectations, I could have just not focussed on them so much. Maybe even let them go entirely. Maybe replaced them with a more useful one, like expecting to see how cool and competent my daughter’s gotten at so many things.
If you’ve got a couple minutes to spare I highly recommend that you watch Elliott Hulse’s video below:
His example is someone who joins the army and goes to basic training. Let’s just clarify – EVERYBODY in basic training gets yelled at, has someone stick their face in your face and scream at you. You’re not special, it’s just the way it works. Some people handle it just fine, it doesn’t seem to bother them. Other people get tense, stressed out and it can really freak them out (lest we forget – rewatch the opening of Full Metal Jacket). So if it isn’t personal, why do some people take it so badly?
The difference lies in their expectations. Some recruits tell themselves that they don’t deserve to be treated this way – that’s their expectation. The other guys, the recruits who handle it fine, they’re the ones who have different expectations. It might sound really crappy to say “they don’t have any expectation of being treated nicely” (cause), but it’s more that they aren’t focussed on the expectation of nice treatment. Another way of putting it is “it doesn’t bother them if someone tries to treat them badly” (effect).
If you don’t know what to look for, how can you defend yourself against it? If you can identify what story you’ve told yourself, what your expectations are, then you can figure out why you’re getting stressed out. You can spot why you’re getting angry, or that you’re going to angry.