[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Does the world stress you out?
Do people and things cause you stress? Do you get even more stressed at your helplessness to reduce how stressful the world is? Do you get even more frustrated and depressed at your bad luck that you had to be born at a time when the world was so stressful?
Would you be glad to know you can decrease all that stress?
No medicine required. You don’t have to change anything except your beliefs. But when you do, you’ll realize you can get rid of all that stress.
You’ll realize you aren’t helpless when you change your beliefs. When you believe the outside world causes stress you can’t do anything about it. Today’s belief changes that perception.
A model for stress that calms you: you want the world to be one way and it’s not
When I first came across this belief (in the book Are You Ready To Succeed, by Srikumar Rao, whose leadership class I took at Columbia Business School), I looked at it incredulously. He first wrote that all the stress in your life comes from one source. I read with skepticism and optimism, asking myself how could so many sources of stress all actually come from just one, as he continued to write his model:
All the stress in your life comes from one source: you want the world to be one way and it’s not.
At first it seemed too simple. But as I thought about it, as I hope you are thinking about it, all the various sources I used to think of did seem to boil down to one thing. It soon started to seem plausible.
This belief has tremendous consequences, mainly that stress doesn’t come from outside you alone. It comes from what you want. That means you can do something about it. It means you can take responsibility for decreasing your stress.
But you can never again blame the world for causing you stress. The world does what it does. How you react to it causes stress. Someone else can respond to the same thing without stress.
Stress results from a conflict involving things you can control. This model suggests a few top-level strategies when you feel stress.
Strategies to respond to stress
If you want to decrease your stress, three main strategies seem clear
- Change the world to fit what you want.
- Change what you want to fit the world.
- Change both.
If you want to change the world, something many people don’t realize to do, but this model makes obvious
- If you want to change the world, figure out what you can change and what you can’t change. Learn to accept and embrace the things you can’t change.
I’d love to fly like Superman, but I don’t think it’s possible, so I accept it. Actually, anything I can accept I find a way to celebrate, but that’s another post.
Actually, I could think of a million things I can’t do. They used to stress me out. Now they don’t, largely because of this model.
Another part of this model is if you want to change the world, you can allow the stress to motivate you. I’ve come to see stress as motivation to act. So when I feel stress, I’ve learned to distinguish between the motivation to change the part of the world I don’t like from feeling bad.
In other words, this model has helped me transform stress from something bad to something motivational. You can too. Then when you don’t like something, instead of feeling bad, you feel motivated to do something about it.
Whom would you rather hang out with — someone who feels bad or someone who feels motivated? So transforming yourself in the same way makes you more attractive to others.
When I use this belief
I use this belief when the world is one way and I want it another — that is, when I feel stress. I think of this model and realize I’m not powerless to feel this way.
In other words, I use the model less and less all the time. Or rather, I don’t actively think about it. It just fades into the background as fewer and fewer things provoke stressful reactions.
What these beliefs replace
This belief replaces the belief that stress results purely from external things. It replaces helplessness and feeling bad with motivation and calmness. It replaces frustration and futility with ability to find and create direction.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to a more calm, stress-free life where you react with motivation and calm ability to solve problems instead of aimless and ineffective complaining or feeling sorry for yourself.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book