Last month, I was pretty stressed out, thanks mostly to a seemingly endless stream of minor, but irritating, problems. It got so that I was reacting negatively almost immediately to each new development. Some people spend entire years in this state.
Fortunately, I realized what was happening and managed to disrupt that negative cycle of gloom and doom. Here’s how I did it, along with other proven tips for staying calm:
1. Dump the caffeine: For decades, I avoided caffeine altogether, but recently started drinking two ice teas per day, plus up to two bottle of BAI flavors, which also have caffeine. I quit cold turkey, preferring to suffer a headache for a few days than to remain stressed out and easily annoyed.
(True confession: see 2a below.)
2. Exercise: After years of resisting the fitness armband fad, I went out and bought three of them: one each for myself, my wife and our 15-year-old son. We immediately connected our accounts, which created an ongoing challenge to see who could a.) walk at least 10,000 steps per day, and b.) exercise more than the others.
In truth, I don’t need to “beat” my wife and son, but ever since all of us have increased our activity levels and crushed the 10k a day step level that experts say is the minimum needed to be healthy.
2a. It's now two weeks since I wrote the first draft of this article, and I've mountain biked every day since then. So I now allow myself an ice tea in the morning. Your goal should be calm, not crazy.
3. Goodbye 1 a.m. bedtime: I’m a night person, and love to fiddle around late at night when everyone has gone to sleep. The quiet gives me time to think and work, but going to sleep late just makes me an even worse morning person. More importantly, I don’t have time to exercise and get my work done unless I get up early…so hello early bedtime. I was in bed last night at 10:30 p.m. and started writing this article at 6 a.m.
But these first three tips are pretty basic, and I mention them only because they helped dig me out of a hole. The next three are more universal, and more impactful…
4. Anger = you lose: There are two types of Hollywood fight scenes. In one, the main character gets mad and triumphs over a stronger opponent. In the other, the opponent gets mad and the main character wins. The second is far more realistic.
Once you lose your temper, you are in danger. You grow rash and stupid. Your vision narrows. You become easy prey for anyone who wants to defeat you.
In tough times, you must keep this truth in the front of your mind. Once you give in to anger, you lose. Don’t let others bait you, push your buttons, or simply annoy you with their ineptitude.
Ask yourself this. “Who is in charge, my brain or my emotions?”
5. React slowly: I watch stressed out people respond immediately to every text message, email and phone call that annoys them. In many cases, you can’t even say, “Could we take a second to talk?” before they blast out a reply.
That is an absurd, crazed habit.
Remember no. 4. Take your time. Let others wait, even when they claim they have no time to wait. Focus on your goals. Focus on staying calm and in control. It is nearly always better to be intelligent than instant.
6. Ask Yourself “Why?”: Before you make difficult decisions, ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?
Are you reacting on the basis of ego (“they don’t know who they’re dealing with”)?
Are you simply making the same decision you’ve made ten times before, without considering whether those past decisions got results that made you happy?
Be sure to make decisions because they are the right path to your long-term goals. Remain true to your personal and professional values. Listen to the people whose opinions you most respect.
You might also like: my Forbes article, Change Your Environment, Change Your Results.