We used to play a game called True Colors™ and during this game, friends would assemble and vote for the others in the group with certain characteristics. I always won the categories like, person whose life is most like a soap opera, drama queen, most likely to implode and just about anything else that represented teenage angst. The biggest problem with this was that it continued well into my thirties! While my friends and peers were moving on to bigger and better things, I was becoming bigger, but not necessarily a better person.
There was always something wrong with me. There was always an excuse why I couldn’t fix what was wrong. There was always stress, generally followed by anger, gradually followed by depression and a never ending search for an answer. I was positive it had to be something physiological. So, I muddled through much of my youth, using whatever means I could find to drown out the thundering mess which had become my life.
The lack of control I exhibited stifled me in more ways than I ever could have known. As talented and capable as I knew I was, I was never in a position of authority in business or in friendships. I was always the follower and always trying to please the leader. Allowing others to take credit for my work and my ideas, actually handing them their tickets forward, I held myself back for fear of screwing something up and for fear of not being liked. I worried all of the time. I got angry a lot and I never moved forward.
Then one day I heard something called the serenity prayer. It is a simple verse written by a Protestant theologian by the name of Reinhold Neibuhr circa 1934. It goes like this: “God, give us the grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, courage to change the things that should be changed, and the wisdom to know one from the other.” It made me realize that not only could stress and anger be “managed”, they could be, for the most part, eliminated. I set out on a journey to find out just how to do that. Once I figured it out, I knew I had to share it.
I realized that there were things out of my control and there were really things I could change. Here was the realization that if I knew the difference, I could calmly take charge of my life and my destination. The realization that all that I wanted to achieve, I could easily have and be- if I learned, nay, taught myself how to think a bit differently. I learned to control my thoughts instead of my thoughts controlling me. I learned to lead my outcomes by being proactive in my thoughts instead of reactive to my situation.
It’s actually pretty simple. It’s very contagious. It’s like parking at the mall. It goes like this: When I go to the mall, I park in the first available space. I walk from the car to the store. I take time to enjoy being outside. I admire the different rims on all of the different cars. I enjoy the variety of paint colors on all of the cars. I smile at people walking and driving by me and wave to those who make eye contact. If, by chance, it’s raining, I inhale the sweet smell of the falling rain whilst strolling under my umbrella.
I hold the door open for those coming in with me and those exiting with small children and packages. I use all of those basic manners taught to me by my parents oh so many years ago. The process is amazing. Most people in this situation are not used to being in contact with someone who genuinely wants to give a positive moment to their life. The people around me transform as they thank me, or return my “pardon me” as we narrowly miss each other in the crowded isles. The minimum wage checkout people return smiles and begin to enjoy the moment rather than dreaming of a beer after work or stressing over bills.
With my calm serenity and my refusal to give in to the mundane stressors of the day, I have not only conserved my energy for more constructive endeavors, I lead those around me, even those who have had only the slightest interaction with me, into a better place. During this process, I discovered that it’s all about the little things and all about the moment. Those little things and those moments, those are the things that gather momentum exponentially. Those are the things that form our emotions, our thought patterns, our relationships and ultimately, our destiny.
With my new approach and attitude I discovered something. Suddenly I was no longer the follower. I was the leader! I was the calm rational person everyone turned to. I was the force. What a difference this has made in my life! The best part is knowing that not only was I in control of my own life, but that I could show this process to others and they could use it to develop their untapped leadership potential.
The first thing I had to learn before I could make any real changes was to abandon many of my perceptions. I had to understand the difference between the important and the menial in order to sort them apart. At the end, I had a much better idea of what I not only wanted to accomplish in my life, but what I needed to do so I could enjoy the time God gave me.
Realization number one was a pretty amazing one. Little children, even the kindest of them, are quite self-centered. They have no concept of a world without them. They see life as the here and the now and just the here and the now that they are in. They know how to enjoy the moment for what it is. As we grow older we become aware of the world around us. We like to think we are informed. This information allows us to worry about things like traffic and global warming. We anticipate things in the future that we have no control over. We regret and/or long for the things in the past. That is a huge burden to put on oneself!
That burden causes stress. Releasing that burden can eliminate stress. What a concept that is! Once that stressor is removed, just imagine what that energy can be put toward. Just imagine what can be accomplished. I decided that 99% of the burdens I carried around were unnecessary and that 1% I needed to keep could be handled with a bit of help from a higher power. My elimination list began. I started with some of the most obvious things I could think of.
I started with traffic – I used to be one of those drivers who had to be first to get somewhere. I don’t know where I was going that risking my life was not as important as that extra thirty seconds I would gain by passing the panel van, but it must have been something. Traffic happens and it happens worse because of people who drive like I did.
How do I eliminate stress from traffic? I have to go to work. I have to get places. It started by changing my perspective and then creating a plan to allow me more time to arrive safely at my destinations and enjoy the ride a long the way. (The more I engaged in releasing stress around the little things, the more time in my life I had to live happily and with enjoyment.) Breakthrough! Yes, that one statement was the key to all of it.
That 99% of stress, wanting something, feeling like something has to be done right away or feeling like everything has to be fixed now … I had spent so much time worrying about what has to be done now to either make up for lost time yesterday or get to ready for tomorrow that I had forgotten how to enjoy being in the moment now. I’d be willing to bet there are many people who feel the same way.
The solution took some time and some effort to implement. Once I had it in place I realized that there was much more to it than fixing myself. I had to reach out to the people closest to me and show them how to implement the solution to a more serene life. I had to show them, by leading with example how changing their perspective would benefit them. That way, I would be constantly reinforced by the positive energy all around me. It all goes back to being contagious. I didn’t want to allow the stress to contaminate me again so I had to get away from it.
I wanted to play True Colors™ and be voted “unflappable” and finally, I was able to do just that. No more drama queen with a soap opera life. That girl had figured out a way to exert some control over her life. Yes, I figured out how to eliminate the stress. Well, that was the beginning. Today, I enjoy the now. I am not careless with my obligations for tomorrow. I just plan properly for them so that there is no stress involved. My relationships are better with my husband, parents, children, family and friends. My career has no boundaries. The possibilities seem endless.
Yesterday I had lunch with a very young friend of mine. She was planning on making a career change and wasn’t sure how to go about a few of the steps. We talked for three hours. We drew communication diagrams. I tried to bring out all that she had to offer. When I got home I had an email from her: “I just wanted to say that you truly inspire me! Lunch was great, thanks again. It’s nice to finally talk to someone who’s smart AND motivated. Anyway thanks for the advice, I put in my two weeks notice and Rich shook my hand like he was proud of me”.
To do that for one person gives me so much to be grateful for. My workshops and writings allow me to share with so many others and it is truly a blessing. I built the foundation of stress and anger elimination for myself to change my life. It did, and now I am leading the way to share it with the world.
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