Monday, November 27, 2020
When you practice something, whether it’s playing a musical instrument or a game like golf, you do it over and over. Gradually, the more you practice, the better you get. That’s what many of us do with the negative parts of working life, like stress, rushing around, and making ourselves miserable and ineffective with distractions. We practice them until we become truly expert at producing them all. Maybe we need to practice something different.
At my church last Sunday, the speaker said something quite profound. It all began with him talking about a bumper sticker, with the words: “Good morning! Time to start on the stress.” Everyone laughed. Then he pointed out how many of us spend the major part of our time running over and over all the bad things of life in our minds: the messes at work, the jerks we encounter, and all those daily irritations and setbacks that tick us off. We practice being cynical and hardened until—guess what?—that’s exactly what we have become.
“Suppose,” he said, “that you met someone who regularly said, ‘Good Morning! Time to start on another wonderful day.’ Ninety percent of people would dismiss that person as a nutcase. The other ten percent would want to try whatever he or she was smoking.” We all laughed again, though a little ruefully this time. “What if,” the speaker went on, “you practiced being grateful instead of cynical and world-weary? Suppose when someone around you was angry, you reminded yourself to be grateful for the chance to practice your patience a little more?”
I can certainly do with as much practice in being patient as I can get. Far from hanging loose and letting it all go, I often get irritated when anything doesn't work right first time; or some driver in front of me stares at our wonderful Arizona mountains, instead of racing away the moment the traffic lights turn to green.
Everyone gets stressed from time to time. But if you practice it, you’ll become really good at getting as stressed as possible in as short a time as may be.Thanks to the speaker’s wise words, I started thinking, especially about stress and similar topics. Everyone gets stressed from time to time. But if you practice it, you'll become really good at getting as stressed as possible in as short a time as may be. You'll see sources of stress everywhere—even where other sufferers would not notice it. It’s the same with speed and haste. The more you rush at things, convincing yourself that there isn't a moment to be lost, the quicker your whole pace of life will become, until you are permanently on edge and permanently exhausted by running so fast.
Many of us practice being distracted too. The moment that the phone rings, you snatch it up. If an instant message arrives on the computer, you drop everything else to deal with it immediately. Then you also become so expert at responding swiftly to e-mails that you check every few minutes to see if any new ones need an answer. As a result, your working day becomes disjointed, your concentration fractured, and your time beset with constant interruptions. You flit from task, to phone call, to e-mail, to cell phone, and back to the task again; never spending more than a few minutes on any one thing. No, you are not suffering from attention deficit disorder. You have practiced so much that you have become really, really expert at being easily distracted.
What if you tried something different?
For a start, everyone knows that if you don't practice a musical instrument (or a golf game, or any other skill) for a while, you become rusty and your level of skill declines steadily. If you tried consciously to avoid practicing being stressed or distracted, the same would happen. You would become far less adept at it.
The best that you can do—and it's still very much worth it—is to avoid situations or actions guaranteed to pile on the problems.But that might take a long time. And while you could choose deliberately to avoid your piano or guitar—or stay away from the golf course—it's impossible simply to decide to keep away from all stress and every kind of distraction. Life serves them up, whether you want them or not. The best that you can do—and it's still very much worth it—is to avoid situations or actions guaranteed to pile on the problems. Don't join the group grousing around the water cooler. They're pumping up one another's stress level with all that complaining and gossip. Turn off instant messaging. Keep away from your e-mails, save at set times.
Still, most of us need something more, and that's where practicing the opposite behavior comes in. When you're stressed, be grateful for the chance to practice relaxing and improving your patience and detachment. Do the opposite from acting stressed. Take deep breaths. Relax and give yourself time to think. Really practice, as hard as you can, and do it again and again. Instead of rushing around, practice slowing down and using your mind to save your legs. When distractions arrive, practice ignoring them, even though your habits are screaming at you to snatch up the telephone, or check—just once—in case there's somethig important in your e-mail box. Then be grateful for these distractions that provide you with a priceless series of chances to practice being centered and concentrated on what you know matters most.
Over time, you'll become extremely adept at lessening the impact of life's irritations and upsets. You'll slow down and find enough time to live, as well as exist.The practice effect works just as well on good habits as poor ones. Over time, you'll become extremely adept at lessening the impact of life's irritations and upsets. You'll slow down and find enough time to live as well as exist. And because you are no longer continually practicing getting mad, being cynical, or becoming stressed, you'll find all of those states harder to get into.
Finally, remember to practice being grateful: grateful for all the people and events that help you to learn to live your life more gracefully. And grateful for what most of us ignore or take for granted: a spectacular sunset, birds singing of spring on a cold winter's day, the night sky blazing with stars, and friends and family to warm your heart—and to forgive you when you still get it wrong and screw up your own day. Gratitude is probably the single best antidote to stress. It's just that most of us never find the time to take a dose when we need it.
Great article. The timing could not have come at a better time. Thanks again for a great post.
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