Stress is not a medical or psychological problem; it’s a purely philosophical problem. Just as you can choose a deadly diet or a healthy diet, you also can choose to be stressed or joyful.
Most employers seem to be unaware that stress in the workplace costs businesses in the United States as much as $400 billion each year. That’s about $7500 per employee that’s lost because of absenteeism, medical costs, turnover, and so forth. Extreme damage and expense comes, of course, when a stressed employee or former employee goes postal and takes out his revenge with guns and knives.
Even when employers put out big bucks to hire the best orthodox professional they can find to help employees at all levels to deal with their stress, statistics show that the results usually are small and short-lived. Just Google it online and you’ll see that’s true. Failure is inevitable, of course, because the standard protocol for dealing with stress is to treat only the symptoms. They suggest that you take some deep breaths, do a little yoga, have yourself a warm bath, take a mini-vacation, go hit something and pretend it’s the person you hate, meditate etc. And if none of that works, of course, you can always medicate. Take those little pills for depression, anger management, PTSD, and so forth. And then when those come close to killing you or prompting you to kill yourself, go see one those lawyers who advertise on TV about how to sue the drug companies.
If you took your car to a garage and told him your “check engine” light was on and he said, “Oh, I can fix that,” and snipped the wire going to the light, I’m sure you’d be a little disappointed with that. You’d expect him to find the cause of the problem and fix that so the light, which is just a symptom of the problem, would go out, wouldn’t you?
So, why is it that we let physicians and psychologists and psychiatrists get by with just clipping the wire when we have a problem with stress?
The reason is that most professionals in the business don’t even know what causes stress. They have a list of events that they have to memorize that tells them if you have a lot of stress or not so much. Death of a mate is supposed to be one of the prime stressors. It rates 100 on the scale. But what if a guy hates his well-insured wife and has been running around with another woman for years? You think he’ll be stressed when his mate kicks the bucket? Not likely.
So, what causes stress? To get at that answer, we first need to understand what the basic unit, the atom if you will, of all behavior is. And that is the goal. We usually think of goals as the major missions we take on in life: earn a degree, make a million dollars per year, marry our ideal mate, and so forth. Some of us might even have a bucket list of goals that we want to achieve before we die.
In reality though, every molecule of behavior, no matter how small or large, starts with a goal. And every successful goal has four parts: What? How? When? Why? If you detect an itch, you automatically set a goal to relieve that specific itch. How? By scratching it with your nails. When? Right now. Why? Because it feels good and makes you more comfortable.
Now, every time you set a goal, whether consciously or subconsciously, it creates a little tension in your mind and your body. Tension and stress are on a continuum, like pleasure and pain. If somebody gently scratches your back, it feels good. But if they dig in with their nails as hard as they can, it hurts. Same with tension. Stress is tension that hurts. James Dean in “Rebel Without a Cause” provided a good example of stress when he screamed out to his parents, “You’re tearing me apart!”
Tension is good. It’s your motivation. It’s what gets you moving. But, in spite of popular opinion by professionals, there is no such thing as “good stress.” All stress is bad because stress, as I define it, makes you stupid, sick, and eventually dead.
With that said, what causes stress? This is the most important question you’ll get the answer to in this article because you will be able to find it anywhere else, and it literally can save your life if you understand and accept it. All stress is caused by the harboring in your own mind of one or more impossible goals!
Now, if you saw a six-year-old kid out in the yard flapping his arms, you might ask him what he’s doing. And if he says he’s going to fly up to those clouds, you might find that amusing. But if you saw a grown man doing that, you’d say he was stupid. You know that’s an impossible goal. But did you know that things we all do every day are just as impossible and potentially even more stressful?
Goals are impossible because of time, space, or circumstances. You can’t do anything yesterday – or even a moment ago. You can’t be here now and somewhere else now. You can’t change the weather. You can’t change the world economy. And, most importantly, you can’t set goals for anybody or anything else except yourself. You can try. As a person of authority or a thug with a gun, you can force another person to set a goal for himself, such as to work overtime or hand over his wallet. You can force him to serve you in many ways, but you can’t make him love or respect you or like what he’s doing. Remember your mama saying, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink”?
People even try to set goals for God, but you really cannot even set goals for a dog. A story I wrote for children is about a little girl who wanted a kitten but got a puppy instead. And so she spent a lot time trying to make that dog meow. Needless to say, she stayed stressed out, and so did the puppy until another little girl came along who loved that puppy just as he was. How much time do you waste trying to make the dogs in your life meow?
Since we now know the cause of all stress, the most effective treatment for that malady is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Since an impossible goal is in your own mind, just cancel it. And if it’s important enough to you, and it’s possible to change the how or the when to achieve it, then go for it.
If you practice on the little potential stressors every day, then one day you’ll be able to handle the big ones with just as much skill. Just as you can’t jump up from the couch one day and run a marathon, neither can you start out successfully dealing with such huge potential stressors such as death of a loved one, a serious accident, or losing your job until you’ve learned to deal with the little ones, such as traffic jams, rude clerks, rain on your picnic, etc.
Start out every day by saying to yourself, “This day I set only possible goals for myself. I cancel any and all goals I have tried to set for other people or events.” If you’re religiously inclined, turn that into a little prayer. “Lord, help me to set goals only for myself. Help me to recognize when I am being stressed by an impossible goal so I can cancel it and use that time and energy to pursue good goals.”
A good place to practice is on the highway. Here’s a little trick that can help keep you from mixing it up with the asphalt outlaws. When you start your engine, repeat this little mantra: “What’s the game? To get home safely. How do I play? Avoid all contact with opposing players.” Then, when you get on the highway, move out of the way for tailgaters and keep a good distance from cars in front of you. The road ragers will be able to tell that you’re not playing their game, so they will leave you alone.
Here’s another very important fact you need to be aware of. At any one time, you are operating with one of only three emotional mindsets that are available to you. They are love, hate, and fear. These mindsets are mutually exclusive and exhaustive, meaning those are the only three available to you and you can be in only one at a time.
When you are in one of these mindsets, for all practical purposes, you are a different and unique personality. It’s easy to see this when you observe somebody whose brain is impaired by an overdose of alcohol. You have the sweet drunk, the paranoid drunk, and the mean drunk. The mean drunk comes home, beats his wife, children, and dog, and then collapses on the bed. Next morning when he wakes up and sees the damage he’s done, he says, “Honey, I’m so sorry. I can’t believe I did that to you.” His sweet, Spiritual (love) self actually didn’t do that. It was his mean, hating self that I call Genetic.
Now, unless you’re under the influence of drugs or have some other hardware problem, you can choose which mindset you want to manage your affairs of the moment by choosing your labels for the person, thing, or event you’re observing. What you’re doing is managing your emotions instead of having your emotions manage you. If you call that rude driver a no-good piece of camel dung, then you’re going to have a hate mindset for him. With that kind of anger, you’ll have no more control over your actions than does a mean drunk. Think of him as a pathetic lost sheep, and your Spiritual self emerges. You then are your wisest self and you don’t make stupid decisions such as blowing your horn, tailgating him, or shooting him a bird.
When you’re angry, you’re operating as your Genetic personality, and at that time your choices are just as stupid as the ones made by a mean drunk!
You always make your wisest decisions when you are able to conjure up your Cognitive-Spiritual self. That’s where you’ll find win-win solutions to all confrontations, whether with employees, your family, rude people you encounter, or your dog that just messed up the rug.
The ultimate goal of all behavior is to be considered worthy by self and others. Like the wolf, we’re social animals. The alpha leader gets all the best of everything – food, lodging, sex, adulation — so being considered worthy helps you to survive and pass on your genes.
We all go around rating ourselves and others on a scale of zero to 10. If you consider somebody a 10 and your relationship with that person makes you feel like a 10, then you’re in love. Actually, you can love anything you can put a label on. You can love your pet, your car, your house, your garden. Some fortunate people actually love their job.
Now, if you want to love somebody, meaning you want to make somebody feel loved and appreciated, what you have to do is tap into that person’s value system and figure out what they consider a worthy person to be. Then you do and say things to help that person achieve their goal. If a lady in your life wants to feel pretty, intelligent, and independent, then you say and do things to make her feel pretty, intelligent, and independent. To hate her, just do the opposite.
Most people think they’re doing something holy and God-like if they go through the motions of forgiving another person. You often see people on television who proudly announce that they have forgiven some criminal who has committed a heinous crime against a member of their family. Actually, all that’s involved in true forgiveness is you cancel the goal you tried to set for somebody else, which is an impossible goal anyhow. Forgiveness is a favor you’re doing for yourself; you’re simply canceling an impossible goal so you can get rid of that needless stress.
When a reckless driver nearly runs you into a ditch, and you flare up with a hate label and a mindset of anger, that’s a signal that you’ve set the goal for him to honor your space on that highway and to be as considerate of your safety as you would be of his. When you recognize that you’re stressed, you’d be wise to identify that impossible goal and cancel it, and immediately you are at peace with the world again.
It is only when you are able to avoid setting impossible goals in the first place and immediately cancelling the ones that do crop up with us imperfect humans that you are able to experience a peace that surpasses all understanding.
By rejecting stress, you choose joy.
The Psychoharmonics® system is like a jigsaw puzzle with a thousand pieces. This article gives you only about a dozen of them. You’ve been given just enough, hopefully, to pique your interest. To find the other 988 pieces, see: https://doctorstress.com/ It’s free, and no sign-in is required.
If you’ll at least study the synopsis of the Psychoharmonics® system, you’ll learn to be a better leader, a better mom or dad, a better mate, and a better friend to yourself.
The system works. All you have to do is work the system.
It’s up to you: Stress is a choice; so is joy.