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  November 25, 2011
Taking Control...


"God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...the courage and strength to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know the difference" ~ Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr

On my desk there is currently a "to-do" list two pages long.  There are several requests for proposals and/or quotes, budgets for next year, people to follow-up with, marketing projects, website fixes and up-grades, as well as a multitude of other assorted tasks that any small business owner may be responsible for doing.

If I so desired, I could work 16 hours a day, 7-days a week but in the end...I’d still have a two-page "to-do" list on my desk...

One might believe that because I have so much to do...my life is full of stress.  In reality, I’m really no busier than other people and in fact, most of time I am typically less stressed than many of my friends and colleagues.

Am I less stressed because I don’t care or because I do a lot of stress-reduction exercises like yoga and meditation?... No, not particularly (although I do attend a yoga class periodically just to get in some good stretching). 

The keys to stress reduction are found by examining the two main factors of stress creation.

The first primary cause of stress is the loss of control.  We all want a certain amount of autonomy in our lives.  We all want to control our own destiny and not rely on other people’s decisions or actions.  When we feel that we have no control over a situation, it causes a certain amount of stress and fear within us. 

We worry about losing our jobs, our house, or our retirement accounts.  We get stressed when our flight gets cancelled or when we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic.  We get disappointed when we don’t make a sale to a customer who clearly needs our product or service.  While it is true that poor planning may have contributed to our current circumstances, the solution is beyond our own control.

Unmet expectations are another form of control loss.  We expect people to behave the way we want them to behave and when they don’t, we get angry.  We worry about when our children make poor decisions and do things that they shouldn’t do.  We get upset when our sports teams lose.  We get mad at politicians, bankers, insurance companies, organized labor, and the legal system because we believe that they have betrayed the trust we have placed in them.  We feel alone when our relationships end or our significant others don’t measure up to what we want or expect.

We have no control over other people...their thoughts, their behavior, their attitude, and their emotions are all individual unique to them.  We can only control how we act and how we respond to others.

The second primary cause of stress is time (or lack thereof).  It’s not the amount of work that causes stress...it’s adding the element of time and creating deadlines that creates stress in people.

I often found myself highly stressed in college because students were expected to learn and understand a subject within a specific allotted time frame.  There would be a test given on a particular day and time.  If you didn’t know the material by then, you would fail.  It didn’t matter if you learned the subject matter an hour, a day or a week later...the test was over.  The deadline had elapsed.  Move on.

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed that less and less things have true hard deadlines.  Even when paying your taxes with a hard April 15 deadline, there are time extensions.  And if you don’t meet the extension time frame...then you pay a penalty and some interest...life goes on.

If you remove the time and control components, then the stress simples melts away.

Which brings us to the holiday season...

The holidays can be extremely stressful to many individuals because...

  1. We simply cannot control all of the possible outcomes and we cannot control the thoughts or actions of other people.
  2. There are deadlines.
There is the turkey that is still frozen the morning of Thanksgiving.  The late November snowstorm that cancelled or delayed flights throughout the Northeast.  Guests arrive several hours late due to gridlock traffic and are in a foul mood.  The plate of stuffing that was accidentally knocked over by children playing the kitchen.  The belligerent relative who consumed too many adult beverages.  A screaming baby who is colicky.

There is the lights to be hung, trees to be trimmed, gifts to be purchased and dinners to be planned all before the December  25th deadline arrives.  There are packed shopping malls, where even finding a parking space is a challenge to most.  There are toys to assemble, cookies to bake and school Christmas pageants to attend.

There are the last-minute travel arrangements that need to be made. 
There are 2012 budgets and the new product launch that need to be completed before the new-year.  There are smaller than expected year-end bonuses due to smaller profits but seemingly more work.  There are office parties and get-togethers at close friends both on the same night.  There are babysitters to arrange.

Too much to do...not enough time...UGH!!

Stop!...take a deep breath...relax...it’ll be okay...I promise.
Time to remove the stress elements...

Maybe this year you decide to spend your Thanksgiving and/or Christmas serving meals down at the local homeless shelter or spending it with an elderly shut-in...instead of hosting a dinner for 30 people at your home...your family will understand...and if not...it’s their issue not yours...

Maybe this year you decide not to buy gifts to exchange but rather give a donation to "Toys for Tots"...maybe you family can "adopt" a local family who don’t have resources to exchange gifts this year...your kids might even learn a valuable life lesson in the process...and be a bit thankful for what they have.

No need this year to buy a tree or hang outdoor Christmas lights...but instead you plant a tree (or two or three) at your local park...for all to enjoy for years to come (you might even want to jazz it up with some bio-degradable tinsel).

Perhaps this year you accept that smaller bonus with a big smile knowing that you’re still employed while so many are without a job this holiday...and think how quiet it’ll be around the office with everyone gone and the phones not ringing...plenty of time now to finish those end-of-the-year projects.

Suppose this year, you stayed at home playing a classic board game completing a jigsaw puzzle rather than go out with friends, watching endless sports on TV, or traveling out of town to see relatives.

The holidays don’t have to be stressful...it’s a season for giving thanks and spreading joy...not killing ourselves trying to make things perfect. 

We have the power to make our lives what we want...if we don’t like our situation...then we can change it...it may be a challenge to many of us...but it’s our life...we demand better!

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try to create peace rather than stress in people’s lives.


Jim Kalb

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