8 November 2010

I was at the rugby on Friday night and a friend asked me,”How do you combat stress?”

I thanked her for considering me qualified to give her advice. As I began to explain what I do, I was reminded of several stressful eras of my life. How did I learn to overcome this negative emotion?

I use a formula that works very well for me in any situation. I tackle the problem from 2 fronts.

Some years ago, stress knocked me sideways and backwards at every turn. It consumed me at crucial times and spoiled a great many occasions and years of my life.

I had learned to accept stress as just one of those things we all have to deal with.

Shortly after I was 30, I was allergy tested. I was found to be intolerant to milk. I removed milk from my diet and the strangest thing happened. I used to write my letters in a jumbled fashion and struggled to read all the way through childhood and adult life. I also had a huge amount of energy and at times found it very difficult to control and as a child, others found it very difficult to control me! As a result I have always channelled every ounce of spare energy into exercise.

Once I’d removed milk from my diet, I immediately stopped being dyslexic. I became a great deal calmer and I was able to read for the first time in my life. It didn’t stop me from getting stressed completely but it helped considerably and I no longer stressed over small things.

But for those times when pressure mounts, I needed another strategy. I needed to understand “what is stress?”

Some people cope with significantly more stress than others. It was Bill Clinton who inspired me to go in search of a way to manage this emotion after I learnt he has the ability to park a problem and not worry about the outcome until it is absolutely necessary.

Back in those days when the business was just starting out, I couldn’t imaging harnessing my negative emotions. Nevertheless I started looking.

This is what I learned.

You can only really stress about something in the future. You can get frustrated by something in the past, but stress is the emotion created from things that are impending or unresolved.

So if you have a problem or a deadline, if you start worrying about the negative outcome, sure enough, this is where you will end up, in a negative place.

I learned,

1. Whatever you fear, you will focus on

2. Things that immediately make you feel good to escape the emotion need to be avoided or handled with care.

3. Avoid other people’s demands and focus on what is right for you.

I also learned that emotions aren’t real. They are the result of whatever you are focussing on at any given time. Whatever you focus on, you feel. By not taking emotions too seriously, I began learning how to manage them more effectively.

You can only feel one emotion at a time, this is a fact. You cannot feel happy and sad, frustrated and happy, annoyed and relaxed. Therefore, if you feel stressed, find another emotion.

Ok, you are thinking, “But I am stressed! I am in a place I cannot just step out of that easily. I have demands, worries!”

Actually, you can step out of it in an instant. You will not find me worrying about anything, ever, as long as I follow my strategy.

So, what do I do? Very simply, the one emotion I can call up from anywhere in an instant is “Gratitude.” Feeling grateful for things we take for granted. For the air we breath, for the life I have, my children, friends, family, for everything around me. Trust me, I can go on at this point.

This morning, I got up incredibly early, came to work, pumped up ready to do a run before writing this blog, and Gail and Rachael (wife and PA respectively) had changed the code for the keysafe on the wall outside my office last week. The result? I couldn’t get into my office. Boy was I stressed! This is me, the man who never stresses, stressing about  the smallest of things.

However, last month, 41,500 people kindly read my blog. I now feel a sense of urgency to get this written and online before the week kicks into action.

I couldn’t get through to Gail as all the phones in the house were switched to silent. I waited for 15 minutes and luckily Rachael arrived with her stress busting smile and unleashed me on the running machine.

What’s the first thing I did? I said “thank you for everything in my life,” listing everything and everyone.

Immediately, the stress is removed and replaced by gratitude and a sense of calmness.

Have you ever noticed just how many people who have experienced huge hardship go on to be incredibly successful? They simply go through their life just saying thank you, being grateful for the opportunity and therefore avoid a great many of the stresses that the average person (if there is such a thing) experiences.

I am doing a talk on the 16th November at 4pm in City Tower on the subject of Entrepreneurialism and one of the things I will discuss is my avalanche experience. One of the most horrific experiences imaginable being entombed and suffocated without warning or an opportunity to say “goodbye” to loved ones.

Boy, do I take every minute of every day seriously now. Every day has an experience and you can’t just have a day without making a difference. It is simply just a waste. Now if that becomes your primary focus, you already are prepared for every eventuality.

To complicate matters a little further, I’d also offer this as a piece of advice:

Tackle the thing that you fear the most. Just do it. Shake yourself up, over and over again, until you are good at whatever you need to do to avoid the fear.

This is a great discipline because it gives you an opportunity to predict the imminent fear and then practice the change in state to avoid it. By doing it in a controlled manner, when unexpected problems manifest themselves without warning, you will automatically revert to this strategy.

This is often referred to as stepping outside your comfort zone.

As I sit here in a chair overlooking rainy Manchester, life is very different now. Yet I don’t do anything massively different from 10 years ago. These slight changes over time make a huge difference to the final destination. Clarkie, a colleague and friend here at UKFast and an ex-military man, did some calculations to help me with this analogy.

A one degree difference in direction over a hundred yards is easily correctible. Set off from Heathrow airport and head for the Maldives, a one degree error would send you to Kabul. A very different destination and a world away, where you need very different skills to survive. I don’t think Gail would have been happy spending our honeymoon in Afghanistan.

If you manage to harness your subconscious and learn to manage your limiting beliefs, nothing on this planet can stop you from achieving everything you set your mind on. That one degree difference is worth the extra thought required. Next time you have too much on your plate or something winds you up, take a step back. Remember that this feeling is short lived, so don’t waste your emotions, say thank you.

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