Stress Is A Choice

One of the bigger discoveries in my life was that stress is a choice. I actually remember the moment this happened. It is still crystal clear in my mind. One of the best managers I’ve ever had at my business had just let me know that he and his fiancée had decided to move south and start their lives together in a new city. An employee came into my office and said, “You have to be SO bummed!”. I asked why, and he said, “You can’t replace Justin. You HAVE to be SO bummed.”

I was taken back by having this thrown in my face and reactively said, “Well, I’m not.” He said, “You can’t replace him. What are you going to do? You HAVE to be SO bummed!” I thought about it for a few moments and replied, “I choose to be happy for him. I choose to support him and his future. You’re right that I can’t replace him, but someone else will come along and they’ll do what they do, and I feel confident it will all work out alright”.

For some reason I’ve always thought about stress as a choice with the following scenario in my head. If I’m talking face to face with you, and for no reason you poke me in the eye, it was a life changing revelation to me that I didn’t automatically have to get mad. I could laugh. I could cry. I could sing and dance around the room. I could do whatever I wanted, and I didn’t need to be programmed to respond in just one way. Yes, I would feel the poke, but the rest was completely up to me.

I took that realization, and with practice, managed to completely change how I responded to issues and situations in my life. I managed to NOT choose stress in what had previously been “stressful situations”. At work I realized that getting stressed didn’t help me or the situation in any way. Like when Justin left, life moved forward and there was always a way to resolve whatever the problem was without falling down the rabbit hole of stress.

There are still the occasional times when my stress philosophy doesn’t quite work. Those are the times I tell myself, “You can be stressed for 5 minutes then NO more”. Well that theory is pretty silly and usually makes me laugh at myself and get over it even quicker. The real point is that I am in charge of my emotions. I don’t have to let people, places and situations dictate how I feel or how my day unfolds. And the theory isn’t just about stress. It also applies to patience, empathy, time management and any other emotional or motivational feeling that we have.

There is a lot of thought and theory on this line of thinking. This isn’t my original thinking. But I wanted to share my version as it truly helped me make a big change in my life. It helped me lead a happier, more relaxed and focused life. It made me a better leader. And, obviously, it lowered my stress.


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