How To Murder Stress, Redux

Tuesday, 3:29pm
Reno, NV
I can’t seem to face up to the facts, I’m tense and nervous and I can’t relax…” (Talking Heads, “Psycho Killer”)

Howdy…

I’ve gone back to the archives again, just cuz they’re so freakin’ stuffed with excellent posts that should NEVER fade into history.

When I find timeless posts that deliver essential tools for your Entrepreneur’s Survival Kit, I like to re-post them here (cuz I know you’re too lazy to go searching for them yourself, you dangerous slacker, you).

So, in this emotionally-charged election year, with the economy and the fate of the globe on people’s minds, I’m thinking another little primer on stress is needed. (The best advice I ever heard from a medical professional was… after I’d said “I’m not feeling so hot, but it’s just stress”… “It’s never JUST stress, Carlton. Stress is bad, bad, bad, and it’ll kill you just as readily as having a piano drop on you from the 6th floor.”  That woke me up to the reality of the chemical stew I was brewing in my system, bubbling with bad hormones and corrosive juices.)

We’re not built to survive on a steady diet of stress. We self-destruct when it gets too severe.

Okay, here’s the post. See if you can relax enough to at least read it…

——————–

Howdy.

What’s the matter, Bunky?

The news got you down?  The economy keeping you up at night?  Are sales in the toilet, creditors stalking you, clients not returning calls, the sheer angst of living in a modern tech-drenched world chewing holes in your gut?

Would you like to hear how grizzled veterans handle the evils of stress?

It’s good stuff… because, as everyone should realize, you don’t get to BE a grizzled veteran if you can’t handle stress.  Cuz that shit will eat you alive and send you to an early grave.

In fact, this is easily one of the fundamental tools for surviving the Never-Ending Cage Fight O’ Bidness.  I noticed, in the first years of my freelance career (when I was searching semi-desperately for clues on how to become successful), that there were biz owners who were having fun… and there were other owners not having any fun at all.

Age had nothing to do with it.  Nor health (though the fun-havers consistently were in better shape).  Nor gender, nor — and this is important — how successful they were.

The difference was simply how they handled stress.

Not what they KNEW about stress.  Jeez Louise, some of the worst ones could quote verse-and-chapter on the latest Ivy Tower studies, and would rattle off their blood pressure, pulse and Vitamin D levels at the slightest provocation.

No.  What mattered was how they dealt with it.

Because if you’re alive… dude, you’re gonna encounter stress.  Rich, po’, self-employed, unemployed, smart, dumb, pretty, pretty ugly, alert or half-asleep…

… humans have been guaranteed an unrelenting marriage with stress ever since we left the real jungle for the asphalt one.

So, basically, forget about avoiding it.

What you want to do… is learn how to kill it.  Over and over and over again, as often as necessary, whenever you need to do it.

You can develop your own way of accomplishing this.  And good luck to ya.  Stress is a Class Triple-X Monster that has ground down many a good man to a sobbing little nubbin’ before.  It changes you at the cellular level… where brain synapses snap, where your DNA percolates, where the microscopic Engines O’ Evil fire up and start generating the crap that will clog you up.

Most folks “deal” with stress by waiting for it to boil over into crisis-mode, so they can spend their savings and every moment of consciousness left trying to fix what’s broken.

There’s a plan for ya.

Much better plan: Just gather a couple of good tools for your Bag O’ Tricks, and use them.  And gird your loins, and get after your dreams knowing you’ve prepared the best way possible to engage with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.

To get you started, here’s what I came up (which has worked fairly nicely for 30 years):

Stress-Murdering Tactic #1: Moderation in all vices.

I am not a guy to emulate, if you’re looking for clues to a perfect lifestyle.  Got my faults (yeah, yeah, I know it’s a long list), and did some dastardly things in my time…

… but you know what?

I yam who I yam, and I’ve come to terms with it.  I used to fight with myself over the little things, like “how to be the best person I can be.”  And that just caused problems.

Because I was defining the word “best” the way OTHER PEOPLE would define it.  I was comparing myself, constantly, against measurements erected and maintained by someone else.

Once I let go of that ridiculous pursuit, I kind of settled into a nice groove.  I’m not the healthiest guy you know, but I’m not a walking keg of butterfat, either.

What I realized is that I like my little line-up of vices.  And life would not be as happy or — gasp! – successful as it is, if I didn’t cut myself some slack.

The first rule for battling stress — if you can’t walk away from it (which is actually the best rule, when you can pull it off) — is to be healthy.  Because stress destroys everything good in your system, and uncorks massive floods of the bad stuff.  Your endorphins get smothered and gang-raped by adrenaline and stomach acid.

We all know the recipe for being “healthy”: Clean up your diet, get your ass outside and exercise, and stop partying so much already.

Still, how you do that has a little flexibility.

For example: I love me some hamburgers.  Yes, I do.  So once a month (sometimes — sometimes — twice) I treat myself to a burger-and-fry orgy at In-And-Out.

Not every day.  Not every week.

Every once in a while.

I’ve got friends who are fit and thin, subsisting on twigs and lawn clippings, who never, ever, ever, ever even think about eating a slice of pizza.

Okay, they’re happy (or smug) about being healthy.  But no pizza, ever?  That’s not enjoying a successful life in my book.

I also have aggressively-clean-living friends who are nice people… but everyone is always waiting for them to leave, so the party can get started.  They’ll live to a ripe old age… but remain boring-as-fuck until the end.  I’ll take a few less years, and stay with my plan of going for the gusto, thanks.

Make up your own mind about what “healthy” means to you… and then get after it.  A fit, clear-headed, well-rested dude will be able to withstand more stress than the guy with the perpetual hang-over, bulging gut and wheezing arteries.

Still, life is for living.  Passion, desire, and raw urges are part of the deal… as long as you maintain moderation according to your system.  (That means, some of you can’t indulge in some things, because you can’t moderate it.  So you don’t do those things, or drink that stuff, or subject yourself to situations where you lose all sense of moderation.)

Stress loves it when you go overboard, on anything.  Work, romance, sports, hobbies, day trading, video games, whatever.  We’re an obsessive species, for sure, and that can be dangerous.

That still doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk, however.

To start getting the better of stress, examine your life choices… from what you eat, how you treat your body and what you spend your time at, to why you’re punishing yourself with immoderation and too much of a good thing.

Wanna know a secret?  I’ve hung out with athletes, trainers, health guru’s, doctors and other health-oriented experts for decades…

… and most of them do NOT live a strict life of no-fun.

In fact, they’re some of the randiest bastards I’ve ever dealt with.  Healthy body, sleazy mind.  Sometimes, somehow, they make it work.  The really successful ones have… wait for it… mastered the art of MODERATION.

So being healthy puts some mojo on your side in your battle with stress…

… but it doesn’t make you immune to it.

Stress is like your psycho ex-girlfriend, absolutely committed to stalking you for the rest of your days.

So get healthy, which gives you some breathing room.

But you still gotta find a way to HANDLE incoming stress when it slams into your system.

Which brings us to…

Stress-Murdering Tactic #2: Write up private “Status Reports”, constantly.

One of the ways stress gets you is to weasel into your brain and set up camp… so you’re thinking about bad stuff all day long, and waking up in the middle of the night (coated in slimy fear-sweat) to go over it all one more time, in detail.

Sometimes stress arrives like a car crash — sudden, violent, earth-shaking and dominating all your senses.  Like getting a call from a lawyer who gleefully announces you’re going to have to dance with him now, while he sucks up your net worth and lifeforce like a vampire.

Shudder.

Other times, the stress sneaks in under the guise of repeated, relentless tiny thumps against your heart and head.  It’s insidious, and you may not even notice that you’re a stressed-out nutcase until your hair starts falling out in clumps.

Or your doc notes that your blood pressure has spiked to “Dead Dude Walking” levels.

This is when you essentially hand over script-writing duties for your life to Mr Stress.  And his idea of a great plot line is the one where you’re sleep-deprived, leaking bile, and developing an alarming little twitch over your left eyebrow.

You wanna bust Mr. Stress in the chops?

Here’s my main tactic:  Write yourself a letter.

Take the phone off the hook, lock the door, and give yourself a solid hour to do this.

In this letter, you are writing to yourself 24 hours from now.  You are writing out a “Status Report” of your life at this moment.

Lay it all out.  All your troubles, all your faltering plans, all your suspicions about coworkers, all your fears about your health, happiness and future.

Be specific.  I like to use numbered items, so I don’t have to bother with segues between paragraphs or sentences.  Just lay out one thought, hit “return” on the keyboard and start on the next numbered item.

Don’t limit yourself, in any way.  You’re going to take pains that no one else sees this Status Report… so don’t hold back.

Stay focused on the fact that you’re writing privately to yourself, 24 hours hence.

What you’ll have, when you’ve exhausted all items on your mind, is a combination “To Do List”, and a candid assessment of your state of mind right now.

If you’re stressed, your plans for dealing with any of this stuff may actually be horrifically wrong.  But don’t get analytical about it while you’re writing.

What you’re doing is a very cheap psychological trick.

See, your brain is obsessing on what’s stressing you out…

… because it fears you’re going to forget about the details.

So it wakes you up, and eats at you all day long, just going round and round in a loop.

Writing it all down — all of it, the bad ideas and the brilliant realizations and the mundane shit that you can’t quite believe you care about — allows your brain to relax.

It’s all down in the Status Report, brain.  It’s safe.

Like a dog napping near his buried bone, you can relax.

By giving yourself a 24 hour “grace period”, you can REALLY relax… because you’re not giving up on what’s bugging you, you’re just putting it aside for a bit.

Now…

… go do something else.

Anything else.  Hell, go have some fun.  Leave Mr. Stress back with the Status Report, where he’ll be just fine for one day, and get jiggy with some vice (in moderation).

Here’s what will happen: Your unconscious will continue to mull over what you’ve written.

You’ve taken much of what was probably vague and non-specific, and made it “real” in your Status Report… so your unconscious now has much more to go on than before.  It will examine your thinking, deconstruct your plans, and poke at your soft spots.

Meanwhile, the conscious part of your brain is getting a much-needed respite from obsessing over your problems.  You may even be able to sleep like a baby, knowing your letter is safe somewhere, and your internal genius is cooking everything nicely.

And when you get BACK to your Status Report in 24 hours…

… you will suddenly have perspective you couldn’t muster before (because obsession blocks it)… you will be able to see your plans in fresh light, more realistically… and lots and lots of stuff that is kick-starting your stress engines will be visible.

Do you doubt this can work?

I can only tell you this “let the unconscious work it out” is a primary tactic for people who write professionally.  The great adman David Ogilvy slept on problems, after assigning his mind the task of arriving at a solution when he awoke.  I (and many other writers I know) stuff my head with info, and then go take a nap or a walk or engage in a hobby (it’s called “getting cold” on the material)… knowing that when I return to my desk, I’ll have multiple headline ideas flood my consciousness as soon as I hit the keyboard.

The headline that bubbles up may or may not be the one that makes it to the final draft.

Nevertheless, the hard work of sorting through the vast amounts of info has been done, and clarity ensues.  And you will have a fresh view of things, which is impossible when you’re down in the trenches of stress.

Finally…

Stress-Murdering Tactic #3: Change things around.

Armed with your new clarity about what’s stressing you out, and why…

… you now have options you may have not believed were possible before.

My favorite consulting tactic for a long time has been the “Two Lists” technique.  You make two lists about any subject — your job, your new product, your love life, whatever — and on List One you write out all the things you want to happen, or want to engage in…

… and on List Two you write out all the things you do NOT want to happen, or have to engage in.

Then, as much as you can, arrange things so the items on List One happen, and the crap on List Two do not.

Get moving on changing things.  Mr. Stress HATES it when you’re proactive.

Simple, but profound.  You want to make a ton of money, fast?  But you don’t want to go to jail?  Then drop your plans of heisting gold from Fort Knox.

You want a steady income, but also a lot of free time?  Then don’t start a boutique biz in a mall.

You want a great, lasting relationship, minus the drama of strange-fruit romance?  Then stop dating hookers.

And so on.

Much of the stress in your life — and please trust me on this — is from your internal “Fight or Flight” instincts… which are the default options all humans have, which are also thwarted, teased, and stalled in perpetual high gear when you try to navigate modern life.

Sometimes, you just gotta man up and deal with it.  But in your ape-mind (the primitive part that has no clue whatsoever we aren’t still in the jungle lollygagging in ponds and gorging on bananas) every threat has a beginning, but no END.

It’s just full-bore “THREAT! RUN AWAY! NO, FIGHT! NO, SHIT YOURSELF AND HIDE! NO, BITE SOMETHING!”…

… even when it’s just a voice message from the IRS about some deduction you took a year ago.

Or even if it’s an earthquake that knocks all the books off your shelf.  Or news of a stroke in the family, or the stock market tanking, or a glimpse of your psycho ex hiding in the bushes across the street, or I dunno.

Choose your poison.

The thing is… sometimes you’re under stress because you don’t know what to do to resolve a problem that wasn’t your fault and you couldn’t have foreseen.  You’ve got to wait, and you feel out of control.  And that sucks.

Or… sometimes you’re just hitting yourself in the head with a hammer, and you’ve somehow convinced yourself you HAVE to keep doing it, because

… well, there’s the rub.  And that “because” may not hold up so well once you examine it, let your unconscious get after it, and give it a fresh look.

Maybe your stress is coming from the fact you’re doing something you don’t really need to be doing.

Mr. Stress doesn’t care why he’s in your head. Legitimate reason, or bullshit reason, it’s all the same to him.  Rubbing his hands together, he’s just eager to open the valves on your adrenaline and cortisol and other poisonous reserves.  For him, it’s heaven to have the Stressed-Out Movie play all day and all night long, over and over and over again.

You’ll never get rid of the little bastard completely.  He’s a weed, a zombie that returns from the grave without notice.

But you CAN murder him when he arrives.

It’s justifiable homicide, too.  And life is soooo much nicer in a low-stress groove.

I’ll bet there are twig-eating, fun-deprived folks reading this in a lather right now, seething about being called “boring”… and outraged that anyone would defend pizza.

So, have at it in the comments already.

What’s your stress-busting tip?

Stay frosty,

John

19 Responses to How To Murder Stress, Redux

  1. Hi John,
    By far my biggest stress buster is my journal. I usually burn off stress by going for a daily 3-5 mile walk, but that tactic has been shoved to the curb this year due to that massive injury I spoke of in my other posts. Instead, my journal is the first thing I pick up every morning, as soon as my eyes are open.

    I do two things…the first is what I call a brain dump. Mr. Stress loves to slither into my brain and let loose before I’m awake enough to stop him, so my first task is to boot him out again. I dump everything that’s rattling around my head, from the “I have no clue how we’re going to eat this week” worries to the full-bore “life sucks and it’s not fair” bitchfest. When my head has been emptied out, I put the pen down for a minute and catch my breath. Then I go on to part two.

    For part two, I make a list of everything I’m thankful for in that moment, like still having a roof and a bed, being able to eat breakfast—stuff like that. I make it a practice to find at least 20 things. Then, I take it a step farther and I say thank you for the things I don’t have yet (like a houseful of groceries, a full propane tank, a pain level that goes below a 4). This gets rid of the last of the crap and I’m ready to start my day properly.

    Before I got hurt this year, I would walk several miles a day, right after breakfast. With every step I took, I would say thank you for something else. This always turned my head around, no matter where it had started at. Now my journal is a substitute for the walking (which I hope to get back to by next year). I’ve filled up over 250 pages since I came home from the hospital in April. :-)

  2. This is great!
    I’ve been using the tactics of:
    nightly journal
    asking subconcious a question after loading up on info, before sleeping
    daily habit tracking using a monthly printed out spreadsheet

    I’ve gotten some very useful things out of this post, thanks John!

  3. one more thing!

    selfcontrol app on mac. alternative for windows is selfrestraint.

    combine that with asana for managing to do lists across multiple projects…and you’re set.

    also, 42min work, 10 min break, repeat, take longer breaks when necessary.

  4. For me, the biggest stress killer is being effectively proactive. This includes taking the time to meditate before I go to bed, pondering on what comes up and asking my “higher self” aka subconscious for guidance, getting insights during the night and when I wake up in the morning (my “higher self” wakes me up in the middle of the night when something important is up), and then, so important, FOLLOWING THROUGH on my inner guidance promptly and consistently. By doing this, I’m bringing the spiritual / divine into everyday living. Got tools for how to do this (free 7 pg. report) on my website WhatEveryoneBelieved.com and I’d like to share this with many.

  5. Hey John,

    Here’s how I like to Destroy stress:

    1. Something is pissing me off or stressing me out so I immediately go to my bench press and start throwing up some weight. It’s amazing when you’re benching 315 how much concentration that takes.

    2. If that doesn’t work I go to the bag and start punching it, combinations the whole deal. If that doesn’t work…

    3. Have a few drinks and start over in the morning!

    Take care,

    Bill Jeffels

    • Exercise is great for treating the immediate symptoms, yeah. But you still need to get to the bottom of what’s bugging you, and that’s why confronting what’s in your head on paper can work so well.

      Thanks for the note, Bill.

  6. Great topic.

    #1) reading books and playing games and cards with my daughter… there’s nothing more fun (or stress-relieving for that matter) than playing a game of Clue or rummy or uno w/family, or reading a good book out loud together; that’s my favorite thing in life.

    #2) My next-favorite way to destroy stress is to make more money, fast. Getting new 1sc sales emails is super. I’m happy when I have new sales coming in. So just for a quick stress buster I’ll do a one-off internal launch to my house lists, or offer a bundle package and fire off an email to everyone, and watch new sales come in. Then I take the family out for a high-end pricey dinner.

    #3) Music – listening. Watching concert DVDs on my sony projection home theatre in my mcmansion is fun. Tip: use Sony MDR 7506 headphones, those are the best. My favorite concert dvd this last few months has been the new one by Sade.

    #4) Music – playing. A close 2nd to watching only, I play my Ibanez guitar along with favorite concert dvds, at least once a week. sony amp output into a mixer, w/fx pedal, crank it into the headphones and play along for a couple hours, is the #1 stress-buster I’ve found. Preferably w/a glass of port.

    #5) Walking around expensive huge hotels. Here in Colorado I frequently visit the Broadmoor, and get an Americano w/extra shot of espresso and walk around the lake, or near the golf course.

    $6) poker. i like playing small stake live tournaments (blackhawk/vegas) live, and making it to final tables, is always fun.

    curiously, writing to me is work and i derive absolutely no stress relief from writing. tried journals and found no use in that. i derive income from writing, i make a boatload of sales from it, but it’s not relaxing. i publish industry articles and tips for my customers; writing is foundation for success. but music is way more relaxing. stress relief = being a musician, there Is no substitute… :)

    to dealing with stress in healthy ways,

    -k

    • Hi Ken. Yeah, journals can be a pain — they may work best for folks who tend to obsess about things by thinking about them. If you already have the ability to put thoughts aside and move forward, then journals would just be another chore for you. In other posts, I warn against becoming addicted to journaling — you get so invested in ranting privately that you forget it’s just a tool to move to the next step. That’s why I recommend the occasional letter to yourself, rather than a steady diet of working on your diary.

      Poker is one of those games that requires total concentration all right. Like scuba diving and sky diving — you tend not to allow thoughts of how much you hate your client when your brain is engaged fully. Walking is where I allow my mind to just free-think (though I carry a notepad), and between long easy hikes and long hot showers, most of my best ideas have arrived that way.

      Key is to find out what works for you. Thanks for the note.

      • Hi John… right re journals; overall they’re a big plus for most folks, and in my niche as well, trading, keeping journals of lessons learned is key to success. One alternative I do is flowcharting and mindmapping a Lot, being a visual-type guy.. so it’s just another form of journalling I suppose, with notes and relationships and linkages all mapped out, and then keep it alive w/updates over time… so it accomplishes a similar purpose.

  7. The status reports are a great idea. I started writing a weekly Monday morning status report to each client, just to let them know where things were at, but I soon found it helped me a lot more than it helped them! Putting it down in writing allows your brain to stop niggling and worrying at it.

    And yeah, exercise is a biggie too – amazing how many great ideas and how much energy comes out of a brisk walk. It’s as if getting the blood moving around clears a lot of blockages.

  8. Hi John
    As someone who used to be known as “The coiled spring”and was so wound up, that staff literally used to carve profanities about me in the back of the toilet cubicle doors I knew a bit about stress.

    But hey, I was “successful”…

    That was until I discovered the get the shit out of your head and onto paper strategy you talk about here John.

    I’m not gonna go into details about what was going on then as that’s like a junkie shootin’ up again just to prove they’re in control and can give it up easily.

    Not necessary.

    Life is just too damn short to spend nursing ulcers and high blood pressure.
    Thanks for the reminder about how life was. It is not missed in any way shape or form at all.

    Stayin’ Frosty,

    Mike

  9. Two more questions for your list.

    Ask yourself…

    What’s the worst that can happen here?

    And then…

    Can I fix it?

    Is it really such a terrible problem?

    If yes on the last one…

    Is there a price (emotional, financial etc.) I can pay and be done with it?

    Then it’s time to tap your ultimate superpower….

    Your inner teenage girl.

    Roll your eyes, say what(pause)ever, and proceed to do what you know you have to do.

    I’ll toss in a sort-of-a-synonym for moderation too…

    Balance

    Too much or too little of anything can make you crazy.

    Watch for both while you’re listing things.

    • Good addition, Dave. Getting a clear reality check on how bad it really is, how fixable it is, and what the reality of pulling that off (vs ignoring it and just moving on) are great questions that can soothe the angst-ridden.

  10. John

    My Stress buster is similar – started on it the last time I read this post – it works and I salute you.

    1 Write a letter to whoever, or whatever is stressing me, being as abusive as possible,
    2 save it to my t”Sleep On It” folder
    3 then go out- may be something fun with the family and the hounds or get my hands around Big Bertha (Mrs Callaway, NOT the large lady in the flat above the Fried Chicken Franchise) – anything from my list of good stuff to do
    4 good meal with a glass or two of red.
    5 good sleep ( I normally get a solid 7-8 hours after following this)
    6 get up, good (healthy) breakfast
    7 read yesterday’s rant, put it in perspective and trash the letter.
    8 feel much happier
    9 crack on

    Cheers

    Ronnie

  11. John,

    publish a hard-cover book already man!

    Your thoughts, ideas and writing and gold and my bookshelf will NEVER be complete until you publish a physical book.

    Will you?

    The Boron Letters are amazing and I am *know* you have similar knowledge and stories.

    Your blog is amazing… but what about us ‘old-school’ folk who like to hold the book in our hand and feel the pages between our fingers as we take in every precious word you have to share.

    Do it Carlton!

    Who do we have to knock off so you can tell us all the dirty stories?

    Is it Blade. I dunno.
    Whatever.

    You rock!

  12. hi again ….
    since i am having really bad total recall momoent[so what better to watch, think will have to re run and skip over page 3 and make sure there nothing up my nose)

    the Ken respondee wid a c the dude wrote comment that is not there in brief: write out whatever you want sleep over it an dnt mail it was gona say thanx, gona practice that
    I did play poker John, ok twice only , lets call it at ward common room, first time got all Aces, the 2nd some years later, all jokers no kidding/ :P
    tarot wise interesting reading-
    neway since the above stress killer tips are more from mental auric body approaches-including mine

    a more physical body approach
    oil candles burner +tea light candle
    your choice of essential oils 5 drops max
    plus 2 drop blended flower essence [Jan de Vries brand is good {his books are well rated but not for me}]
    uhh method not mentioned In Gurudas books but has it merits
    neway movie just started its re run catch you poker player later

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