The Less-Stressed Life

My 5-year-old announced boldly this evening: “I know alot about life.”

Me: “You do?”

5-year-old: “Yes I do”

Me:  “What do you know about life?”

5-year-old: “I know that when ever you are doing something bad, you should stop…And you should love Jesus…And God”

And with that answer, I was convinced that my little boy knows more about life than I do.  And he probably knows more about life than most everyone.  Because when you get right down to it many people continue to do things they shouldn’t.  We continue in behaviors we know are ineffective or unhealthy or just plain stupid.  How many times have you promised yourself that you would not yell at your children when they irritate you?  How many times have you committed to sticking to a budget?  How many times have you determined in your heart that you would stop smoking, or drinking so much, or having the same old argument with your spouse or your parents.   Yet…when we do something “bad”, we don’t stop!

The answer here is simple to talk about, but incredibly difficult to execute on.  The idea is to become intentional about your life, rather than reactive to your situation or your environment.  The psychological research tells us that when we are reactive to situations, we have a very difficult time modifying our behavior.  Basically, when we move away from a particular behavior by repeating a mantra like “I am never going to get irritated and raise my voice to my spouse again”, we usually fail miserably.  But when we move toward new behaviors by determining how we will respond to a particular stressor in an intentional way, we tend to actually change.  “My goal is to speak respectfully when I get irritated with my spouse and to state my point of view in an assertive rather than an aggressive manner.”  You see, in the second example you are being intentional in your goal and you are actually being proactive.  You are moving toward something.  Now don’t get me wrong, goals are hard to establish and even harder to follow through on.  If you want to create a good goal to work toward, start by writing it down.  The research also indicates that writing you goal down will make it more real to you and will facilitate follow through.  It also helps to create mini-goals that will help you slowly shape your behavior toward the ultimate prize of achieving real and lasting change.

Of everything I could choose to say about my little boy’s philosophy of life, the most important concept is clear: LOVE IS ESSENTIAL!  If you want to change something in your life, look at your motivations.  What is your life all about?  Are you busy taking care of #1?   If so, you  will not only be miserable (the surest way to be unhappy is to try really really hard to make yourself happy), but you will surely repeat the same old self-serving ineffective patterns.  So when you are writing down your new goals for your life that you plan to move toward, make sure you make your main goal to love God and to love people.   Maybe then you will be able to stop the madness and stress of your life.  Maybe then you will be able to finally quit being consumed by jealousy or stop yelling at your kids.  Maybe then you will actually stop those old behaviors and engage true, lasting change.

The latest research has identified several different kinds of thoughts that typically lead to stress.  I call these “Hot Thoughts,” meaning they will usually lead to a significant experience of stress.  I’ve included a summary of some of these thoughts so you can identify any that are at work in your life.

  • All-or-Nothing Thoughts.  Individuals with these hot thoughts tend to see things in absolute black-and-white categories.  Example:  “Either I am perfectly competent in everything I do, or I am a failure.”
  • Overgeneralization.  People with these thoughts assume bad events will happen over and over, or that things are always a certain way.  Example:  “The neighborhood dogs will always choose to relieve themselves on my lawn.”
  • Mental Filter.  This type of hot thought causes a person to focus on the negative parts of life and filter out the positive.  Example:  “My job is awful because I don’t get paid enough.”  (But you will overlook the fact that he has good work conditions, hours, etc.)
  • Magnification and Globalization.  People with these hot thoughts magnify their mistakes and make them a big deal.  Example:  “I’m terrible with the kids becasue I just yelled at them.”
  • Personalization.  These hot thoughts lead a person to accept blame for negative events involving others.  Example:  “My family would be well adjusted if it weren’t for me.”


If you are really ready to calm yourself down and defeat the power of stress in your life, your job is to confront these Hot Thoughts directly.  Start by taking an inventory of your thoughts when ever you start to feel stressed out.  My guess is you will see those Hot Thoughts surface almost every time!  Then begin to label the stress inducing thought like this, “That is just a globalization” or “I’m just overgeneralizing again”.  You will be amazed at how quickly this strategy will help you stress less!


(P.S.  This is an excerpt from my latest book, “Stress Relief for Life,” which you can find at bookstores everywhere or at–stressing/dp/1616383577/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1315351344&sr=8-1)

One of the things I have learned working with people in the clinical office is that connection with a supportive community of people is a key component to growth.  The following article captures the power of relationships pretty well.  Check it out…

Want to have a little fun with your friends? Ask married couples to respond to the following question: “What is the most essential component of a happy healthy marriage?” Chances are, at least 75% will respond by saying something like, “Marriage will only work if you have good communication”. It seems that everyone is convinced that communication is the foundation of a good relationships, but few actually know how to communicate in an effective manner. My time in the clinical office working with couples has confirmed that a person’s ability to communicate well is rooted in their ability to truly listen to their partner. The less a couple listens to each other, the less connected they are. The more a couple listens to each other, the more emotionally intimate they become. Check out this TED talk video in which Julian Treasure gives very practical advice on how you can develop better listening skills.