It’s common to complain that “this or that person stressed me out,” or that a particular situation creates undue stress in your life. It’s even more common that these “stressors” are external conditions or people under which we have little or no control. This creates a feeling of helplessness that affects both confidence and effectiveness. A hard truth is that much of the stress leaders endure in the workplace, or in their personal lives, is self-induced. It’s not a matter of conditions, but poor decisions that either create completely, or exacerbate, the impact of conditions as they arise.
There’s always going to be some degree of stress in life and at work (a sense of urgency to make something happen or solve a problem, deadlines that create renewed focus and resolve, standards that stretch comfort zones, accountability that creates the discomfort that fosters growth, and more) and I believe that can be very beneficial. Where stress starts to chew us up and spit us out is when it goes beyond those beneficial bounds and depletes us, and that’s where we are prone to make things worse by poor decisions. Following are a handful of thoughts and strategies to reduce the unnecessary, self-induced, stress that inhibits your performance, and can hijack both joy and health from your life:
1. Don’t be your own worst enemy.
Where stress is concerned, one’s personal leadership style is often the biggest culprit. If you don’t trust others and thus micromanage them; do a poor job of controlling your emotions; don’t delegate; lack daily focus; overreact to what’s incidental; can’t get over offenses and move on; and the like, then no one will ever have to defeat you. You’ll blow yourself up. It’s just a matter of time. Most all of the issues mentioned here are matters of developing a healthier mindset. If you haven’t read or listened to my book, Unstoppable, do so as it will help you in this regard. So will listening to my podcast, The Game Changer Life. Your business is only going to get better when you do, and real improvement begins with upgrading the quality of your thinking.
2. Learn to say “no.”
To reduce stress at work you’ve got to stop letting your mouth overload your back by taking on more than you have capacity to handle, or allowing someone to dump more of their work on you because you won’t speak up for yourself.
For example, when someone asks you to take on something that you know you don’t have the time to do, say something like: “This sounds like a worthwhile project. Unfortunately, I have a number of pressing obligations at this time that would prevent me from doing a good job with what you ask. But I appreciate your confidence in thinking of me.” Or, to save time, simply say “no.” “No” is a complete sentence.
3. Delegate to competent others.
Delegate or outsource your weaknesses and non-priorities to others. This is especially helpful when it is something that someone else – who is closer to it that you – can do as well as you, or will become more productive and valuable in learning how to do it and not having to wait on you to get it done. Certain nickel and dime decisions that others constantly wear you out with are a good place to start in this regard. It’ll make both you and them more productive and less stressed.
4. Stop winging it and start preparing.
Making your day up as you go along because you failed to structure it properly creates a reactionary leadership style that worsens stress. Remember: the more you prepare, the less you have to repair. Wise leaders don’t expect to improvise their way to the next level. They understand that failing to prepare is both lazy and reckless.
Consider this: it is estimated by time management experts that the ratio of preparation to time saved in execution is 3:1. In other words, 10 minutes of preparation saves 30 minutes of execution, one hour of preparation saves three hours of execution, and so forth. This makes preparation one of the highest returning investments in business and life! And not only does preparation build confidence as you face a day, it also reduces stress in the process. In fact, lack of confidence is a common culprit of stress.
5. Upgrade your skill level.
A key reason leaders feel overwhelmed or inferior is that they don’t have the skills to perform their job at optimal levels. This is why lifelong learning for anyone in a leadership position is not just a “feel good” idea – it is mandatory to sustain your success, build your confidence, and eliminate stressful situations for which you’re not qualified to handle. Getting outgrown by peers and by the industry is stressful. It’s also entirely preventable. If you’ve been outgrown it’s your fault. So fix it.
6. Become more coachable.
Even the most seemingly harsh feedback or coaching often has a grain of truth in it that can help you improve if you’ll set your withering ego aside and consider it. Before you get stressed out and dismiss your next critic – and then create more stress by rehearsing their “offense” again and again – look for that one biting bit of truth that will help you become a better leader, then make the necessary adjustment. This will also help you accomplish what was shared in point five.
7. Stop procrastinating.
Procrastination immobilizes you and stresses you out repeatedly…over the same issue. Developing the discipline to make yourself do what you don’t want to do, but know you should do, is a key to growing as a leader and eliminating huge amounts of stress. To pull this off you’ll need to develop the self-accountability to do what must be done even when you don’t feel like doing it; even when it’s not easy, cheap, popular, or convenient.
As you can see, pretty much everything listed here that may be ailing you and causing you undue stress is self-induced. In other words, it’s your fault. And that is really good news because when it’s your fault you can fix it.