During my visits to corporates to deliver keynotes and leadership breakthrough workshops, of the conversations I have with people, the issue of stress – and how to deal with it keeps recurring. When asked about the cause for stress, the common answers I receive include:
- Business uncertainty
- Layoffs and job instability
- Work pressure
- Want for more income and luxury
- Long working hours
- Long commute
- Too many changes within the organizations
- Disruptions and quick innovations
- Being unhappy with the job
- Workplace conflicts and relationships
To live stress-free would be to deny our responsibility as leaders. Leaders have to make crucial decisions, lead teams, and stay focused on what they do. So, they’re going to be stressed. However, today most leaders are overstressed. Despite the best resources available to deal with stress, stress has only escalated. Stress isn’t the real problem in our life. The real problem is our inability to deal with what I call – our inner leader.
Stress isn’t the real problem in our life. The real problem is our inability to deal with what I call – our inner leader."
The nature of work, on its own, is never the real cause of stress. I’ve met CEOs who complain about stress, and janitors who complain about stress. What average leaders do is to complain about stress, whereas exceptional and successful leaders use stress as a pathway to growth and progress. One technique I use in coaching executives is what I call ‘M3’. This technique will take you no more than thirty seconds to convert stress into success or vice versa.
M3 stands for ‘Meaning Making Machine’. On a particular day, three men were working in one place. Another man came by and asked the first man, “What are you doing here?” The man looked up and said, “Are you blind? Can’t you see I’m cutting stone?” This person moved on to the next man and asked, “What are you doing here?” That man looked up and said, “Something to fill my belly. So I come here and do whatever they ask me to do. I just have to fill my belly, that’s all.” He went to the third man and asked, “What are you doing here?” That man stood up in great joy and said, “I’m building a beautiful temple here!” All of them were doing the same thing, but the meaning they gave to what they were doing was different. What meaning are you giving to your work, relationships, and interactions with people?
As humans, we interpret everything that happens to us and with us. You can take a look at any situation and create your very own narrative inside your head. Most things that happen to you are because of the meaning you give it. If you have a boss who looks stern and rarely smiles, what meaning would you ascribe to it? Do you say he is rude, or a micromanager, or do you say that he must be merely busy and caught up with work?
The meaning you give will decide your course of action toward your boss. If you say to yourself that your boss is rude, you will probably distance yourself from him, you will hesitate to share your ideas with him, and your slightest interaction with him will be a cause for friction. You will generate stress in your life. And if you say to yourself he may be simply caught up with work, you will find ways to connect with him and know his problem and help with solutions. You will generate a pathway to success.
Has this ever happened to you – you waved at your colleague, but he or she did not respond? Do you think he or she is mad at you? Or do you say to yourself that they simply must not have seen you? In thirty seconds, you can move from success to stress or stress to success by merely giving meaning. Because whatever meaning you provide will determine your response, and your response will finally determine the level of your growth and success. Your interpretation of things is always the cause of your actions. Here’s what happens in thirty seconds:
- Something external occurs, an event- perhaps a passing comment from a colleague.
- You assess the event and give it meaning.
- As a result of that meaning, you generate an emotion such as fear, hope, joy, anger, or guilt.
- The emotions trigger an action that leads to your result.
All these steps can take place within thirty seconds. You see, stress is self-created. External situations and people can never be the cause of your stress. Stress is generated from within by the meaning you put to everything that happens around you. Nothing in the world means anything until you decide what meaning to give it.
As humans, we interpret everything that happens to us and with us. You can take a look at any situation and create your very own narrative inside your head."
The problem is that we humans are wired to give negative meaning to everything we face. Some of us have a triple Ph.D. in giving negative meaning to situations. We need to recognize this “meaning-making” process and the subsequent stories we invent. Instead, try to see the event for what occurred without adding “color”. Gather relevant information and evidence.
Knowing that you can choose what something means to you can give you great power and a sense of security that you never had. So, assign meaning in a way that will change everything in your favor and open the pathway to your leadership success.