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Stress, how do we deal with it?

Wow, its been a busy summer.  So much so that I have not been able to practice what I preach and write my thoughts down. I have at least maintained my reading schedule to keep myself semi-sane (and for those of you who know me well, that’s even a stretch).  I picked up an interesting book called “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers”, which describes the chemical effects of stress on the body.  As I worked my way through Robert Sapolsky’s descriptions of experiments with lab rats and his mild obsession with glucocorticoids I started to think what stress was doing to me, how I handle stress, and what kind of stress I’m creating for other people.  Sapolsky does a great job of explaining that people are not dying from the same things that they used to.  Instead of virus and bacteria related diseases, we’re succumbing to stress related maladies, such as diabetes and heart diseases.  I start cringing when people talk about medical issues, but the subject was compelling because I realized that I do recognize physical reactions that I have to stress and started to think about how I can perform better if I find ways to acknowledge and manage those reactions.

A close friend, Richard, had a heart attack 10 years ago.  I used to tease him about how rigid his diet was, telling him that he really needs to include some “man food” in what he eats.  10 years later and his doctor said that he found no symptoms of heart disease.  I reflected on Sapolsky’s book and asked Richard what he changed, it couldn’t have just been his funny diet.  He said that it was very simple.  He realized that our mutual friend, Barry, described it well.  “Stress is the difference between who you think you need to be and who you actually are.  Richard also said that he thinks about that quote in relation to Stephen Covey’s model of the 3 concentric circles.  In the center there is “control”, the next ring is “influence”, and the third is “concern”.

 Covey Model of Influence

When he had his heart attack his 2 children were teenagers and he was trying to control them.  He explained that the center circle in the Covey model is the smallest and he realized that you have real control over almost nothing.  He thought about that and started to understand that he can only influence his kids but they will make their own decisions.  This also applies to work.  Leaders can only try to influence their teams but it is up to the individuals to follow.  The outer ring really says that there are things out there that you’re concerned about but have no control and likely you’ll have no influence so why let them raise your blood pressure?

I thought about this while I was on a weekend motorcycle ride.  To be honest, I ride pretty fast and I get frustrated when I come up on slower drivers when I’m on those twisty mountain roads.  I came up behind a very slow driver and started thinking about the model.  Can I control this person?  No.  Can I influence them?  So I flashed my headlights.  He wouldn’t move.  But, thinking about the situation in context of this model it helped me to control my frustration and helped me to think about how much I could really do.

I’m using this model in my workday and my approach and outlook is really changing.  I’m not getting upset; I’m sitting back and thinking through problems before I react.  Leaders are supposed to keep their eyes on the goal and to focus on the possible.  Let me know how you manage your stress.



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