When we react to situations, we’re on defense. You rarely score on defense. Its much easier to score when you’re on offense. On offense, you’re responding to the situation, not reacting. There is a difference. Responses are thought-out, planned and not usually emotionally driven. Reactions are usually hap-hazardous, emotionally driven, and not thought through. Mistakes often happen when we react instead of respond. In this episode I talk about the need to respond instead of react, what happens when we overreact to situations, and some ways to avoid stress so that we learn to respond and not react.
What Happens When We Overreact
A couple of weeks ago I talked about building trust with your team. Overreacting to situations is one sure-fire way to make them trust you less. If you can’t keep your cool, people want follow you when times get tough. When you overreact to situations you allow the situation to overtake you. You stop looking through a practical, logical lens and begin looking at the world through a panicked lens. Your cortisol levels increase in your body, and you being to hyper focus on situations, probably the wrong situations. Remember when I spoke about the biology of leadership, cortisol is the stress chemical. It does good things when we’re in danger, but it comes at a cost. It slows down our metabolism, and weakens our immune system. Its only supposed to be in us for a brief period of time, when it persist, and we overreact, it causes serious health issues.
We tend to make bad decisions when we overreact. The first thing that comes to our mind we move forward with it. Its hard to think things through when we’re trying to stay on top of a tense situation. Overreaction makes tense situations more tense.
Why Do We Get Stressed Out at Work?
- The Unexpected Happens. Sometimes we’re confronted with events that we didn’t see coming and we’re not sure what to do. When that happens, we might panic and get stressed.
- Fear. We’re all afraid of something. I’ve done 2 episodes on fear and anxiety and being brave in the past. Take a listen to them to learn how to battle against your fears.
- Overwhelmed. If you’ve been in Technology for any amount of time, you’ve felt overwhelmed. We all get overwhelmed from time to time. When I get overwhelmed, I get stressed. honestly, I don’t know anyone that doesn’t get stressed when they are overwhelmed.
- Competition. At the workplace, we are sometimes compared and contrasted against our peers. This creates competition. Sometimes competition is a good thing. It can inspire and encourage innovation. But it also leads to stress.
- Non-Work Situations. Things that happen outside of work, can creep into our office life. People say you should separate work and home, and I agree, but its super hard to do… no, its impossible to completely do. You are You. Whether you are at work or at home, you are still you. You carry your life with you everywhere you go. Now, that doesn’t mean you should bring your drama into work, but understand that things that happen outside of work, can influence your stress levels at work and vice versa. Remember somethings are more important than work.
Ten Ways to Stay Calm at Work
- Understand the big picture. Many times things that are big to us, are small outside of our perspective. Think about the big picture. Unless your an emergency response person, in the military, or in the medical arena, no one is going to die due to the thing you are currently working on. I regularly tell my team “relax, no one’s going to die.” I think about my kids. My son will panic and pitch a fit over not being able to get his straw into his juice box sometimes. To him, that is the biggest problem in the world right now. To me, that’s silly, just ask for help. Work can be the same way sometimes. We’re just like my son, trying to get that straw into a juice box. Getting stressed out over something that is small in the grand scheme of things. If my son could just see things from my perspective, he would realize that someone is there to help him out, and its not the end of the world. There are other straws and other juice boxes.
- Remember Good enough, is just that… Good enough. Sometimes I suffer with need for perfection. Perfection is a mirage. Its unobtainable, however, I strive for it. I get stressed out when I don’t achieve it. I know I could do better. I was talking with someone today about this. They said they always ask themselves “what they can do better.” My response was, “why?” Aren’t you doing good now? I stress and worry over good things, trying to make them perfect instead of just enjoying how good they are. If I stop for a minute and think about how good it is now, and realize, its good enough. My stress reduces and I feel better.
- Remember 80/20 (The Pareto principle). I need to do an episode just on this. The Pareto Principle, also called the 80/20 rule is the idea that 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people, etc. Pareto discovered this with his pea pods. 80% of his peas came from 20% of the pods. You can use this with about anything, not just work output. 80% of the goal can be achieved by 20% of the tasks. So, if you’re like me and you get stressed out trying to finish something that you’ve started but find it harder as it goes on, then just remember the Pareto Principle. if you’ve done 20% of the tasks, then your 80% done with the project.
- Focus on the fix. Some might say this one as “Think Good Thoughts.” I like to say, “Focus on the Fix.” Instead of talking about the problems, and the things that aren’t working, focus on what is working, and what will get it working. Think about solutions, not problems. As humans we’re hardwired to solve problems. When we focus on the solution, our brains emit dopamine which makes us feel good, and inhibits the cortisol in our body which causes stress. Solving problems at work while focusing on the solution is a stress reliever, just like working a puzzle at your house. Don’t worry about the things going wrong, just like you don’t worry about the pieces scattered about your kitchen table. Worry about the final solution, just as you look at the puzzle box to see what the final picture will look like. Make work a puzzle.
- Document Progress. There is nothing that makes you feel better about where you are, than looking back on where you’ve been. When you start to make small bits of progress, write them down. Journal them, or put them in your iphone notes app. What I like to do is to use a Trello board with a “done” column. If I get discouraged about my personal progress, I can look at that Trello board and see all of the achievements I’ve made this year. All of the progress I’ve made and the stress of where I am now seems to diminish.
- Set Boundaries and Deadlines. Learn to say NO. Seriously. Try it out sometime. Just say “no.” But do it politely. After the birth of my second kid, I started to set boundaries at work. I told my boss that I wasn’t going to stay in the office late anymore. I was going to leave around 5:30PM or so and go home and not check email or my phone until my kids go to bed around 8:30PM or so. At first he was a little nervous, because at that company the culture of IT was to be available. We pushed code releases every Tuesday evening and there might be problems. I firmly said “I’ll be available to help after 8:30PM.” These boundaries are still with me today. After doing this, I got a rush of relief. I’m no longer bound to a phone 24×7. And the best part is that I was respected more by my boss and peers for standing up for myself and my family. Setting boundaries keeps you from being walked over, and gives you space to free your mind and think. Now, setting deadlines may seem contradictory, but its not. You need to set boundaries of time for yourself. These are called deadlines. I used to stress about getting a podcast show written up, recorded and out the door. Then I setup a schedule and gave myself a simple deadline to get things done. The stress of knowing when I’m going to do something and the guilt of putting it off longer and longer went away. I now know when I’m going to do them and I don’t have to worry or stress about that anymore.
- Take it 1 step at a time. Just like in scrum, break your stories down. Make them smaller and smaller. Do this with whatever you’re working on or whatever tasks you have to complete. For example, with this podcast episode I broke down the show notes into 3 sections. And this section, “Ten Ways to Stay Calm,” I broke into… you guessed it, ten steps. Each way was a single step. I took them one at a time. I saved the draft after each one. Sometimes I keep writing to the next one, sometimes I took a break and came back and finished later. But by breaking it down into smaller steps, I could see progress. I could see myself getting closer to the goal. The more I got done, the better I felt. If I didn’t break this podcast up first into smaller pieces, I may not know how close I am to the finish.
- Trust yourself. You are where you’re at for a reason. You were hired for a reason. You are good at what you do. Period. Trust your instincts. Your experiences, education, instincts has helped you get to where you are now. Trust yourself. I get super stressed about decisions when I don’t trust myself. Looking back on them, its so stupid. I should just look at my track record and say, “I’m pretty good at this technology stuff. I trust my instincts.” When I do that, I make better decisions and feel better about them. We all suffer from the imposter syndrome in some form or fashion. If you need help dealing with imposter syndrome or want to learn more about it, check out episode 7.
- Delegate. You don’t have to be a boss to delegate. That’s a myth that many people believe. Just ask for help, ask if someone can take something off your plate. Humans have a desire to help one another. That’s why we’ve made it so far as a species. Ask for help, or if you are the boss, delegate your tasks. Trust your team and they may just surprise you on how good they can do things. Once you delegate it, its off your plate and you can focus on less things.
- Breathe. If you find yourself overwhelmed. Just breathe. There is power in a simple breathe. I met Jonathan Winn a few years ago at TEDx Charlotte where he gave this talk on Breath. Take a breath, relax and enjoy the talk below.
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