Enjoy this guest post by Alex Titarenko, a Trainer at Big Sky Newington.
Alex is a NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NESTA Certified Lifestyle & Weight Management Specialist, and fitness, nutrition & self development enthusiast… who occasionally likes to enjoy a good slice of pizza.
It’s Monday morning. Did someone wake you from the dead? Because that’s what it feels like as you wake up. Disrupted by your alarm clock, you angrily turn it off. You notice 20 emails waiting for you, that you know you’ll have to deal with as soon as you get to the office. Walking downstairs, you notice a strange smell in the house. As you enter your living room, you discover your dog has made a mess all over the floor. “Okay, I will deal with this, let me just get some coffee.” As you walk to the kitchen you accidentally step into some of the mess your dog made. Once that’s cleaned off your foot, you go to get the coffee going so you can quickly clean up the mess and start getting ready for work. Then you realize that you ran out of coffee on Friday and forgot to get some more. As you’re cleaning the living room without the assistance of caffeine, you get a call from your job asking where you are. “Did you forget about this morning’s meeting?” Yes, you did. You’re only 10 minutes into your Monday and feel like giving up. Didn’t you say you were going to eat healthy today? Maybe you’ll get a big breakfast from McDonalds and start your diet another day when you’re not stressed out.
Stress is everywhere.
Someday, at some point, it will find you, and you will experience it.
Stress can turn us into people we aren’t proud of. We do things we don’t intend to do. Emotions can add richness to our lives, but when those emotions take over our psyche because of stress, they can become misguided. They have the ability to derail our plans and intentions that our past selves had wanted for us today.
This frequently happens with areas of our lives such as:
– Going to the gym
– Starting to eat healthy
– Continuing to eat healthy
– Eating less junk food
– Drinking less sugary beverages or alcohol
– Being consistent with your healthy habits
Since stress is inevitable, it would be a good idea to prepare ourselves for how to deal with it without ruining our state of mind. Here are four strategies you can implement to start handling or preventing stressful situations so you can make decisions from a better state of mind.
1. Invest time into what’s important but not urgent, or else…
Stephen Covey’s famous book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People lays out a quadrant system of activities that are important, not important, urgent and not urgent. Box two contains items that are important but not urgent. Activities in this box might include things like:
– Eating healthy
– Regular visits to the doctor
Covey says that if time is not invested into these not urgent but important activities, they can eventually become items in box one which contain things that are important and urgent, otherwise known as a crisis. Things that are in this box could be:
– Heart attack
– Being completely out of breath doing activities
– Enough joint pain to prevent you from enjoying a daily activity
– Not being able to fit into your clothes one day due to weight gain
All of the items in box one are stressful and likely preventable if you had invested time into box two. For this technique, prevention of stressful situations would be the goal. We can also plan & prepare in practical ways that help us stay on track with our diet and exercise. Here are some examples:
– Have healthy food ready to eat at home, so you are less likely to stop at a fast food restaurant on the way home.
– Prepare your gym bag for the next day so it’s less of a process to get to the gym.
– Get the junk food out of the house, or at least out of sight. If you don’t see it, you are less likely to think about it.
– If you must have junk food in the house, keep it in small portions so you don’t take the whole bag of chips with you to the couch.
– Keep a big water bottle with you at work so you stay hydrated no matter what.
2. If you don’t plan your life, someone else will.
Box three of Covey’s quadrants consists of activities that are urgent, but not important. Things that people ask us to do that could easily be redelegated or simply ignored would fall into this category. Non-urgent phone calls, text messages, and emails also fall into this category. You don’t have to deal with these things right away, and if we give everything attention, it can be pretty stressful. Covey says that activities in this box should be redelegated or simply ignored. These are distractions from your plan, which is working on the items of box two. Here’s something you can do to discover more about what you spend time on, and what you would like to spend time on. Draw one set of four empty boxes like Covey’s quadrants, and fill in the areas you currently spend time on. What are some things you could cut out that interfere with your fitness & health habits?
Now create a second diagram and fill it in with things that you want to do that would help you with your health and fitness (hint: focus on box two)
3. Are you making things worse than they really are?
The 2000-year-old Chinese farmer parable
A Chinese farmer gets a horse, which soon runs away. A neighbor says, “That’s bad news.” The farmer replies, “Good news, bad news, who can say?”
The horse comes back and brings another horse with him. Good news, you might say.
The farmer gives the second horse to his son, who rides it, then is thrown and badly breaks his leg
“So sorry for your bad news,” says the concerned neighbor. “Good news, bad news, who can say?” the farmer replies.
In a week or so, the emperor’s men come and take every able-bodied young man to fight in a war. The farmer’s son is spared.
Good news, of course.
Reality is always neutral. It’s your mind that will label something as bad, good, or even horrific. The same life situations can be seen different by many based on your perspective. One person is angry about being stuck in traffic, while the other is happy they get to listen to more of their favorite podcast or audio book.
One person could have their whole day ruined when someone gets angry and insults them, while another person could feel bad for how angry that person must be all the time and think “I wonder what type of life situation that person must be in to act that way, and say those things?”
One person could hear some facts that go against their ideas and become defensive and angry, while someone else might be grateful to get new and more accurate information they can now use in the future. Typically, those that always see the world through the lens of how everything can be a problem for them are in a stressed state, and will seek comfort with immediate gratification, such as junk food, alcohol, etc.
It’s better to adopt a worldview that is useful for your present and future self.
“That’s just being overly optimistic and delusional” you say?
Does your supposed realistic outlook make you miserable and stressed all of the time? Is your perspective based in factual evidence? Or are you unknowingly choosing to make things worse in your head than they actually are. “Looking on the bright side” is essentially what some of us need to practice, especially if you only see problems and potential disasters.
Adopt the most useful life perspectives that can allow you to see reality for what it is, not worse than it is. This way you can reduce your stress, and make decisions about your diet and lifestyle from a better, calmer state.
4. Observe your human experience
Today we hear a lot about mindfulness, and how it can somehow help us. Let’s talk about how it can help you with stress so you can make better decisions.
This final strategy can seem like it’s a bit out there and too abstract to be useful, but can be extremely powerful in giving you the ability to let go of thoughts and emotions that are not useful in the present moment, so you can return back to your normal state.
When something stresses you out and you might not think twice about grabbing that donut, or extra glass of wine.
“I’m stressed and I don’t want to be, so to feel better I need (insert immediate gratification)”.
According to psychologist Richard S. Lazarus, thoughts come before emotions. When we identify closely with our thoughts, we become them, and they envelop us. This is our ego doing its job. Our ego is an essential tool for our survival. It was gifted to us by evolution. Unfortunately, the ego can work against us, and like anything misguided, it can do more harm than good. One aspect of mindfulness is watching the thoughts that pass through your head for what they are—thoughts. Disconnect from them, and they will lose much of their hold over you. You’ll still feel emotion from a negative thought, but you don’t have to brood and stress over it all day. You might not be able to decide if you get angry or not that someone cuts you off in traffic, but you can decide if you stay angry. This way you can stay calm, lower your stress, and have a positive enough mindset to go to the gym, stick to your diet, and focus on doing good things for your future self.
It takes conscious effort to wire new habits into our brains. If stress hits you at this time, more than likely you immediately go back to your old bad habits that you are trying to get away from. We’ve all been there. Mike Tyson said it best – “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face.” From this lesson, we can try to plan better so as to not get punched by life’s stresses. On top of this, we can also learn how to better take one of life’s punches to the face, and still stay standing, moving forward with your goals.
Which one of these four strategies will you work on today?
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