My Top 3 Things About Stress - Part 2: Regain a Sense of Control!
In Part 1 of this series I wrote about the fascinating fact that our mindset about stress matters and how we can use this knowledge to our advantage, helping us to handle stress more effectively.
The #2 in my ‘Top 3 Things About Stress’ is based on the following statement:
The belief that we have control over our future reduces stress.
True or false? True! In fact, the perception that our actions matter, that what we choose to do (or not do) today has a direct effect on our outcomes not only reduces stress, it’s a strong predictor for overall health, wellbeing and performance.
In other words: Having a sense of control is good for you!
Locus Of Control
Psychologists find that there are 2 ways in which people evaluate the events that happen (and consequently the outcomes they get), at work and in their personal life. You could compare it with a lens through which we view ourselves, others and the world around us.
You can attribute the events and outcomes in your life primarily to external circumstances or to other people. Those external forces – things that are out of your direct control – are responsible for the things that happen (or don’t happen) in your life.
Tying this back to the beginning statement: People with a so-called External Locus Of Control don’t believe they’re in control when it comes to their future.
“I just got lucky. They wanted to give the promotion to Mike, but he’s home with a burn-out".
“I didn’t get that job, because the job market is very competitive these days”.
You can believe that internal factors (e.g. attitudes, thoughts, actions) primarily contribute to the results you get, at work or in your personal life. People with a so-called Internal Locus Of Control belief that they can influence the events and outcomes in their life.
Tying this back to the beginning statement: They belief that they have control over their future, that they’re largely the master of their own faith. Consequently, they tend to be more motivated, perform better, and are less stressed.
“I got that promotion due to my consistent hard work and my never ending dedication”.
“I didn’t get that job, because I didn't showcase my skills and talents enough in the interview.”
The Vicious cycle of Stress
So, long story short: Having a sense of being in control matters when it comes to handling stress, and our thinking style plays an important part in this dynamic. But here’s the tricky part:
When we’re stressed, we tend to feel overwhelmed rather than in control.
And there’s an inverse relationship between the level of stress and the level of control we experience. In other words:
As stress levels increase, our sense of control oftentimes diminishes, which leaves us feeling overwhelmed. Which in turn causes more stress.
Before you know it you’re trapped in a vicious cycle! Stress leads to loss of control, which leads to stress.
What to do? Break the cycle by regaining a sense of control!
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed and feel out of control, start small to regain a sense of control. Feel mastery over small tasks, write down your wins, reflect on your successes, no matter how small.
When you’re behind on that major deadline at work, focus on each little task that you’re able to accomplish. Consider keeping a done-list to keep track of what you’ve accomplished and steadily regain a sense of control.
Remind yourself that small successes can add up to major achievements! Or like William James said: It’s little by little we build our power.
When you’re stressed and overwhelmed and feel out of control, start by focusing your energy and efforts towards the things you can indeed influence.
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor suggests a simple exercise:
Step 1: Identify which aspects of the situation you have control over and which you don’t. Write out all your stresses, daily challenges and goals.
When you’re behind on that major deadline at work, write down which tasks need to get done and which obstacles you’re facing.
Step 2: Separate your list into 2 categories: Things you have control over and things you don’t have control over. I promise, you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find out how long the list is of things you can control! Simply ask yourself:
Where do I have control, influence or leverage?
Step 3: Refocus your effort and energy on only those things you can control. Looking at your list, set a small, manageable goal, a concrete action you can take straight away. Something that will have an impact and will start you moving towards your goal (E.g. meeting that important deadline at work).
Step 4: Repeat Step 3. Keep tackling one small task or obstacle at a time!
Training Your Brain
As you regain a sense of control in the stressful moments of the now, you’re also cultivating an Internal Locus Of Control. You’re training your brain to notice that your actions DO have a direct effect on your outcomes and that, for the most part, you’re the master of your own faith.
This is just one of many ways in which you can handle stress more effectively and stay on top of your game, at work and at home. Let me know what you think and feel free to reach out if you need any assistance, tips or tricks. Make sure to stay tuned for part 3 of this series!
Everyday Resiliency @ Work
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Balancing competing demands (in and outside of the workplace)
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