Thoughts on Making Change and Dealing with Stress
Change is inevitable (and stressful!).
In order to live the best life you can, you’ll need to change things about your life.
I’ve been in the process of making a number of changes over the last year and half (divorce tends to do that).
What follows are some meditations on making successful changes and dealing with the inevitable stress that follows.
Some change is better than none
If you get locked into trying to figure out the “perfect” change, you’re going to get nothing done.
Figure out a specific change you want to make and then start by doing something simple to go toward that change.
Even if the actions you choose to make aren’t “perfect” you’ll still be making progress, you can adjust later.
Start with physical fitness
If you really want to make some large changes in your life, you need to have a platform to build on.
Change is stress, stress burns energy, and most stress is entirely mental.
You need a physical outlet to burn off stress.
Increasing your fitness will allow you to handle more stress overall (a bigger tank as it were) and the exercise itself will give you a physical outlet to burn the stress off (a bigger engine).
- Joe Rogan likes Hot Yoga
- Geoff Thompson likes running
- I like weights
- A great way to start is with something like the Super Saiyan Workout
Give yourself some space
If you really want to figure out what changes you need to make, give yourself some head space.
We live in an attention economy.
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc. They’re all competing for your attention and doing what they can to keep you engaged.
Give yourself some solitude, and really pay attention to what crosses your mind. A simple way is to turn the radio off on your drive to work.
Change is stress
Your brain has evolved to hate change, change is the unknown. The unknown is scary to your brain as it might mean death.
That scariness causes stress.
You can only take so much stress before your body/brain start to distract you.
Remember that your stress tank is only so big.
Eliminate as much stress as you can
With everything competing for your attention, you’ve got to be selective what you let in.
Trying to cram as much as your can into your day isn’t efficiency if it’s not serving you. (Serving you, means you’re producing something!)
If you find yourself doing only passive things like listening, your simply getting sucked into engagement.
Those sources of engagement, all act as stress.
I killed the connection to Facebook on my phone, and immediately I found myself with more energy at the end of the work day.
I also found myself a lot happier, since I wasn’t feeling the need to argue with people. (Pick your battles/the hill you want to die on.)
Be cautious with stimulants
Caffeine stimulates your sympathetic nervous system.
Stress also stimulates your sympathetic nervous system (see where I’m going here?).
If you’re always tired, you need more rest/better food, note more stimulants.
I used to have a giant mug of coffee (about 30oz), then about noon I’d get an energy drink (and sometimes another). Stimulants don’t even do anything for you cognitively, they’ll make you feel more awake physically, but only sleep can allow you think more clearly.
Avoid processed sugar
This is a change in and of itself.
When you’re stressed, you’ll find yourself craving sweets. This is because your body wants quick shots of fuel to keep pushing.
Unfortunately processed sugar has jack shit for other nutrition and stress is catabolic (destructive), especially when you’re under chronic stress.
When you burn through the sugar, you’re gonna crash which is going to give you more stress and make you want more sugar.
Your body won’t have anything to help recover from the stress.
Get better/more sleep
Sleep is most anabolic (restorative) stuff you can get.
Thus when you’re under stress it’s important to make sure you’re getting enough good sleep.
Give yourself a pretty regular bed time and stick to it. I fluctuate about an hour depending on the day of the week.
Try to get around 8 hours of sleep. Yeah some people need more, some people need less. But start with trying to shoot for 8 and see how you feel.
Give yourself a caffeine curfew. I don’t generally drink any caffeine past 2pm.
Avoid alcohol in excess, yeah it makes you feel sleepy when you get drunk (most people anyway), but it screws with your sleep cycle as it metabolizes.
Avoid blue light a couple hours before bed (screens are a big source of this). A side-step to this problem is to wear yellow tinted glasses/use a program like f.lux on your computer. With the glasses you don’t need anything special, I found some cheap safety glasses at Harbor Freight that work fine.
Avoid doing anything in your bed other than sleeping/having sex. Your brain/body will remember what you do in different places and will adjust accordingly. If you’re watching TV in bed all the time, it’ll think it’s time to watch TV.
Sleeping and having sex, it’ll get ready for those things.
Start with simple changes
When I wanted to increase my health, I started by simply making myself get up and go to the gym 3 mornings s a week.
I didn’t worry about diet, and I went for simple workouts (squats, bench or overhead press, and deadlifts).
After a couple weeks of weights I found myself feeling rather hungry as the days went on. So I simply started eating more.
After a while of simply eating more I started paying attention to what types of calories I was taking in. Not a huge amount of effort, but recognizing that I need a protein, a starch, and a vegetable (corn isn’t a vegetable!).
Only make one change at a time
It’s really tempting to try and make multiple changes all at once. But unless you’ve got some serious motivation (like impending death), then you most likely won’t make more than one or two changes stick.
Again, change is stress, and you have a limited capacity to handle stress.
If you really want to make changes happen, you need to focus on making one at a time.
How long until you can say a change is sticking/move onto the next change?
It depends on the first change/next change.
If you’re starting a fitness routine and the next one you want to make is to eat healthier. I’d say you’ll have an easier time with the nutrition change because it’s in support of your physical change.
If you’re trying to make a set of unrelated changes, then you’ll need more time to make each one stick.
Cut yourself some slack
Unless you’re facing imminent death unless you make changes totally and completely, you’re going to slip up.
You need to accept that and move forward when you’re making changes.
I’ve been working on reading for an hour on my off mornings (Tuesdays and Thursdays).
I’ve been working on it for about about a month now, but I have yet to actually get a full hour in on those two mornings.
However, I haven’t missed doing at least some reading on both days for a couple weeks. A few days it’s only been 10-15 minutes.
But over the last week, I’ve found it easier to wake myself up on time and get to reading very quickly.
Okay, so this article has probably been 50/50 about dealing with stress and making changes.
But change is stress stress after all.
Change takes time, you need to focus on small changes, and you need to do them one at a time.
If changes are related they’ll be easier to chain together, otherwise you’ll need to give yourself more space to get them to stick.
Above all, you really need to keep pushing to make changes. But you need to cut yourself some slack because some change is helluva lot better than no change.