Recently I was asked: Can people work ten hours a day, five and sometimes six days a week for extended periods of time and enjoy high levels of creative performance without burning out? The answer is yes . . . if — and only if — a person is adept at transcending stress. If he or she can do that, they are much more likely to succeed, and in ways that will make work intrinsically rewarding.
Neurologically, transcending stress is achieved through the shift in attitude that takes us from anxious to peaceful. Stress is psychological fear; peace is neurological power. That’s not my opinion; that’s science’s definition. Mercifully, making this shift is simpler than we might think, producing meaningful results in a relatively short period of time. In my book, Mystic Cool, and in workshops, I provide ten simple tools that sustain the shift from stress to peace, without adding to your to-do list. But you can make this shift right away. Starting tomorrow, begin your day in peace and dedicate the rest of the day to the goal of sustaining your peace of mind, regardless of what happens. Here’s one approach:
- In the morning, when you come into the kitchen to make coffee or tea, while it is brewing sit in a chair and quietly look out the window at the morning.
- Be present, here and now. Simply follow your breathing, relax your mind, and open your heart.
- If there is any tightness in your body, feel it. Feeling it actually releases the tightness.
- Feel whatever emotion you feel. Meet it with a willingness to feel it and then let it pass.
- Forgive whatever transgressions you or someone else committed that still linger from the day before and make this day new.
Commit yourself to being at peace today, remembering the brain power science tells us it inevitably provides.
During the five minutes it takes to make the coffee, you can brew the attitude that will make your day. What could be simpler? Stress, on the other hand, is what makes things difficult. The cost to us, personally and professionally, is enormous. Stress depletes the higher order brain function, physical stamina, and enthusiasm that sustain peak performance. A dynamically peaceful attitude restores the brain power that keeps you at the top of your game.
On the Discovery/Health website there is a test to determine whether or not you are a “perfectionist.” The preface to the tests asks: Are you putting unreasonable demands on yourself by setting the bar too high? Do you expect too much from your children or lover? Or do you feel that the world is exerting pressure on you?
The test asks 15 questions. Here are a few of the questions:
- In general, the prospect of making a mistake angers me.
- I am frequently disappointed in my mate, friends, kids, co-workers.
- I get impatient with people around me – they always screw up in one way or another.
- I believe that if I do things badly, others will reject me.
- When my plans don’t go as I envision, I get extremely stressed out.
- Being ‘average’ is a terrible thought for me.
It’s easy to see why a perfectionist is regarded as Type-A, meaning they produce an extreme level of stress that, over a decade or two, is likely to ravage their cardio-vascular system and threaten their life. There was a time when the unreasonable demands I placed on myself at work meant I didn’t get home some nights until midnight. It’s telling that I cannot remember one thing I did that seemed so important at the time. But I do remember the toll it took on my mind and body. There is a lot to be said for making it home for dinner with enough energy, mindfulness and good heart to make the evening pleasant. Those evenings we do remember.
Ralph Waldo Emerson advises to do this: “Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense. This day is all that is good and fair. It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.”
Ernest Holmes is also worth quoting. Here is his perspective: “What we demonstrate today, tomorrow, and the next day is not as important as the tendency which our thought is taking: the dominant attitude of our mind. If everyday things are a little better, a little more harmonious, a little more health giving and joyous; if each day we are expressing more life, we are going in the right direction.”
Ask yourself, which do you want? Do you want an attitude that berates you for a mistake, obsesses over details that hardly matter, and causes you to criticize and distance yourself from people, especially those you love. Or do you want an attitude that sheds your mistakes along with your old nonsense in exchange for a new day filled with new possibilities that each day increase your capacity to generate new life. We choose, and as we choose we create our life.