I think most of us when we began our working lives started off with fairly big ambitions-some bigger than others. But why are so many of us stressed out? We may be doing what we enjoy but still find ourselves suffering from stress, and not as happy as we should be or deserve to be. So what has gone wrong? Even people who are extremely successful can often find themselves suffering from stress, due to the sheer volume of things they need to accomplish in a day and an increasingly demanding schedule. How can it be that we are doing what we enjoy but are not as happy as we should be? The answer can often be that instead of work being a means to an end (achieving our dreams), it has become an end in itself. As a result, we are not happy. Because when work becomes an end in itself, it becomes drudgery and has taken the place of your dream (the very thing you initially started out to achieve). Instead of your dream being number one, your work has become number one instead. That’s why you are not happy.
Life wasn’t meant to be only about work; it was also meant to be enjoyed! Sure, we need to work to achieve our dreams. Work is essential, but it should never become our number one reason for our existence. Our dreams should be number one and work number two. Only then will we get our priorities right and begin to feel happier and more balanced. Not only that, but when your dream is number one, you will have far more chance of achieving it because you will be focusing on it. It’s impossible to hit a target that you cannot see or achieve something you are not focusing on. It’s similar to how a camera works; it cannot clearly focus on something far away and up close at the same time. One is always at the expense of the other. So it is with your dreams and your work. The focus should always be on that of your dreams and then work will fall into place. If your focus is only on work, then your dreams will be out of focus, or maybe even out of sight altogether and when that happens, your chances of achieving them are almost nil.
In 1979 a study was done by a group of interviewers at Harvard University. They wondered why 3% of Harvard MBA’s made ten times as much as the other 97% combined. They interviewed some new graduates and found that only 3% of them knew clearly and specifically what their dreams were and had also written them down or put them into some kind of visual form. 13% knew what their dreams were but didn’t bother to write them down. A startling 84% didn’t have any goals at all, or had never even thought about it. In 1989 the interviewers then traced the same graduates of that class to see how they were getting on. The results were interesting; the 13% who knew what their dreams or goals were but didn’t bother to write them down, were on average, making about double the amount that the 84% were making who didn’t have any goals at all. Even more interesting was that the 3% who knew exactly what their dreams were and had also written them down or had pictures of them, were on average, making about ten times as much as the whole 97% put together!
That’s the power of your dream and that’s the power of making your dream the number one focus. Is it reasonable to assume that the 84% that only had mediocre results at best, were probably far more focused on ‘the work’ than anything else? I would tend to agree.
THE POWER OF YOUR DREAM
A dream doesn’t necessarily have to be material. For some people, it might be to simply have more time to spend with their friends or families. You might want to spend more time travelling or playing golf or turning a hobby into a business. It could be that you want to give more money to your favorite charity. You might want to see parts of the world that have always interested you. Maybe you want to go on a cruise or see the great wall of China. Maybe it’s just the thought of having the financial capability to go away for as long as you want, without any constraints about when you have to come back. It could be a favourite car you would like to have. Or simply lying in the hot tub instead of being at the office. You might like to keep working, but just cut down the amount of hours and possibly work only one or two weeks out of every month. Your dream could be to see your kids growing up, or to quit work altogether. Who knows? It could be anything, but it’s what’s important to ‘you’ that matters. Everyone’s dream is different. All that matters is that you know what you want and it is written down! Keeping it in your head is not good enough. Out of sight means out of mind and you are more liable to forget about it. Sooner or later the busy-ness of work and everyday living overtake and eventually drown out your dream until it is forgotten. Not only that, but the mighty power of your subconscious cannot work on something it cannot see. That’s why it has to be either in written form, or better still, have pictures of it where you can see it every day. This not only motivates you, but reminds you of ‘why’ you are working and not to just focus on ‘how to’ do something.
If you are serious about achieving your dreams and have decided that your dreams are even more important than the work, ask yourself these two vital questions:
- Do you know exactly what you want? (If someone woke you up in the middle of the night and said “What do you want out of life?” would you be able to tell them instantly or would you need to think about it?)
- Do you have it in written or visual form?
If you answered yes to both of these questions, you have put yourself in the top 3 percent of the population and you have massively increased your chances of achieving your dreams. If you only answered yes to the first question, it may be that you only have a wish rather than a dream, and you need to question whether you are really serious about achieving your dreams. If you answered no to both of these questions, then this could be the reason you are stressed out. It may be a case of “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and that work, in your case, is an end in itself, rather than a means to an end. If you’re happy with that, fine! But if not, you need to have a serious think about what you really want out of life- and then write it down!
TIME IS MADE, NOT FOUND
Some people put their whole social lives on hold while they are pursuing their dreams. This, in my opinion is a big mistake. Why? Because they make themselves miserable in the process and there’s a high chance they will ‘burnout’ before they even achieve their dreams. They neglect their families, miss seeing their children growing up, stop spending time with their friends etc. This is a major recipe for stress and burnout. Often these people are referred to as ‘workaholics’. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with hard work, which is essential to achieving anything, as long as there’s a sensible balance between work and play- even in pursuit of your dreams. You may have to cut down slightly on the social side of things, but not cut it out altogether. It’s getting the balance right that is important. Both extremes are bad; too much time off and you will never achieve anything in life, but not enough time off will cause major stress and poor health. Remember, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Therefore, you need to pace yourself with a sensible balance between work and play, or you won’t last the distance. It would be comparable to a runner going to run a marathon and run flat out at top speed right from the word ‘go’. How long do you think they would last? Probably not very long.
Remember, the journey towards your dreams is also to be enjoyed, not just when you get there. Everything you do should be enjoyed, whether you’ve achieved your dreams or if you’re still in the pursuit. Yes, work can actually be fun- as long as you have the balance right. In fact, I would go as far as to say that if you don’t enjoy your work, you’re probably already suffering from stress, because happiness and stress cannot co-exist. Negative and positive emotions cannot exist simultaneously. One or the other must dominate. If you are happy, then you are stress free and if you are suffering from stress, then you are not happy. Stress is our subconscious telling us that something is not quite right. Its then up to us to try and figure out what ‘that’ thing is. We then have to alter our lifestyles, possibly making a bit more time for ourselves, friends and families. Once we do that, we will start to feel happier. A lot of getting rid of stress is simply listening to your subconscious (your emotions) and then taking corrective action. Sadly, many people choose to ignore their subconscious, thinking they know best (consciously). And these are usually the people who end up on the scrapheap of life, either burned out, unhappy or suffering from poor health, or even disease.
You may not mind working extremely hard during the day if you’ve got something to look forward to later on that evening. And I mean something that is ‘not’ work related. Something that is a complete switch off. This could mean family time, or time out with friends at a club. It could be time spent on your favorite hobby. It could be relaxing in a Jacuzzi or going to the movies. It’s what’s important to you that matters. Not only does this give you more motivation to do the work, but it also gives you more energy and enthusiasm and helps to recharge your batteries. This also has a psychological effect ; not only do you feel happier because you are making the time to do things you enjoy, but the increased energy and enthusiasm actually strengthens your immune system, which improves your health and gets rid of stress. Whereas people who do not take enough time out for themselves have a much higher stress level, are not so happy, and have a higher chance of burnout or getting ill.
I remember hearing about a businessman who did take regular time out with his friends and family, yet he claimed that it wasn’t doing him much good and he was still suffering from stress. It turned out that although he was spending time on the golf course and with his kids, he was never off his mobile phone. Instead of switching it off or choosing to let the messages go onto voicemail, he was taking business calls almost constantly. He might have been off work physically, but mentally he was still there. So really, from a psychological point of view, he was never really off at all. You need to switch off mentally as well as physically. Let your phone be your servant, not your master. In his case, the phone was his master and it was causing him stress, but he didn’t realize it. You should be the one who decides when and where you will answer your phone- if at all.
Another major mistake some people make is claiming they don’t have the time for rest and relaxation with friends and family. They’ve missed the point because that is exactly ‘why’ they need to do it. You see, time is made, not found. Everyone is busy. But successful people ‘make the time’ – not ‘find the time’ for things that are important. There’s a big difference. Successful people make it a priority to do that which is important. Then they fit everything else in around the important. And if some things don’t get accomplished at the end of the day, then so be it. But at least the things that don’t get accomplished will be the ‘not so important,’ which can be done at another time. Successful people also realize that part of the ‘important’ is making time for yourself and having a balanced life. But people who are unsuccessful or who do not manage their time well, simply say they’ll do it if they get the time- and sadly they often never do get the time. It’s not that they don’t get the time, it’s more a case of it wasn’t important enough to them. It’s all about priorities. Everyone has twenty- four hours a day. Successful people have twenty-four hours a day and unsuccessful people have twenty-four hours a day. They simply spend their time differently and have different priorities- and different stress levels!
SIGNS OF STRESS
- Short temper (especially with those closest to you)
- Constant negative thoughts
- Only focusing on the negative side of things
- Easily angered by things that wouldn’t normally bother you
- A feeling of hopelessness
- Lack of ambition
- Nervousness, nail-biting or similar habits
What I have learned about stress over the years (and benefited from) is actually a combination of what I have read, personally experienced and repeatedly heard from extremely successful business people and authors. The message is always the same; the three most important things identified in order to beat stress were:
- ‘Me’ time (time for yourself)
- Meditation/ Relaxation
You need to realize that every problem has a solution- even stress! The opposite of stress is relaxation. And therein lies the key. It’s up to you to get the balance right. I know people who work extremely hard Monday to Friday and they can cope with that because they have every weekend off. And during the week they always have a certain amount of ‘Me time’ or family time in the evening. For example, it may be from 8-10pm or 9 -11pm, or even 10 – midnight, depending on their schedule. But they never miss it. Only in exceptional circumstances would it ever be missed. Granted, it is maybe only a couple of hours, but because of their ‘balanced’ schedule, they are still super- enthusiastic and full of energy at work. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of having daily time for yourself. Not only that but if you are ‘too busy’ then your marriage could start to suffer. You may not have time for each other later on- which would be a disaster- and certainly not worth it..
SHARPEN YOUR AXE
I am reminded of the story about a lumberjack who had to cut down a tree. The problem was that his axe was blunt and he only had twenty minutes to chop it down. So he took five minutes out to sharpen his axe. This only left him fifteen minutes to chop down the tree, but because his axe had been sharpened, he was able to chop it down in the allotted time. The moral of the story: it’s better to have a highly productive fifteen minutes than an unproductive twenty minutes. The time you make for yourself, you could liken to your ‘axe’, which will make you far more productive and happier!