My colleagues at Thought Rocket Innovation Studios have been studying 21st century stress. Stress is killing us. Literally. According to Cooper Clinic, 52% of people who manage other people in business will die from stress-induced disease caused by their job.
Over the last month, I’ve been testing a new short workshop called “Turning Stress into Joy,” which converts the latest science on stress elimination into ten actionable ways to remodel our thinking and our behavior. Research reveals that most of us are on goal overload. Successful people usually learn one major success tool and use it for everything. That tool is self-discipline. As long as we are willing to deny our fatigue and our emotional feelings, and to sacrifice our time, play and sleep to achieve goals, we will achieve goals. In the workplace, we are called high-achievers. We are go-to people that have been doing more with less for the past 20 years.
At home, we are usually called “mom.” We are gold medal Olympians of self-sacrifice. The reason we punish ourselves with relentless goals is that some time, in our younger life, we began believing that when we achieved our goals we would be happy. Achieving goals would make us feel good.
But it’s not true. At least, not true in the blanket, universal way we think it’s true. Goal achievement gives us the gift of feeling satisfied when the goals are 1) self-chosen and 2) connected to our higher values. It seems achieving someone else’s goals only make us feel relieved. That’s the best we get–temporary relief until the next pile of goals is bulldozed onto us.
Here’s the bottom line: relentless goal striving is a major 21st century stressor. We’re psychologically addicted to goal achievement because it gives us a false sense of controlling what’s uncontrollable. Many of us believe if we create ideal lives for our children, they won’t fail, be sad, get hurt or dislike us. We believe that if we just raise them right, they’ll live happily ever after. So we “over-try.” And in that over-trying, we often infect our loved ones with the very stress and fear we are attempting to eliminate.
At work, people who will nearly always say yes become targets to be exploited. If we don’t put a high value on our time, effort and talent, plenty of bosses will have us do really difficult, nasty work that doesn’t really matter. We may do it because we’re afraid we will be overlooked, left behind or let go if we don’t. But today, most layoffs are job position eliminations. In many workplaces, it doesn’t matter that you are loyal, smart and hard-working. If a head count reduction is mandated, well…bam! All that goal achievement you performed to prove your value is evaporated in a blast of job destruction. No wonder our lives are stressful.
What’s the answer? Fewer goals. It’s true! Research tells us that people with fewer goals, that are self-chosen, combined with a realistic evaluation of what’s most important and what’s controllable, leads to lower stress and high life satisfaction. So maybe it’s time to prune the goals that have overgrown the strength of our “inner tree”. What’s most important?
Next time, I’ll talk about the second way we generate stress though bad decision-making.
In the meantime, please continue to ask me questions or provide comments, especially about job and career related stress at email@example.com. And remember that self-determination is the first step on the road to lasting satisfaction.
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