Handling the pressures of life today

This blog, originally written in 2014, has been updated in light of current circumstances.

“Business people that do not know how to fight worry, die young.” — Dr. Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize Winner

Being in the business of coaching people and organizations to higher performance levels for over 30 years, I have had the opportunity to see a multitude of changes over the decades. One of my more interesting observations is that as technology has advanced by leaps and bounds — supposedly to make our lives easier — the professional and personal pressure to keep up with life has never been greater. We referred to “doing more, better, faster with less resources” as the new business reality several years ago. Well, the reality is no longer new and the urgency to perform has never been stronger.

And now, add to that this incredible, once-in-a-lifetime reality of the coronavirus. Restaurants, bars, shopping malls, and places of worship are shutting down faster than you can blink. My guess is that this list of closed businesses will unfortunately continue to grow. Financially, people look at their 401(k)s and see a black hole. Those who effectively live paycheck to paycheck are under even more pressure.

The hoarding mentality has taken over at grocery stores as the pasta, soup, toilet paper, and many other aisles are decimated. Everyone is strongly being advised to lock down and stay at home. Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands! In the business world, those who can work at home must work at home. Some businesses are trying to limit the population at their physical offices to 10–20 percent of normal — wow!

Handling stress and pressure has been part of Dale Carnegie’s training regimen for a long, long time. When we would ask people where they would put stress as an issue in a list of five or six other areas, it was rarely at the top of the list 30 years ago. Today, it is either No. 1 or 2. Demographics do not make any difference. Young or old, brand new to the job or a seasoned veteran, line worker or executive, single or married with a family — they all are dealing with the same reality. Add to all of the above the impact of the coronavirus and we are literally in a real, perfect storm.

So, what to do? Here are just a few insights from How to Stop Worrying and Start Living by Dale Carnegie:

Cooperate with the inevitable.

Sometimes things happen and we have absolutely no control of an event or series of events — like right now. So rather than try to control what you cannot control, figure out the best way to roll with the punches. Henry Ford once said, “When I can’t handle events, I let them handle themselves.” In today’s harsh reality, many of us have this incredible urge to be in charge. Guess what — you can’t! What can you do? Dr. Reinhold Niebuhr is noted for the serenity prayer, which sums up an answer in 27 words:

God grant me the serenity

To accept the things I cannot change,

The Courage to change the things I can,

And the wisdom to know the difference.

Decide how much anxiety a thing is worth and refuse to give it more.

Many years ago, when I was under considerable pressure both professionally and personally, a mentor suggested that it is always better to respond to what life gives you and not react. Sometimes we drive ourselves crazy and literally let situations eat at us. As Charles Darwin once said, “Don’t let the wibber gibbers get you down.” Stay on top of those suckers!

Don’t worry about the past or the future.

Yes, be concerned about where you’ve been, where you’re going, and the reality of today, but do it in a constructive way. There is absolutely no value in lying in bed at night, worrying about yesterday or tomorrow. It is self-defeating at best, self-destructive at worst. Rather than have today be the tomorrow that you worried about yesterday, why not put the past in the rearview mirror where it belongs and look forward to the future with all the optimism you can muster.

One of the comments we often receive from those in our training classes is that the concepts above, along with many others, are just plain common sense. The travesty is that it can be extremely difficult to put these concepts into practice, especially in trying times. The only way to put the principles to work is to do it. You cannot control the world, but you can control your own attitude.

Good luck in making it through this mess and carpe diem!

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