All Shook Up: How to Stress Less

Back in my old consulting days I met with one of the major airlines to help with a problem in its reservations center. The HR director explained that the phone operators were required to take a certain number of phone calls each hour and at the same time meet specified sales quotas. "Gee, that sounds pretty stressful," I sympathized. "How do you help 'em cope?" She rattled off a list of programs, none of which mentioned stress. I expressed my surprise. "Oh," she said, "if employees knew that we knew how stressful their jobs are, they could probably sue us and win." I nodded sagely as if that made all the sense in the world. "I see," I said slowly. "So the way you deal with stress is to eliminate the word?" The woman smiled at me apologetically. "Yes."We all wish it was so easy, but unfortunately, stress doesn't disappear just by wishing it away. It takes a personal re-engineering effort to bring it under control. I've found the following strategies work for me. Maybe they'll work for you.1. Can you eliminate any of the factors that cause your stress? I know what you're thinking: Of course not! That's why I'm stressed! But take a step back. Often with a broader perspective we find that some of the things we thought had to be done right now can actually be postponed . . . or delegated . . . or even (heaven forbid) not done. Stress expands geometrically with each new stressor. Fortunately, it shrinks geometrically too.2. If you can't control your stressors, can you change your attitude about them? To borrow the language of belly buttons: Stress is caused as much by "innies" as "outies." The way we feel about something determines how stressful we think it is. I've found that I can control how stressed I feel about certain projects by reminding myself that, in the long term, they're taking me where I want to go. This doesn't relieve the stress-but it makes it easier to bear.3. Adopt the minimum quality standard. You know the old maxim that anything worth doing is worth doing well? Well, forget it. Sometimes it just ain't possible. When you've got a million projects all demanding your attention you can't do them all at 100 percent. You need to pick the ones you're going to do at 80 percent and be satisfied. Anything else is martyrdom. And as any martyr knows, death is a poor solution. Consider the old Marx brothers story about what Harpo said at Chico's funeral. Someone asked him how he felt and he replied: "A lot better than Chico." Bob Rosner has been a consultant to Fortune 500 and the US government, has served as an adjunct professor to MBA students, and has founded two nonprofit corporations, but please don't hold this against him. If you have a question or comment, e-mail him at bobrosner@ or to ListFrom 'The Top Ten of Everything, 1997' (Russell Ash, DK Publishing, 1996)"Dying to be rich . . . thehighest-earning dead people"1. Elvis, died in 19772. John Lennon, 19803. James Dean, 19554. Jimi Hendrix, 19705. Albert Einstein, 1955

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