Numerous studies suggest that as many as 81 percent of American workers are stressed out most of the time, resulting in illness, loss of work-life balance and tension. Nearly two-thirds are anxious about the future of our country, according to a November 2017 Stress in America poll. Healthcare, crime, the environment and lack of trust in the government are all contributing to record levels of stress.
In this, my company has found a great resource in a short book from 115 years ago — “The Majesty of Calmness” — published in 1902 by American editor and essayist William George Jordan . The manuscript is in the public domain. It is not light reading, but its 69 pages are as applicable to current business (and life) as if it had been written today. We have found it inspiring and instructional to a degree that we’ve published individual copies for each of our employees and clients, with a forward I authored. They love it. As it embodies many of the principles we say that we stand for, it has increased trust and engagement and I believe it has even positively impacted our sales.
Readers are typically captured from the first paragraphs of The Majesty of Calmness. “When the worries and cares of the day fret you…and you chafe under the friction — be calm,” he says with surprising prescience. “If you let these irritating outside influences get the better of you, you are confessing your inferiority to them, by permitting them to dominate you.”
Among his points of advice are five principles that could significantly reduce the stress in every workplace today:
For Jordan, the concept of “hurry” is a distinct contrast to the ideal of “haste,” which he equates to pursuing a specific aim with the quickest and most direct route. “Hurry,” in contrast, requires multitasking, with statements like “I must move faster” and “If one compass is good, perhaps I’ll use three; I’ll watch them all; one is sure to be right.” But deliberate and careful foundational work is essential to an accurate outcome (and is generally the fastest outcome as well).
In my own work, for example, I record a weekly radio show that has become second nature enough for me that my preparation for it is increasingly quick and direct. Knowing I am prepared, I proceed with calmness and focus. When I trip over a word, I don’t get flustered. I simply repeat the word, knowing the slips are rare and our editors will fix it. But if I were to walk in to the show frenzied and in a hurry, the result would be too many slips to correct, and the time to produce the show would increase.
In the book Jordan tells of an ingenious fellow in the late 1800s who devised a plan to transport logs from Canada to the U.S. by binding them with cables and towing them behind a ship like a raft. But as the craft approached New York City, a storm snapped the cables and scattered the logs far and wide. What an embarrassing failure! But then the chief of the Hydrographic Department in D.C. heard about the disaster. He put out the word to shipmasters all over the world, asking them to keep an eye out for the logs, and, if they should spot one, to report the latitude, longitude and time of their find. Hundreds of reports came in the ensuing months from the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the South Seas. He tabulated and catalogued them carefully. The result: significant information about the course of the currents that in those times could likely not have been discovered in any other way.
We have many parallels for this principle today. Executives or entire businesses that initially fail often go on to reach new tiers of success. Customers’ decreasing willingness to purchase from brick and mortar stores, for example, is propelling the need and opportunity to turn traditional stores into experiences such as gourmet cooking classes or unique destinations. Instead of stressing about what you can’t control, learn to expand your mind to the possibilities your “failures” may bring.
Ironically, much of our stress pertains to fears for the public-facing persona we are building. We worry about our notability. We compare our social media presence to others by measuring our “likes,” “comments” and “tweets.”
Instead, Jordan suggests, we should put our focus on the quiet and unheralded behaviors we exhibit within our day-to-day work. “Into the hands of every individual is given a marvelous power for good or evil — the silent, unconscious, unseen influence of his [or her] life. This is simply the radiation of what a man really is, and not what he pretends to be.”
We should strengthen our communication to team members. We should put a continual focus on simply “doing our best.” These actions create lasting influence that reduce day-to-day stress despite the pressure of changing conditions and time.
We must strive to become the “captains of our own souls” with the ability to handle any curve ball, Jordan says. In fact, science has now proven that stress is contagious. A study from the Max Planck Institute for Cognitive and Brain Sciences has found that being around a stressed-out person has the power to stress the others around them in a physically quantifiable way. But in the presence of a leader who can keep his or her cool in a crisis, employees are also helped to remain calm.
“No man [or woman] in the world ever attempted to wrong another without being injured in return, somehow, sometime. The only weapon of offence that Nature seems to recognize is the boomerang,” Jordan says.
“To the man [or woman] who is calm, revenge is so far beneath him that he cannot reach it, even by stooping.”
There is psychology behind this principle as well. Dr. Leon F. Seltzer, clinical psychologist and author of “Paridoxical Strategies in Psychotherapy” has noted that revenge is emotional and personal. But justice, by its very definition, is impersonal, impartial. It is both a social and a legal phenomenon. In a workplace situation where you’ve been wronged, remembering this principle will help you to remain calm, take appropriate actions, and to know that eventually, fairness prevails.
In all, while much has changed since Jordan’s original writing, the timeless principles he expresses ring especially true. In today’s uncertain environment, they can bring us to a majesty of calmness within the knowledge that “this, too, will pass.”
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Originally published at medium.com