Any form of resistance leads to stress. Stress is not good or bad in itself. It’s just a way to describe the patters of resistance and adaptation any living organism goes through.
But we have transformed stress into an ideology: stress is an all-pervasive evil force that ultimately gives us heart-attacks. Stress is bad, stress is a big no-no, stress is the root of all evil and will ultimately kill us.
The ideology around stress has made it into a perfect scape-goat too:
- I’m moody because I am stressed
- I am burned out because I am stressed
- I am angry because of stress
- I am sick because of stress
- I am just stressed out
So doing what we do best, we demonize stress, put it on a pole and burn it to a crisp.
And in doing so, we also do what we do best. We forget to ask questions and try to understand the deeper nature of what it is we are reacting against. So how do we get around this pickle?
Step 1: Substitute the word stress for resistance.
If you take a step back and replace the highly loaded stress for resistance you will notice immediately that it’s not as bad as we have dressed it up to be.
It would not be so easy to cop out of your responsibility by saying:
- I’m moody because I am being resistant
- I am burned out because I am being resistant
- I am angry because I am resisting
- I am sick because I am resisting
- I am just resisting too much
In fact, the cure would be ridiculously obvious: STOP RESISTING.
Stress is nothing more than our brains resisting the reality around us.
And there is a profound difference between resisting and giving up. I am not saying that the cure to stress is to give-up or that there is a cure to stress, or that it is a dis-ease, to begin with.
For a good read on demystifying the negativity associated with stress, check out The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It by Kelly McGonigal.
Step 2: Try to use your words to describe exactly the things that cause resistance within you
Part of the problem is that most of us are not even aware of what exactly we are resisting. Essentially we create a mental model of what reality looks like and we resist everything that does not conform to that model. Some of that resistance are battles worth fighting for, but a lot of that resistance stems from insecurity, values that we don’t truly want to own, or other extraneous causes that don’t add any value to our existence.
The challenge again is that more often than not, we don’t know clearly what’s going on within the patchwork of beliefs and experiences that constitute our identity. We may feel slightly uncomfortable about a thought or feeling but we don’t stop to think about it.
Whether it’s through journaling, internal dialogue, therapy, or throwing conversation way with your friends, talk about what bothers you. Not to complain, but to identify that which is causing resistance within you. This is key. it’s about the inner journey, not the rant.
By itself, this process of self-discovery will pave the road to less or at the very least more curated resistance. Again, not saying that stress is a diabolical enemy, but you have to assign clear and specific descriptions to the demons within in order to make them show their true color. And then you can decide what to do with each of them.
Step 3: Be more selective and at the same own those fewer choices you do make more fully
So now that you are cataloging the things that build resistance within you, you can decide which battles you wish to engage in.
Your house doesn’t look the way you would like it to look. Hmmm…drop that source of resistance. It’s ok. I’ll live in a shithole for now.
Your bank account doesn’t have the money you would like to see in it. Hmmm…Accept that or fight that. Just don’t stay in between.
These are just examples. But the point is to be selective about the realities that are incompatible with your expectations. Something has to give, and typically it’s a lot faster and within your control to bend your mind than to bend reality.
Whatever fights with reality you do choose, now is the time to fully own them.
If you picked fighting your empty bank account, do it. Do it head-on and relentlessly. Make your choice. Sacrifice your weekends or time at the gym or other things that you can do temporarily without. If you don’t own that choice, you will feel a ton of resistance due to the things you must decline through the choice. May be obvious but for everything that you say yes to or choose to pursue, there are thousands of things that you are explicitly saying no to. Be open about that with yourself. Own everything you are implicitly saying no to 100%.
So now what?
Picture a caveperson cooking breakfast just outside their cave. Do you think they are humming along to some cave beat or looking paranoid around the bushes for a mountain lion that could come and devour their family?
We are built to worry about making it through to the next minute. We are built to live in fear. It’s what keeps us alive. We are also built to feel stress because that keeps us on our toes and more likely to make it through tomorrow.
The challenge is that we no longer need that level of stress to keep us alive. We are no longer living in caves but our hardware hasn’t been sufficiently updated.
As a result, we manufacture undue amounts of resistance in undue places and ultimately sub-optimize our pleasure in life.
And there’s no problem in that per se. We’ve been living sub-optimally for thousands of years. Why should it become such a big problem now?
Keep in mind, stress is not an enemy to be defeated or a demon that haunts you. Stress is the natural reaction of the clash between the mind and the universe. Accept the resistance, devour it with a never-ending motherly hug, and make it your own.