“There are three ways to approach everything in your life – from ease, challenge or stress. In the US we go from ease to stress a lot, but the courage lies in challenge…. When people bounce from one side to the other, they miss the change to find their own courage.” — Alex Leviton
There are so many fabulous themes and practical tips in this conversation with my friend of 5 years, Alex Leviton, that it was hard to pick just one for this blog post. This idea of ease/challenge/stress is my favourite, but I do urge you to check out the full podcast for lots more great stuff.
A life of ease may sound lovely but, as Theodore Roosevelt said:
So, if we want to be remembered, we obviously need to get off the couch and out of our ease-zone. And in any case, in this hectic 21st-century, ease increasingly seems like an impossibility. Most people’s lives are taken up with kids, commuting, work, socialising, gym, shopping, cooking, cleaning, volunteering, and occasionally some sleeping. Ease doesn’t get much of a look-in, and stress seems to be the order of the day.
In fact, stress seems to be celebrated almost as a badge of honour. We might compete – with our friends, spouses, colleagues – to determine who is the busiest and most stressed, as if busy-ness and stress somehow reflect on how important, indispensable, and popular we are. And it starts early – I’ve heard teenagers dramatically sigh, “I’m sooooo stressed” about the pressures of schoolwork.
We need to be careful what we tell ourselves about our busy-ness. The story that we tell ourselves about our lifestyle has a direct impact on our health. Chronic stress creates a whole cascade of negative consequences – high blood pressure, poor digestion, irritability, depression, headaches, addiction, fertility problems, and a depressed immune system which in turn leads to further problems.
So when you find yourself running flat out on the hamster wheel of stress, pause, and ask yourself a couple of questions:
Q1: Is all this activity really necessary? Can I delegate/simplify/delete this task?
Q2: Can I reframe this busy-ness so that it feels like a challenge, rather than stress?
To expand on that second question – how will you know the difference between stress and challenge? Stress feels hectic and breathless, as if you’re being pulled in twelve different directions at once and none of them are your direction. Challenge feels fun, exciting, and purposeful. You feel grounded and powerful, making conscious choices to do the things that truly matter to you and the people you love.
It may be that your answer to Q1 is that all your tasks are important, and that’s fine. Your pause-and-review may result in no observable difference. The crucial point is to reframe your internal story to put yourself back into the driving seat of your life, to get clear on why you choose to include all these activities in your life rather than blundering blindly onwards.
Check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s model of mental states, and consider how it applies to your life. Which segments are you spending your time in? Which segments would you like to spend your time in? How will you select and prioritise your activities accordingly?
It’s up to you, of course, but as a clue I shall wish you a flowing, controlled, and relaxing week!
And to help you unwind, take a few minutes to watch Alex’s hilarious comedy debut! (contains adult themes)
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Great Alex Leviton quotes:
“That’s where courage comes from – when people dance in those levels of vulnerability.”
“What have you done that feels courageous? Wherever you feel vulnerable, where can you take one step towards challenging yourself in that aspect? No matter what it looks like to anybody else, that’s courage.”
“All people have to do is go one step at a time. Take one more step, and then never ever stop.”