Taking the first step to eliminate stress in our lives involves asking the right questions. The first question I asked myself when I finally hit my edge – that moment where I knew I couldn’t carry on any longer with all of the stress in my life – was why. Why are you stressed out about all of these things that you do every day? And, more importantly, why are you doing all of these things that you do every day?
Instantly, my usual answers popped into my head: “I’m stressed out because I have too much to do and not enough time." and "I do all these things because…I like the challenge…I like the excitement of the rush to meet a million deadlines…it feels good to accomplish things… I just like being busy, and...well, at least for some of them, I just 'have to'.”
There. I had an answer. I relaxed a little. I was going to be ok.
But there was this other voice. A voice that said, “Really? Come on Danielle. Those are the answers you always give. You sound like a Dictaphone recording. It’s just you and me here. You don’t need to pretend. What’s the real reason? Why do you really do all of these things?”
When a more meaningful answer didn’t pop into my head, I knew I’d discovered the real problem. Those were the answers I had been giving to these questions for as long as I could remember. And suddenly those answers weren’t enough. There had to be a bigger reason, a more important reason, for doing the things that I did other than simply the challenge of doing them and the satisfaction of “getting things done”.
So I started to do some searching. I looked deep within myself. I tried to find the reason, the passion, the meaning behind all of the things that I did.
And slowly, and very reluctantly it hit me. I didn’t really know. I couldn’t see a strong “why” for a lot of the things I did. I just did so many things that I had no time to stop and think about why I was doing them.
So I tried to come at it from a different direction. I started asking myself a new question – “what”. What are the things I care passionately about in life? What do I believe in? What brings meaning to life for me? What makes me happy? What do I value? What is important to me?
Those were big questions. And it took some time, but I came up with a pretty solid list.
Once I answered my “what” questions I started to trace the answers back to all of the things I did. I began trying to list all of the things I did under each of the things I cared about in life. And sometimes I could slot them in, and sometimes I couldn’t. Some of the things I did still floated out there without any real meaning attached to them.
When I finished and looked at the lists it surprised me to see how so many of the things that I did were not furthering something I cared passionately about. But what surprised me even more was that some of the things I cared passionately about had only one or two little things listed under them, and one of them had none. I had been neglecting things that were important to me.
These realisations were extremely hard to accept. And I think I would have rejected them completely and gone back to living blindly if I hadn’t written it all down. Once I had it all out on paper there was no hiding from it. No burying it back somewhere below consciousness where I could only recognize it as a feeling of “something is missing”.
You might be thinking, this is all very interesting, and a little bit philosophical, but what does the knowledge that the things I was doing didn't align with my "whys" and my "whats" have to do with eliminating stress?
What I've realised is the answer is, everything.
As it turns out these were the most important questions I could have asked myself. The answers to these questions have set me on a path which has already eliminated unbelievable amounts of stress in my life. Something I never thought possible.
What I’ve learned is that by becoming aware on a conscious level of what is important to you as well as how all of the things you do align with those values you will be setting the stage to eliminate stress. Simply answering the questions will by no means rid you of all of your stress and your stress-related problems, but what it does do, is it builds the foundation upon which you can start to polish, tweek, build, shift, deconstruct and reassemble, or demolish and rebuild your life in ways that will make it truly and uniquely yours.
And when your life is yours, and by that I mean that the things you do every day are aligned with the things you care passionately about, that is when the real magic happens. Life becomes more and more…stress free. :)