Learning to handle stress well is one of the most important life skills to master. If we can stay true to the best version of ourselves during difficult or stressful periods, then success will come a lot easier.
Until sitting down to make this list I hadn’t thought about how many challenging times I’ve lived through.
So far I’ve managed to survive…
Forty amazing and challenging years with my beautiful wife Mary. If you’re married – you’ll know what I mean.
Living in a caravan with no running water and no electricity for 18 months.
A bushfire that ravaged the 50 square kilometres of native forest our wooden house was built in the middle of. Mary and I ended up on the roof of the house listening to the deafening roar of the wall of flames rushing at us.
A terminal illness. In 2003, I was diagnosed with cancer and given three years to live. I’m cancer free and delighted to be 12 years down the track.
31 years in the same business, doing what I love, despite often being close to the edge of the cliff.
The death of my little sister.
I imagine that list isn’t so different than the average person’s. Perhaps it just feels big because it’s mine.
Of course, those are just the ‘big’ events. Daily life can be pretty stressful when you’re flying all over the country, speaking to hundreds of people at a time, running a business and juggling a family life.
So – what do I do to keep myself stress free?
Here’s the five things that work for me, without fail. Try them out and see how you go.
“When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world.” Eckhart Tolle
There is nothing like ‘just being’. It’s a fantastic way to centre and relax yourself and can be particularly great during busy, stressful times because you only need fifteen minutes. It often brings with it desperately needed perspective.
Here’s an excerpt on stillness from my book, Beyond Success.
“Stillness is close relative of mindfulness, though we don’t have to focus consciously on the moment – it’s a method of just being. Silence is often a critical aspect of any practice involving stillness. This almost simultaneously defies definitive description and is stunningly simple.
For example, many people visit our home and express how beautiful it is. Yet when pressed they are unable to answer exactly what it is that has struck them.
Of course it’s not the house itself – it’s the 250 acres of native Australian bush surrounding it that hits them. Standing in the middle of a paddock that appears to be endless, timeless and serenely, silently, still can have a profound effect on someone used to traffic noise, streetlights and the frenetic need to do something, whatever that might be. The impact is even greater on those who visit on a clear night and see the Milky Way in the sky.
We can lose our connection to our spirit by being away from nature too long, but even people that are lucky enough to live in magical environments can let them become familiar and fail to notice them at all. Strange as it may sound, this trap is one I have fallen into more times than I care to mention, so now I grow veggies in a patch out the back. Tending the garden drags me out there when I think I don’t have time and causes me to slow down and connect with what I call the Great Spirit. Watering, weeding and wondering can’t be rushed. Sometimes I think growing the veggies does me more good than eating them.
I have two other favourite ways to practice stillness.
The first is that every now and then I take the dog up into the top paddock (15-minute walk), light a fire, boil the billy, make and drink a cup of tea. The time required to gather the firewood, get it cranked up and then boil the water is enough to slow me down and lower the pressures of the day to the correct level. Drinking the tea without burning my mouth can’t be rushed either.
This kind of contemplative time revives, refreshes and renews. I take the dog because it can’t talk and loves me just as I am. It’s happy and eager to go wherever I decide, and coming back home is as big an adventure as leaving. This kind of companionship might be ruined with words.
The second is that I keep a Zen (kind of) calendar on the bedside table. One of my children usually gives me one for Christmas. It is designed to display one day at a time, and I rip yesterday’s off each morning to look at today’s. Each page has a short piece of wisdom written on it, in addition to the date.
On arising from bed, I like to grab the top one, read it, and then contemplate the message of the day for a few moments before heading off to the shower. It usually takes less than a couple of minutes, but it sets up the entire bathroom-thinking time to run along a sequence inspired by that original insight. It’s much better than dwelling on how many jobs there are on today’s schedule and winding up on the day before it has even started. Not only is it a better way to start the day – because I travel inwards instead of into the future – but it also means I turn up for breakfast in less of a rush and much more at peace.
I should add that these two little routines have provided me with tremendous insight because my most inspired thoughts turn up during this still time.”
What does that look like for you?
Only you can really answer that. Suffice it to say you need to find at least three ways you can practice stillness that really do it for you.
Remember – stillness does not necessarily mean being physically stationary. Stillness happens when you are experiencing harmony with yourself and the world around you. It can be discovered any time there is total, uninhibited participation in the current moment.
Here’s a few ideas:
- Find a spot in nature you can just sit and enjoy the view
- Get a ‘zen garden’ to play with (one of the tabletop sand and stone setups you can play with)
- Take ten minutes at least two times per day to just sit and breathe deeply
- Find a place where you can have quiet time (i.e. actually seek out a lack of sound)
- Disconnect from your technology and devices for an evening
- Try Yoga
- Give Tai Chi or Qi Gong a go
- Spend uncluttered time just being totally present with a pet
The (many) benefits of meditation have been scientifically proven over and over again. From improved brain function and a better mood to better physical health and everything in between, meditation is the king of personal effectiveness tools.
There’s little new I can add other than this: find a version of meditation that works for you and get it into your daily routine.
My personal experience is that meditation consistently delivers calmness even when there is a storm raging around me.
There are plenty of free meditations available on the internet. You can even just play some peaceful music while you close your eyes and breathe deeply. The key is to find a quiet place, sit comfortably, focus on your breathing (it needs to be slow and deep) and stay in the moment. If your mind wanders, just gently bring it back. Don’t judge.
Creativity is an excellent way to tap into the part of your brain that doesn’t ‘wind up’ with stress. It forces a step away from the pressures of the daily grind and brings you into the moment. Creativity is also an excellent way to get in touch with yourself.
Try whatever works for you – painting, drawing, writing, designing houses, DIY, playing music or dancing. If it’s something creative you can get lost in, it’s perfect.
I spent a few years in oil painting classes, but my lack of talent halted any genuine desire to stick with it. Creative writing has become special for me and I’ve been lucky enough to find an avenue to make some money with it via my books. That said, the process satisfies the part of me that yearns to contribute far more than the money ever will.
Here’s a few ideas:
- Get into DIY projects
- Try learning an instrument
- Go to a dance class
There’s something about getting your hands in the dirt and being a part of nurturing growth that defies description. Gardening gets you connected in a way that is difficult to replicate with other activities.
I absolutely love to grow tomatoes. I’m quite content buying everything else at the Farmers Market. My entire garden is planted with tomatoes because when there’s too many for me to eat, I find great joy in making tomato sauce to give to my friends. I couldn’t pay enough for the look on their faces when they get a bottle of sauce. The cost per bottle on that sauce is ridiculous if you consider my time, but that’s part of the fun.
So find a way to get your hands in the dirt! If you’ve got the room, start a garden. If not, find a local plot you can use, or try gardening in pots. You might even find someone who doesn’t have time to garden but will let you use their yard for a share of the crops.
Find Excitement, Adventure & Joy
I cannot tell you how important this is. Find something that makes your heart swell and your face split with a smile so big it hurts. Then do it as regularly as you can.
This is a fantastic stress reduction technique, because it’s hard to be stressed when you’re having so much fun. Sure, the things that were putting the pressure on are still there, but you’ll handle them much better when you’ve balanced them out with some fun.
I own a stupidly powerful, absolutely gorgeous, unreasonably loud Harley that sits in our back yard constantly begging to be ridden. For me, there’s nothing like cranking that bike over into a bend and scraping the pegs while it bellows and scrabbles for traction on the limit.
Obviously that isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but it makes my heart sing. When I’ve been for a ride, I feel refreshed, reinvigorated and absolutely liberated.
Find whatever makes you feel like that and do it often!
It’s hard to write a list of helpful ideas on this subject because it’s such an individual thing. Just keep trying new things until you find the right feeling, then stick with it.
Remember – just because the world around you is in chaos, doesn’t mean you always need to join in.