Create a​ ​Stress-​Resistant​ ​Life​

Lesson 4/7 - Reduce Stress with Three Rs


Create a​ ​Stress-​Resistant​ ​Life​


Lesson Info

Reduce Stress with Three Rs

First, let's talk about how do you reduce stress? Need to start designing around things you're not good at, and you need to start deferring, delegating, or quitting high stress activities where you can. Some things you cannot, and some things you should not. If you have a young baby, you probably should not delegate or defer that stress, right, that's important. But, if you are overwhelmed with a bunch of different committees and tasks and things that you signed up for that are optional, well, it might be time to withdraw or defer. Another thing you can do is say, "I'm not going to build this house this year. "Let's wait till next year, let's wait for two years." Anything you can delegate, if you're not good at an activity, have somebody else do it. Find somebody else to do it, pay somebody. This is the thing, pay somebody. Think about your hourly rate. My father refuses to shovel snow. I mean, sorry, he refuses to hire somebody to shovel snow because it's so expensive, and I think abo...

ut what his salary used to be vis a vis, what this guy lifting snow would be, and it makes no rational sense, but we don't want to let go of stuff. So I actually, I don't, some people like to shovel, they like to garden, they like to mow, they like to do this stuff. I don't like that sort of home maintenance stuff, so I got out of the big home with the pool, with the chemicals, with the lawn, with the shrubs, with the maintenance, all of that stuff that probably took me three to four hours a week, shoveling, I don't do any of that now. I live in a condo and I have no responsibilities. I don't shovel, I don't mow, I don't garden, except for my little side plot, and you know, like the dryer switch broke the other week and I just called the guy, like he came and fixed it, I didn't have to do anything. Because that doesn't add to my life. Now some people like that stuff and that's fine if it sort of toots your horn. But what can you get out of? And then how to you design more of your life to spend time in areas of flow, in your areas of strength? We mentioned there if you could spend at least a third of your day in areas of your strengths, you'll have triple the willpower, triple the resilience of people that don't, and if you're spending all of your time playing whack-a-mole with weaknesses, I can assure you you're gonna have, you're gonna be very brittle, and you're gonna react poorly when stresses come your way. That's when your elephant is gonna overreact. So that's the first step, it's actually the least important but you have to do it first. And that's where you know the flow state we talked about before, getting in this flow state more and more often, at least a third of your day where your challenge and your skills meet. You're gonna grow faster, learn faster, everything gets better. Then the last thing is design around your weaknesses rather than fix them. We spent the last module talking about that but what can you stop doing, what can you design around so that you're not spending all your day playing whack-a-mole. Okay, now we're gonna play a little guessing game. Step two is recovery, something that apparently not many people do well when it comes to psychological stress. So, we're gonna play a little guessing game. Somewhere in this list are the top three ways that adults recover from stress based on research from Dr. Ari Levy in Chicago and Daniel Goleman. So, and this is relatively new research, a couple years old. so take a guess the top three ways that adults recover from stress. Just shout out-- Sleep, meditation, and... Sleep, meditation, and? Vodka! Vodka, all right. (audience laughs) I like you both because when I sat down with Dr. Ari Levy in Chicago and he played this game with me, I said sleep, meditation, and red wine. So we are almost right on there. And his answer to me, and my answer to you, is wrong. It's actually none of those three. So, I'll give it to you in reverse order. Not that those aren't important, they potentially are. But here's the top three ways that adults recover from stress in reverse order. Number three, which I should have guessed, is low grade exercise. And I should have known this because as an athlete training on the national team for 15 years, we didn't take rest days off. We did something slow and easy. The guys on the Tour de France, they ride for nine days, for seven, eight hours a day, and on their 10th day, the day off, they ride for three hours slowly. We are wired for movement, we metabolize stress through movement, both physical and psychological stress so we need to have movement in our lives. Now, 100 years ago this was not a problem. Everybody walked, everybody generally speaking had a physical job. If you have, if you're a FedEx driver, if you have a physical job, this is no problem. But a vast majority probably of those watching and here in the room probably have a information worker type of job where you're sitting at a computer and there's no necessary instigator to movement. If you don't have it, you have to design it in. It is essential to metabolize stress through physical movement. 10,000 steps, doesn't really matter what the true metric is, but, you know, park in the out lot if you have a job. Find some way to bring it into your day-to-day activity. Make sense? So that's an easy one. All right, so number two kind of threw me. I didn't really see this coming, but it's social intimacy. Being with the people you love, the people that love you, is another way that we metabolize and process stress. And I don't know about you, if you've ever done this, but I actually, during that same sort of 10 year period, I traded this one off as well. I would get calls from friends, "Hey, let's meet for a drink. "Hey, let's go for dinner." I'd be like, "I'd love to, but I'm just too busy. "I'm too busy." And I traded off almost all of my social relationships with the exception of my nuclear family because I was too busy. Now, for a week that's fine, like sometimes you've got to make trade offs to get something done. To do that for a year or 10 years, that's completely maladaptive. I would have been a better father, husband, son, brother, if I had taken the time to spend time with people who love me that I love because I would have been more able to make good decisions, to lead better, to process faster, to get work done more efficiently and effectively if I had taken the time to actually do this thing. And is this hard, by the way? Like, how horrible, oh I'm telling you, oh, you have to spend more time with friends. (audience laughs lightly) "Oh, woe is me! "This guy is telling us we have to do this terrible stuff. "I have to move more and I have to meet with people more." So that's number two. But number one completely threw me, I didn't see it coming at all, and it actually took me a while to really process it, is physical intimacy of any sort. From petting a puppy to being with your partner, we are wired for touch. All mammals are wired for touch. I didn't really get my arms around it till I thought of the studies of the Rhesus monkeys, for example, where they, this was back in I think in the '90s, they pulled Rhesus monkeys babies away from their mother, didn't let them touch, they could see but could not touch, and these monkeys, they went off the rails. They never, never adapted to their environment. There was the same very sad story of Russian orphans in the '90s that were kept in orphanages and not touched, and at even a few months of lack of touch meant that they never, never adapted to society. We are wired to have touch in our lives. There's a reason they bring in the petting dogs into crisis situations. Simple things like touch really, really, really matter. And so, we've got to have all three of these to properly metabolize stress. Does that make sense? Okay, so. I was sitting with Dr. Ari Levy, we're sitting at actually a rooftop place in Chicago, and he's like, "So, I just want to tell you by the way, "John, I think that stress is actually way down "compared to 100 years ago." I was like, "What? "Dude, we just talked about the pace of change, "technology, this that and the other thing." He's like, "I mean, yeah, there's, it's faster, "but you're not gonna die from an email. "You're not gonna die," he's like. Think about 100 years ago. You could die at work, you could die on the way to work, you could die of typhoid, you could die at childbirth, and lots of people did, you could die of the cold, of the heat, like it was a cold, dark, hot world with no safety mechanisms and no modern medicine 100 years ago, and that's scary, like, that's scary, that's stress, right? That I could die or my child could die tomorrow, that's real stress. But we've lost our ability to metabolize it. We've lost our ability to adjust. So he's like, so let me paint a picture. A 30-year-old 100 years ago, and a Millennial worker today. 30-year-old 100 years ago walked everywhere, they probably had a physical labor job, so they had movement all day, every day. They most likely worked with family. So they were constantly socially intimate, they worked with other people, not through computer screens, live in person, and they probably lived in a three or four generation household where small rooms, narrow hallways, three kids to a bed, lots of physical touch, animals as well. So their world, even though dark, cold, hot, dangerous, was filled with ways to deal with those stresses. Like now fast-forward, the Millennial worker, here they are. They quit the softball team and jogging 'cause they're too busy with their new startup or the new gig they just got. They work in a cubicle, and they don't have time to socialize with their friends anymore and Facebook and Instagram don't count, I asked him specifically. And they don't have a pet or a boyfriend or girlfriend because they're too busy with their career, and voila, they've lost all three of the major adaptive systems to help them deal with the stressors, and what happens is, as they get more fragile, they start to emit cortisol from these little stresses. Snarky email, side word from coworker, missed deadline, somebody not showing up, being late, and this starts to flush people with cortisol 24/7, which absolutely will kill you. So you actually can die from 1,000 emails. 1,000 email paper cuts because if you're flushed with cortisol 24/7, that causes inflammation, inflammation leads to all the bad things, cancer, heart disease, all of that stuff. So this actually can kill you if you don't have those built-in stress relief mechanisms. And so, you know, this isn't that hard, right? Walk to work, have a drink with a friend, and get a puppy. Super easy, but super, super powerful. So the last R, reframe, is actually the most powerful. So we've learned, we got back to the center of the curve, we've reduced our stress. We're learning to recover by just doing these very, very simple things, but reframing our relationship with stress is the single most powerful way, and there's really two tools that I'm going to recommend on how to do this, and that is really just the way you perceive stress in your lives. How do we shift our perspective of stress? So, how do we treat stress as a game, and how do we use mindfulness to get the reins back on it? So I think that mindfulness, if you're not familiar with mindfulness, or meditation, it's an incredibly powerful and useful tool that's becoming the buzzword all over the world for a very, very good reason because if you don't know what it does, at its simplest, you take control of your breathing. That's the simplest form of mindfulness or meditation. And why do that, that seems so simple, it seems not particularly useful, if you practiced it a few times you'll find this is really boring, "Why am I doing this?" Well, what you're actually doing is you're putting more reins on the elephant. It's the easiest metaphor I can think of. The elephant's in charge, it's gonna get a stress like a snarky email, it's gonna rear up, it's gonna take control, it's gonna lash out, you're gonna be shouting at your coworker or acting poorly, and then you'll feel bad about that, that's gonna cause you to have more stress and when the elephant is in charge and maladaptively responding to stress, again, if somebody comes out of a hallway with an ax at you, fighting like crazy or running like crazy or both is perfectly adaptive. But when somebody sends you a snarky email and you march right down there with the same, it's the same reaction, right? It's aggressive, or you flee and you don't want to talk to them for two weeks, that's maladaptive. That's when you don't want the elephant in charge. So what mindfulness does is it gives you reins to control those stress responses so you can make an informed choice about how you'll respond to that particular stressor. And how does it do that? Well, you take control of your breathing. Breathing is one of the few things in your parasympathetic nervous system that you can either control or let go. I can't personally control my heart rate particularly, maybe a few beats, but I can't really, without like tensing muscles, I can't control it. It's completely out of my control. I can't control my elephant's response to stimulus until I train it, and the best way to train it is to take control of your parasympathetic nervous system by taking control of your breathing and monitoring it and controlling it and listening to it, and when you do that, you start to put more straps on your elephant. You start to train yourself to control other parasympathetic responses like how we respond to stress, and when you get good at it, man, that snarky email comes in, and you go, (inhales) "Hmm, how should I respond to this? "I'm curious about the nature of this particular email. "It seems aggressive and I don't know why. "Maybe I should go ask him or her." And when you can walk down there and have a curious conversation versus a shouting match, that's an adaptive response. And that's what meditation gives you. Now, I'm going to teach the room and the audience to practice meditation in about 30 seconds. So this is Phil's three step process, three step, three by three mindfulness meditation practice. All you do is you're gonna pick three objects in the room, so for me, a monitor, camera, LED light. So three objects. So pick three objects, just pick them out right now. And then when I say go, we're going to look at the object, close your eyes, take one deep breath, breathe it back out, move to the second object, and take one deep breath, breathe back out, we're gonna look at the third object, take one deep breath, and breathe back out, and we'll be done. Take about 30 seconds. Now, why are we doing this? A, you're gonna take control of your parasympathetic nervous system, which means you regain the control over your elephant to some extent. B, if you know anything about, if you've ever had children or you've been around babies, what is the best way to keep a crying baby from continuing to cry? You distract it. Food, bright shiny object. What this mechanism is doing is it, you're ruminating, most likely you're ruminating right now. There's something running in your head, some worry, something that's sitting back there, but if I make you look at an object and name it, you distract yourself from a moment 'cause you have to do that. So you're distracting yourself from your rumination, and you're taking a deep breath, taking control of your parasympathetic system, and in so doing you're actually going to create a little bit more control over your mind and your stress response just in 30 seconds. All right, so you ready, you've got your three objects? Okay, here we go. First object. (inhales and exhales slowly) Second object, name it quietly, in your head. (inhales and exhales slowly) And third object, name it in your head. (inhales and exhales slowly) Okay. How did that feel? Anybody notice a little difference? What did you feel? Somebody just share what might, maybe what it felt like? Slower heart beat. Slower heart beat, yep, yeah. Anybody feel a little, just a little bit calmer? I mean, I'm up here, and I feel calmer. (audience laughs) It's really creepy that it works, like it feels like it shouldn't work, but it totally plays into exactly how our brain works. We, distraction will keep us from rumination, and deep breath will take control of your parasympathetic, and when you can do that, you start to create greater, greater control. So if you ever find yourself totally overwhelmed, take that 30 seconds. I mean, yeah, I mean great mindfulness, meditation practice, they could do it for hours, but baby steps, and this is a great way to start. Okay, so mindfulness is one way to reframe your relationship with stress. The second, which I think is even more important is how you reframe it to gamify your stress. And gamification is becoming this like super buzzword as well, so I'm gonna make this as simple as possible by using the metaphor of Sisyphus. Now anybody familiar with the legend of Sisyphus? Sisyphus was, it's a Greek legend, he was cursed by the gods for some slight that he gave to them to have to roll a boulder, a giant boulder up a mountain and let it roll back down for all of eternity. So this was the worst curse the gods could think of to punish poor Sisyphus. Except it's no different than bowling. It's no different than bowling! Like you roll a boulder down a wooden aisle at these arbitrary pins. You have to do it over and over again, it's not light, but it's a game. Suddenly it's a game, when it's a game, it's okay, it's not this major wipe you out, tear you down stressor because our brain response to games is fundamentally different than to things we perceive as threats. So, how do you gamify things? Well first, what happens when you gamify things? When you view stress as a threat, you emit cortisol, we talked about that before. When you get flushed with cortisol, bad things happen, it will kill you eventually. If you gamify things where you view it as an opportunity, a challenge, a way to play, same stressor, then you emit DHEA, and oxytocin. DHEA actually is a way of reducing inflammation. It calms you, it reduces your heart rate, and oxytocin causes you to ask for help. It's the hug hormone. Cortisol causes you to narrow your focus and not ask for help. So basically if you're stress threat cortisol elephant reared up kind of stress, you're going to hunker down, narrow your focus, not see opportunity, and ask nobody for help and probably not get anywhere. If you gamify and you say, "Oh, okay, "this is one of many options. "Maybe I should ask somebody for help. "Let me calm down and think outside of the box here "for other solutions." So you think broader, you ask for help, and you calm yourself down, way better, way better way to manage these stressors. But how to do that, right, how do you gamify things? Well, I'll give you a couple of examples. Does anybody here, ever had or been a teenager? I think all of you, right. Was it, I have one. Was it any mystery to me that there might be moments of hormonal imbalance that could lead to outbursts from a teenaged child? No. Everybody warned me. Like, "Oh, 13, get ready." Right? I mean I heard this over and over again, and then it happened, right, it happened. She came in one day and announced some problem and I apparently dismissed it 'cause it was this big, and it became a mountain, right? The molehill became a mountain and I got the slamming door in her room on her phone telling everybody what a poor father I am, right? I actually got an "I hate you," which I had never gotten before. And it's definitely not true. And so what did I do? So her elephant's up, right, full on cortisol flush, what do I do? Same thing. I go to her room, I push through the door, I actually kind of broke the little latch thing, and I'm yelling at her, "Don't you ever!" What did that get me? Did that lead to progress? Did that resolve the situation? Did we find some natural solution from both of us being all cortisol flushed? No, no, nothing happened, nothing happened. And then I, you know, I eventually calmed down, and I'm like, "God, I'm such a hypocrite. "Like I talk about this stuff and I can't even do it." (audience laughs lightly) And then I learned this trick, and I thought back to, all right, so her elephant's on the rampage, what do I need to do? I need to distract it. And one of the best tools I have is cooking something that smells really good. 'cause she loves food and she's a foodie and she cooks as well, so I start cooking one of her favorites, I don't remember what it was, but, you know, it was about an hour later and the door sort of cracks open and it's like, "What are you making?" And there was no addressing the issue at the moment. I had to wait. And then eventually I got curious and starting asking questions and eventually led back to stasis. So then, I started realizing, this is going to happen, this is a gravity problem, right, this is going to happen, I can't fix it. So I need to know it's coming, and so I'm going to make this a game. And so I gave myself a one in five chance that I was going to have an emotional outburst. So there's a 20% shot, means I'm going to get one once a week, and, when I didn't, the day's already better, right, oh, everything's fine! But if she came to the door and there was this, you could just sort of tell this mode, then I'm like okay, this is one of those days. I knew this was coming, it's my one in five shot, what do I do? I do nothing. I actually do nothing. Let her go to her room, talk with her friends. If she wants to talk about it she will, but she generally doesn't, not with me. And then that's it. And I didn't rear up and entangle and that's not going to get me anywhere. And so you can do this too. This sounds weird and hard, but all right, let's say Bob's just a total jerk at work. I mean, he just is, right? And you've got a 50-50 chance of Bob being a jerk today. Okay, if it's not, if he's not, you already have a better day. And if he is, well, you knew it was coming. It's a gravity problem, you're not going to fix Bob. So you sort of accept and roll on. So whatever you can gamify, whatever you can turn into a stat, a little research project, a little side game in your head, these things are going to happen, but I'm going to choose how to respond, that's what you can do with gamification and then you can start thinking outside the box and asking for help 'cause that's what that response gets you. Same stimulus, different response. Does that make sense?

Class Description

Workplace stress has reached all time highs with no end in sight. In this session John will reverse a typical question people ask. Instead of “How can I reduce stress to perform better?” John will help you consider “How can I perform better under increased stress… and learn to like it?” Explore a new model of resiliency based on neuroscience, where proactive challenges are designed to build capacity for ever greater performance under pressure, while learning the new brain science of recovery. Illuminated by entertaining and informative stories from John’s Olympic and business careers.


Susan Burks

John is a wonderful and passionate speaker. The way he weaves his own stories into the material as a resonate touching through-line makes the learning that he shares stay with you. We all need to be more resilient in the face of more and more and more and his insights and tools are both uplifting and change-making.