A large part of stress is thinking about something that worries you for too long or in a repeated cyclic fashion. It can happen very naturally, as our minds can be free to wander at any given time in the day. Sometimes we let problems cycle in our minds uncontrollably. This starts the process of worry and the feeling of being trapped or stuck. We begin to feel the pressure. And like a feedback loop, the feeling of stress can produce even more stress – we lose sleep over not getting enough sleep. We begin to run late, because of the pressure of not running late. We begin to eat too much, because of worrying about gaining too much weight.
The loop must be broken.
A good way to prevent such insanity is to change the way you think. Try this: budget your thinking time. Rather than letting your mind wander uncontrollably throughout your day, allocate a specific time to be thinking, to be doing, and to be relaxing.
The initial resistance you may have to dividing up your day this way is that you might miss some opportunity to resolve that problem. But the reality is, thinking about the same problem over and over doesn’t necessarily help solve the problem. There have been studies and experiences that show sometimes the solution appears when you’re least trying to solve it – maybe when you take some time away from the code, or when you’re just taking a shower. For the creative spark to fly, the mind must be relaxed. When you’re trying to force it, you can’t be creative. It’s like when your friend says to you, “Ok, be funny – right now. Be funny.” You can’t. Creativity isn’t something that comes out on-demand.
And it’s been shown that reducing stress can increase productivity. Rather than worrying about what to do, you spend more time doing it. This is what you want.
So consider spending a set amount of time, maybe in the morning, to think about problems. You will identify what you need to do, make plans for how you can analyze the situation or perform some test or experiment to validate a possible solution. You can theorize and contemplate the big picture as well as the little details. This is the time you spend just crunching thoughts. You write it all down. And when time’s up, you stop thinking about the wide variety of problems and you switch to the next mode.
In the second mode, you will get busy and start doing things. This isn’t the time to be thinking about long-term plans anymore. If you need to plan more, you’ll have to wait until tomorrow (or your next thinking session). Until then, focus on working. Whether it’s studying or learning or experimenting or finishing that project, or writing that code. You only do one thing – you get in the zone – you work. And while you work, you have to train yourself NOT to get distracted with deep, long-term thoughts and concerns. You’re doing your work now. That stuff is not related to completing the task at hand. You are hunting the lion and not planning how to hunt. And during this time, if you accidentally come upon a spark of ingenuity to solve a long-term problem, quickly write it down and forget about it. Go back to it next time you’re in thinking mode. Focus on doing during this allocated amount of time. And nothing else.
You will experience great productivity. In the beginning, it will be hard to focus on work. Old habits die hard. You will find yourself thinking and worrying at various times – especially during a lull in productivity, or when you get tired and take a short work break. Don’t scold yourself. Don’t get angry. That just causes more stress. Just notice that you caught it, let it go, and get back to work. Train yourself, and eventually you’ll become a master of your own thoughts. Soak yourself in your work. Become fully absorbed in it.
Finally, you need the third operational mode: relaxation. You can choose active or passive relaxation. Active will be easier for people beginning to adopt this technique – because it will be more distracting and you won’t have trouble avoiding worrysome thoughts. You can go play tennis. You can go talk to friends. You can try to learn a new song on the piano or the guitar. Watch a movie. Become absorbed in something fun with no pressure. Again, if you catch yourself thinking, just let it go. Go back to enjoying yourself.
Passive relaxation is a bit harder for beginners. Examples include knitting, solo running/jogging/walking, meditation, and other “quiet” activities. Eventually, though, you will gain the ability to stop yourself from thinking about long-term things even during this quiet time. If it’s too hard, don’t pressure yourself to do it. That isn’t relaxation at all. If you can do this, along with switch to the other two modes well, you will find yourself far more relaxed and a lot less stressed out. You will also find yourself more productive, not less productive. You will solve more problems, not fewer problems. And on top of all of those benefits, you’ll be enjoying your life more because relaxation is wonderful.
Hope you enjoyed this tip!