Sunday, September 25, 2011

Work Stress or Lack of Discipline?

I'm back! After not posting for a while. A lot of hours at work and just being very busy left me little time for blogging.

However, while these last several months have been really crazy, I feel as though I've managed it well. I had a few moments where I wigged out, but I found myself able to take hold of myself and quickly regain control over myself. I kept my thoughts calm and even and did not allow myself to go off the deep end. Summoning this impacted me within seconds, and I noticed it sometimes telegraphed itself to others and 'destressed' them as well. Not saying I'm perfect by any means. I'm a very strong personality, and I did have a few 'moments' where I was just panicked. However, I know I dealt with these last few months far better than in times before my Zen training.

As things are slowing down, a thought occurred to me that work stress isn't all from external sources (i.e., our job, boss, coworkers). Much of it is self-inflicted, and much of it is created by undisciplined reactions to external sources. That means a lot of work stress is self-inflicted and I can just decide to shrug it off. A few things I noticed:
  • Deadlines that aren't deadlines. I say I'm going to do something by [date], and then I - admirably - feel obligated to deliver. However, no one wants on-time - but subpar - results. We create stress by assuming everyone is inflexible (and/or that we always have to submit to that inflexibility).
  • Other people's stress. When someone else gets worried, I find myself becoming worried. Empathy is good, but it must be controlled. It's best to sit back, dettach, and think: "Is this really a problem or are they freaking out?" Not letting others determine our mindstate avoids stress.
  • We gotta do X. Sometimes, we have to examine what we're doing and get to essentials. This takes a lot of discipline because we tend to think everything we do is critical...and it's not. The difference between 'good enough' and perfection is often too slender for all the extra stress it causes.
  • Dropping the ball. People request stuff and then forget about it when something more critical comes along. If you ask about the task, they tell you to deliver (because they are stressed). But if you say just goes away. If/when it comes back, everyone says: "Yeah, let's do that now. I know we had to put it on the backburner." Naturally, this takes some wisdom in using it.
  • Summon the right mindstate. When I feel stressed, for a few seconds I think about the smooth stone on my zen table or a moment of enlightenment I had while in zazen. My breathing notably becomes deeper, my tension level plummets, I feel my shoulders relax, and my thinking becomes much cleaner and logical. This is really helpful in conflict situations or when someone is wigging out because I become detached emotionally and my stance and tone are much calmer when I reengage. I had a client who was literally exploding (swearing and all). I did this and - within seconds after I reenaged - he calmed down and even apologized for his outburst. We solved the problem within seconds after the dynamic shifted.
All these observations have one theme in common that is a hallmark of Zen: taking control. Stress comes from being undisciplined mentally: feeling like we're out of control or have no control. Zen trains you to understand that you always have control over yourself: how you think, how you respond, what you feel - and what you choose not to feel, etc. By maintaining this discipline, I got rid of a lot of unnecessary stress. Or perhaps the stress that is bred from stress. I learned quite a bit from this situation, and I was happy to see my Zen training validated in such a concrete way.

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