Chapter 10 of Jeffrey Kottler’s “Change” has the title of “Reducing Stress and Facing Fears” and talks about stress as both a catalyst and resistor to change. On the stress side, it isn’t the focus of the book, and I’ve read better materials. However, I do really like a quote when he’s talking about the benefits or costs of stress:
The key, then, is to kick in just enough of a stress reaction to help you perform at peak levels, but not enough to override the off switch once the crisis or events is over. [pg. 213]
Kind of “stress when you need it, peace when you don’t”. By contrast, if you can’t switch off, you start shifting towards maladaptive stress responses:
- Turning a blind eye;
- Deceiving yourself;
- Fears and phobias;
- Over-reliance on rituals to manage the day;
- Chronic anxiety;
And if you ask people how they manage the stress that surrounds change or that they use as the excuse to not change (i.e. I’m already too busy/stressed), the list they give is interesting too:
- Music — fully agree with this one;
- Exercise — I don’t get the highs that other people seem to get, but maybe I’m just not at that level yet;
- Spending time with family — wait, I thought we were supposed to REDUCE stress??? Oh, my immediate family, sure, okay; 🙂
- Reading — absolutely, but for me, this is more avoidance…I do this addictively when I’m stressed, almost binging my way into ignoring the problem;
- Watching TV — yes and no for me, as it is already an entertainment activity given that I like serialized story-telling generally (part of the reason I read series);
- Praying — nope;
- Playing video games — yes and no, it doesn’t distract me for long usually, and can actually be another source of addiction/binging;
- Taking a nap — ah, naps. I remember those;
- Enjoying a hobby — mostly writing for me, or already covered;
- Eating — obviously a problem cycle;
- Attending religious services — nope;
- Drinking alcohol — no, not by taste and just as well given family histories;
- Shopping — not really, although it is appealing at times to do some retail therapy;
- Smoking — nope;
- Getting a massage — usually, I am doing it more therapeutically than as relaxation;
- Playing sports — not really;
- Meditating — not well.
The part that I found interesting, and was flagged by Kottler, is that very few identified seeing a counsellor or therapist in that list. I have someone that I see, often when the stress has overwhelmed me and I just want to talk it through with someone who is professionally trained — a shortcut to a mental tune-up. I find her very helpful and have used her three times over the last six years.
Yet I also like the fact that Kottler identifies many of the barriers/constraints to change:
There are still many constraints placed on us by our culture, gender, socioeconomic class, geographic region, physical features, religion, race and sexual orientation. The culture of poverty presents a whole different set of stressors that are quite different from those who are privileged, including increased risk of violence, crime, overcrowding, chaos, and feelings of oppression and lack of choices. In so many ways, the change options available to us are programmed by the earliest training we received at home, school, and through media in our culture. [pg. 221]
But he also talks about common excuses, like “not having time” and that often we believe it when it isn’t really true. We feel stuck but it is more that the big parameters around our life seem “set”. For example, if you were worried you didn’t have enough free time, how many of us would consider quitting our full-time job to do something else? Seriously consider it, not just notionally. Yet that change might free up a lot of time. Instead, most of us will think something along the lines of, “Well, I work 9-5, and the commute pushes that to 8-6. I get up at 6:30, get ready, have breakfast, so no free time there, and when I get home, I have to get the kids dinner, ready for bed, clean up, and it’s 9:30. I need 8 hours of sleep, so I have to be in bed by 10:30 at the latest. This leaves me max an hour a day to clean the house, say hello to my spouse, walk the dog, pay bills, make lunches, etc. If I could only have two more hours each day, I’d come out even.”
Often that kind of time management leads to ridiculous compromises…for example, the writer who decides to get up earlier (Writer’s Block, Time Management, and Other Unicorns) to get that extra hour or two hours in the day, without really thinking about what the impact will be. You can’t just “add hours” to your day, regardless of what any time management system advertises. The only way is to make different choices about your priorities. If your day is full and you add something, something else has to drop as a result.
I’ve blogged before about time management and the Harvard case study. Basically the premise of the story was seeing a jar as a metaphor for time management. The professor fills it with rocks and asks if it is full, students say yes, but the professor adds smaller stones and asks again, students say yes it’s full, and professor adds sand. So on with silt and water. Finally, the professor asks what this says about time management and students incorrectly suggest it means no matter how full your schedule is, you can add more. In reality, and the correct answer provided by the professor is that if you don’t put the rocks in first, they don’t go in. So, decide what your rocks are and schedule them first.
Some people sacrifice fresh lunches several times a week for pre-prepared lunches that are easier to assemble, or they eat out once a week and free up some time that way. They’re substituting purchased fast food over meal prep time. You don’t want to do that all the time of course. Others might substitute having groceries delivered for going for groceries or getting a dishwasher over washing by hand. Others cut back their work hours.
For me, I’m pretty aware of my “time sucks” and where I have some free time in my schedule that I can substitute or shift. Some things I am willing to shift, others I’m not. But I know what most of my rocks are at any given time.
As I’m focusing on weight loss currently in my personal life, I was interested in a quote that Kottler had about the challenges for some to commit to regular exercise:
For one thing, you have to want this really, really badly — so much that you are willing to make it as much a habit as brushing your teeth every day. No missed promises. No negotiation. No excuses. You just “do it” as the Nike slogan says, without a single reason to avoid it. No matter what. Sure, it helps to have external structures in place — companions to join you, a class to attend with a regular schedule, a pattern that you follow without exception. But deep down inside you have to believe that it is so important to your health, welfare, and peace of mind, that you couldn’t possibly consider any other option except following through. [pg. 229]
It’s a pretty hard-core quote, and mostly I think he’s full of crap on it. After going through all the other bits, talking about how hard it is, how many obstacles there are, and the summation is “Just do it”? Really?
It’s not quite what he is saying, or at least, not all of what he is saying, but it undermines the real message — you have to want it and you have to commit. But I’m more of a Seinfeld method than Nike slogan carrier…with the Seinfeld method, the idea is that you commit to doing it for one day. And on day 2, you try to keep the chain going. Similarly for day 3. However, if you fail on day 3, you start on day 1 again. And start building your chain. Gamifying your journey to see if you can “beat your high score” of two days of success. Your commitment is to today, not to all the days that follow. You just need to do it today. And if you fail, you start over. Often the “just do it” crowd fail and their whole commitment can collapse — they were committed to every day for the rest of their life and on day 3, they blew it. Oh well, might as well give up.
While that approach isn’t awesome, I could deal with it. And up until the end of this chapter, I was totally in love with the approach and elements. I was “all in”, as they say. Right up until the conclusion at the end of chapter 10 that there is something that determines your success or failure, a would-be panacea for everyone. Social capital, which Kottler defines in this instance as:
…the sum total of your close connections to family, friends and community.
In other words, if you are a socially-isolated introvert, you’re screwed. It’s also a frequently-hyped solution that is seen (as Kottler says) as a panacea that cures all ills. If you build up social capital, you’ll have more support to rely on, and you can make your change.
And I don’t doubt that it is a contributing factor for some changes, particularly if part of your concern is that you are socially isolated. For example, if you are doing drugs and alcohol to escape loneliness, and you build (or rebuild) social connections, you’ll be directly targeting your triggers. But if social connectedness has little to do with your problem, it’s hardly a solution.
I will accept that you can USE your capital, just like any other resource, but I feel like it is more individualized than that…I am an introvert by nature. Opening up about my problems to social connections is also a bit detrimental — it drastically increases my stress. Previously the same social capital would have been a barrier. For some people, as it did for me, that connectedness would hold them back out of fear of abandonment/shame. It is certainly present for me, but I’m choosing to ignore it. Instead, I’m using that added stress to propel me forward.
So social capital as presented doesn’t work for me. It’s not a panacea, it’s just one other resource available to you if you can use it.