I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about hamster wheels, stress management and work-life balance. It got me wondering.

Why, if the 1996 book “Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff” by Richard Carlson sold 15 million copies and spent over 100 weeks on the New York Times best seller list, are 75% of us allowing a traffic jam, a deadline, or a spat with our spouse to cause us stress. Why?

The Hamster Wheel Within

The short answer is stress doesn’t have anything to do with the small stuff.

In fact, it doesn’t have anything to do with the big stuff. Contrary to the annual American Psychological Association reports, stress is not caused by money, work, the economy, family responsibilities or personal health concerns.

It’s our thoughts about these events and conditions of life that cause stress.

Think about it. Do you ever lay awake at night worrying about being laid off and not being able to find a job? Have you ever worried your spouse will leave you? Do you ever replayed a conversation in your head, thinking of what you should have said to your boss? Have you ever spent hours wondering if you should quit your job because you don’t like your boss? Have you ever worried you might get sick just like your mom or dad?

What do these situations have in common? Each of these stress events aren’t about events per se. They are thoughts about events that have already happened or might happen. It’s your worrying, agonizing, stewing, what if, what might be thoughts that cause stress. Hence, stress is an internal game.

Our Beliefs Are The Engine

So what is the hamster wheel? The hamster wheel is our spinning, pouncing, twirling, gyrating thoughts of what might have been and what might be. Said differently, it’s the projection of closely held, unchecked, lessons learned a long time ago beliefs onto a current situation. The result in an automatic, unconfined, biological, psychological and hormonal flash dance of stress.

Here are a few examples of stress inducing beliefs:

  • I must be the perfect parent, spouse or employee
  • I must work hard to be successful
  • Work-life balance is for not possible
  • I must raise the perfect child
  • I must work long hours to be rewarded
  • If my child doesn’t go to the best school, her future is doomed
  • Money is hard to come by
  • Life is not fair

If you’ve every wondered why traditional stress management techniques don’t work you now know. These kind of beliefs create a stress mindset. Therefore we need a stress resilient mindset to exit the hamster wheel.

We Can Change Our Beliefs

One of the deadliest beliefs we have is believing we can’t change our beliefs. Unchecked, this belief will doom us to a hamster wheel existence.

We develop our beliefs from our parents, teachers and life experience. Some beliefs serve us, i.e., if I put my hand on a hot stove I’ll get burned. Some do not, I.e., the only way to get promoted is work harder than everyone else. It’s often the latter beliefs that drive our stress. To build a stress resilient mindset, change or neutralize your stress inducing beliefs.

I could tell you that changing your beliefs is hard. But then again that’s just a belief. What I’ve found is choice is the key to changing your stress inducing beliefs. Choose to create a stress resilient mindset.

I believed I had to work long hours to be successful much less keep my job. I held this belief until I discovered, during a doctor’s appointment, that working long hours might also land me in a wheel chair. In that moment I chose to change this belief. I have been choosing ever since.

Choice works to change beliefs because it sets us free and creates beliefs that serve us. I still work a long day on occasion. What’s different is I now choose to work late. In the past I never questioned the choice to work late. I just did it. Now I choose work-life balance and self-care.

As I practiced choosing work-life balance and self care, a funny thing happened. I discovered by choosing work-life balance and self care I was more productive and successful. Now that is a stress resilient mindset.

Life Igniting Challenge: Choosing A Stress Resilient Mindset

Choice is the exit ramp from the hamster wheel. When you choose a stress resilient mindset, you create work-life balance, happiness and freedom.

Start by identifying a few long held beliefs. Then make different choices every day. Do this again and again until the stress inducing belief loosens its grip on you.

What stress inducing belief has its grip on you these days? What’s a stress resilient belief you can choose? Share in the comments below.


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