Sunday, August 21, 2011

Overcoming Stress - Choice and Control

"We have two choices: continue to blame the world for our stress or take responsibility for own reactions and deliberately change our emotional climate.”
Doc Childre & Howard Martin, HeartMath Solution
In today's post I want to explore some ideas and distinctions on 'stress' and how through the life enhancing skills of choice and control we can learn to master change and overcome stressing.

Choice and Control

We now have more choice than we’ve ever had before. We live in a time of massive and accelerating change. As the world changes and expands we end up with a huge range of options and opportunities. Research shows that paradoxically this increase in choice is making people:
  • Not choose
  • Regret their choices
  • Feel depressed
  • Feel overwhelmed
There are a couple of issues and insights from these findings.

Firstly, recognise that stress is an unconscious personal reaction to what’s happening to you. If a wide range of choice is stressing you or overwhelming you, notice that it is you who is stressing yourself over having to do the choosing. You create the stress, not the situation. Sure, you don’t do it consciously or deliberately. Nevertheless, it’s your brain and multi-mind (head-brain, heart-brain and gut-brain working together or working in opposition to each other) that’s generating the stressing response.

What this tells you is that you need to learn new strategies for coping with choice and control. That’s what this blog is about. Helping you learn and practice new skills for gaining more choice and control in life. That’s what life enhancing is all about.

Secondly, stressing over a large range of choices is indicative of a poor decision making strategy. It’s a signal that you aren’t clear about your values and outcomes and how to make a useful choice to satisfy them. We’ll deal with this in more detail in an upcoming blog post.

Before getting into decision strategies and values however, I really want you to understand the insight that you don’t ‘have’ stress. Stress is another of those nominalisations – a verb disguised as a noun. There’s no such ‘thing’ as stress. Instead there’s just the process of stressing.

The benefit of understanding this is that stressing is an action, it’s a process. It’s something you are doing. You have control over it. Or more to the point, you can learn to have control over how you are stressing and how you are relaxing. It’s your choice.

As Dr. Hans Selye, the father of modern stress research points out “Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one”. We’ll be exploring this in more detail shortly. Once you understand that the process of stressing is something you can learn to control, you are firmly at a point of choice in your life. Now you can begin to gather the knowledge and skills you need to control how you respond to what happens in life. Remember the Law of Requisite Variety we discussed in earlier blog posts?

It says that the more choice and flexibility you give yourself, the more control you get over life. There is a sister law from Cybernetics that goes hand in hand with this law, and it says that for true control you need knowledge. So the formula can be written as:

Choice + Knowledge = Control

This explains in part why people who are given lots of choice end up in ‘overwhelm’ rather than feeling in control. They’ve got lots of choice, but they don’t have the right knowledge about how to do excellence in choosing. We’ll remedy this in upcoming posts by learning about values and decision strategies.

The formula also shows why it’s important for you to understand that stressing is a process you can learn (knowledge) about how you are choosing to respond to what is happening to you in life (choice). Get it! You are now on the road to controlling stressing in your life because you are learning both of these skills.

Yes it's certainly true that we live in a time of massive and accelerating change. Instead of being a victim of that change, you can learn to master change and lead it rather than being run over by it. You can learn to become energised by the sea of information and change rather than being swamped and overwhelmed by the waves of change. I personally find this life enhancing and something to be very happy about. We live in an amazing time on this planet and by using appropriate skills and attitudes we can live an awesome life of adventure, learning and happiness’ing. Now how cool is that!

life enhancing best wishes,

For more info on the process of Nominalisation and how you can use it to make powerful changes in your mind and life, check out my previous post: De-nominalising your world


  1. You've done it again, Grant! Addressed, so clearly and succinctly, a subject most people need to learn about. "Instead of being a victim of that change, you can learn to master change" just might be the most important sentence I read today!

  2. Hey Jean, thanks so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. I concur, in these times of incredible change, the ability to learn to master these accelerating changes is vital to living a great life. Grasping the changes and even leading the changes is so much easier and more fun than being stressed by the changes!

    life enhancing smiles, Grant

  3. So how do you format all this sensory input in a way the human mind can process it? Choice + knowledge + SYNTAX = control

    Control + motivation = power

  4. Hey Ryan, yup you got it, there are many additional derivatives of this basic formula.

    Syntax for example is a component of knowledge. Motivation is a skill/competency and therefore also a component of knowledge. Each of these additional derivative formulae brings new distinctions, so they are always useful. However, the basis of them all is the two cybernetic laws of Requisite Variety and Requisite Knowledge that underpin 'Control' in life. Once we get that, we can then do as you are doing and advance the focus to additional distinctions.

    Thanks again for your insightful and thoughtful comments. I truly appreciate it when readers take the time to share their thoughts and ideas.

    best wishes,

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