Here is a stress-test scenario for you. Are you doing what you love to do? Whether at work or at home, are you engaged in activities that bring you joy and fulfillment? Simple questions, really. Unfortunately, when I ask these questions many people respond with a negative answer. Most people say they are doing what they have to do to make a living, pay the mortgage and the bills, and work toward retirement. Or they have to make dinner because the kids have to eat and if they don’t do it everyone starves. Very few people say they are following their dream and that they find satisfaction and happiness in their daily activities.
Doing something that you do not want to do is one of the major ways to increase stress in your daily life. It can lead to feelings of frustration and helplessness, especially if the act is continually repeated. A good example is going to a job you hate everyday because you need to pay the bills. If you do it long enough, you may not even notice that your stress symptoms are off the charts. After a while, we just accept it as a part of life.
So here is one way to fix that and lower the stress levels. If you are doing something you do not want to do–don’t do it. Seriously, it is that simple. Think of the old joke about the man who goes to the doctor because it hurts when he raises his arm. The doctor’s answer is also simple–if it hurts, don’t do it.
Of course, there is a catch. It may be a simple fix, but no one said that simple was easy. I am not advocating that you walk away from your job and responsibilities because you don’t like going to office. What I am suggesting is that you have a choice. You may choose to do something or not, but you need to be clear on why you are doing it if you want to lower stress and increase happiness. In most cases, we do things we don’t like to do because we are not clear on what is motivating our actions.
Very often we do things because we think we should. We chase the high paying job because we should–it proves we are successful. We marry and have children because it is what we are supposed to do–everyone else does it. We need to go to work everyday to pay for the car, the house, and all the stuff we have acquired. We use that stuff to define ourselves and we need to maintain the definition.
Ultimately, motivation for our actions falls into three categories: want to, have to, or should. Not surprisingly, stress levels increase across each category. Doing something because we love it involves almost no stress at all. We do it because it is in alignment with our core values, it feels right, and it is inspiring and fulfilling. At the opposite end of the spectrum is doing something because we feel we should. It usually has something to do with self-image, but is not in alignment with values, and doesn’t sit right with us when we do it. Acting out of “should” can only increase stress levels correspondingly. In the middle is doing things because we have to. This is a means to an end or necessary to achieve something. Feeling that we have to do something increases pressure and stress. The good news is that we have the choice to find other means to that end we are looking for. We can always do something else to get where we want to go.
Once we define motivation and realize that we have a choice in all our actions, it becomes easier to change those actions–if we want to.
Another option is changing perspective. Perhaps the job isn’t perfect but we go because we love our family and want to provide for them. Working then becomes a positive action with a positive outcome. Some of the stress is automatically lessened when we view the situation in that light. The job may not be perfect, but it is better. Again, the viewpoint is our choice.
One final thought on this simple fix: not doing what you don’t want to do is not easy. Especially if society and your inner critic is telling you that you should be doing exactly that. However, it is worth the effort. Remember, choices have consequences. If you can align your actions with your core values and draw motivation from there, it doesn’t matter what others say. Doing what you love can only increase your happiness and reduce stress.
And that is a pretty delicious way to live.