Stress gets a bad rap, Sure it zaps our energy and creativity, makes us fat, leads to high blood pressure and early death. With a list like that, what’s not to love?

There is good a side of stress, however. The pressure of new challenges allows us to expand our capabilities to meet those challenges. It is, after all, stress on a muscle that allows it to grow. The key is managing stress and making it work for us, rather than letting it kill us and to effectively do that, we need to understand where it comes from.

We feel stress in our lives from three factors: Lack of Control, Lack of Progress and Lack of Clarity. When we’re able to better manage the causes, we can put our stress to work for us in positive ways. The best ways that I found are:

Lack of Control

Feeling that we’re not in control of the events that are shaping our lives is a major cause of stress for all of us. This is a constant feeling because there is so much of life that is outside of our control. In order to manage this cause, however, we must take control over the parts of our life that we have control over.

Many times, we don’t control the outcomes of events, but we do control what those outcomes mean to us. I cannot control if it rains today, but I can control how I feel about the rain, and how well I prepare for it. Focusing on what I can control allows me to minimize my stress over the fact that its raining and channel it into a more productive use. In order to better manage stress, we must take control of the things we can control.

Lack of Progress

Losing weight is hard enough, but it becomes overly stressful when we stand on the scale after a week of our best effort and see that the numbers haven’t changed. A lack of progress in any area in our life is just as stressful.

This is one of the biggest reasons why I write my goals down every morning along with three big tasks that I commit to accomplishing that day. The first reminds me of what I’m working toward and the second gives me something to complete that will allow me to feel progress. No one likes hammering away at the same rock with no result. Being able to see some crumbles is an important factor in feeling progress. In order to better manage stress, we must make progress every day towards something.

Lack of Clarity

Clarity is the factor in our life that leads to inner peace. When we know who we are, what we’re supposed to do and how to it, showing up and taking control and feeling progress are easy. With so many things nagging at us for our time and attention, however, finding clarity can seem like an impossible task.

I find clarity comes from three main sources: Mind Dumping, Downtime, and Reflection. I’ve spent a lot of time writing and speaking about the power of lists, and that’s because getting everything out of my head, mind dumping, has contributed greatly to my finding clarity. Finding white space on my calendar to do nothing but think, using downtime, has fueled the creativity required to find clarity. Spending a few minutes every evening to evaluate who I was during the course of a day and how I would like to improve, using reflection as a tool, has allowed me to better see who I am and more importantly, who I want to be.  In order to better manage stress, we must find clarity about who we are and what we’re supposed to be doing.

In most cases, stress will subtract more than it adds, but by taking control, finding progress and getting clear, we can manage this ugly beast and make it work for us rather than against us. It is, after all, a driving force in accomplishment, but only if we master it before it kills us.

How do you manage stress to make it work for you rather than against you?

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