Stop starting to reduce stress

2014 07 08 14 12 01 98 Butler Jen 200

Working with dentists each and every day around the issues of stress I hear a lot of "I'm gonna start ..." statements. I'm sure you say them yourself:

  • I'm gonna start going to the gym.
  • I'm gonna start going on date nights with my spouse.
  • I'm gonna start connecting with patients more.
  • I'm gonna start coming out of my office and engage with my team more.
  • I'm gonna start planning for retirement.

As a task list goes, that's a pretty strong and positive list. One would think a stress management coach would champion a list like this. Unfortunately, I've seen this type of list create disappointment, guilt, and even more stress than most other kind of statements.

The reasons why

Jen Butler, MEd.Jen Butler, MEd.

The list is too generic. Declarative statements are certainly impressive. They express strong decision-making. The reason they often fail us is because they are too generic. They lack the stepping stones or how-to instructions to get us from point A to point B.

Saying, "I'm going to start going to the gym," has no meat to it so it's easy to disregard. Do this often enough and you're just plain lying to yourself for temporary gratification.

The list is a revolving door. So you're going to engage with your team more. A week goes by and nothing has changed. Now this week you're really going to engage with your team. Friday night, again, and no engagement. Now, darn it, this time you're going to engage your team. The revolving-door effect perpetuates our sense of failure and creates feelings of guilt. The constant in start mode, out of start mode, back in start mode eventually weighs you down.

The element of self-deprecation. You mentally tell yourself you're going to start. If you're really brave, you share it publicly with friends or post it on Facebook. Then it doesn't happen. People ask you how it went, and you have to give some reason that doesn't make you feel totally crappy. Slowly but ever powerfully the self-deprecating language creeps in. Your stress response causes you to avoid discomfort and run away from painful situations. Ultimately, you decide why bother to start that again when it didn't work the first, second, or third times. The end result: Nothing changes, you feel stuck, and this experience has taught you not to start that again.

What you can do

Be specific. The details in our action statements are what allow us to move forward with confidence and security. Instead, your statement becomes, "I'm going to the gym after work on Tuesday."

When we have clarity in our action steps, we are able to check off the tasks more easily. We also are able to navigate obstacles that come up and prevent derailment. Being specific means you answer the who, what, when, where, and how questions surrounding what you plan on starting.

Take smaller steps. When we break down our "I'm gonna start ..." statements into smaller pieces, they are easier to complete. For example, instead of "I'm gonna start planning for retirement," it becomes the following:

  • I'm going to read X book on retirement planning every night 15 minutes before I go to sleep over the next three weeks.
  • Tomorrow, I'm going to follow Mr. Financial Guru and Mrs. Retirement Expert on social media to see what they say and recommend.
  • I'm going to take two free, online webinars this month to get some basic understanding of the subject.

Taking baby steps might seem a slower way of achieving what you want. When you consider that you have a higher chance of accomplishing them over the generic "I'm gonna start ..." statements, you actually get there faster. Go slow to go fast.

Redefine. When we say we are going to start something, most people swing the pendulum -- going from nothing or little to maximum or intense. If you currently spend no to little time connecting with patients and now you're going to make sure you connect with everyone by spending 30 or more minutes getting to know everything there is about them, that's swinging the pendulum from one extreme to the other.

Threading in a new behavior into your life isn't about the intensity by which you do it that matters -- it's about the consistency. Redefining how you approach what you're starting in a way that allows you to feel successful while having sustainability will keep you from having to start over again and again.

Here are some ways to do this:

  • Give yourself more time in between events. Example: I'm going to start going to the gym once a month and go from there.

  • Allow for smaller steps. Break down your "I'm gonna start whatever" into the smallest, detailed, components you possibly can. Don't focus on the number of steps. They will eventually get you to where you want to be.

  • Partner with an accountability buddy or coach. Sharing the experience also means sharing the load. Two people doing the heavy lifting is much easier than one.

Jen Butler, MEd, certified professional coach (CPC), board-certified coach (BCC), has been working in the area of stress management and resiliency coaching for more than 20 years. She is available as a coach/consultant, speaker, and trainer. To learn more about her services, to sign up for her monthly "stressLESS" newsletter, or to take the Dental Stress Self-Assessment, please visit her website. Contact her at 623-776-6715 or [email protected] for more information.

The comments and observations expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the opinions of DrBicuspid.com, nor should they be construed as an endorsement or admonishment of any particular idea, vendor, or organization.

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