While stress is rampant among today’s society, particularly among today’s youth, everyone wants to point at technology.
It’s understandable, since my phone and e-mail seem to always be buzzing, but there’s another theory I’ve been thinking about that causes so much stress:
Living life outside of our values.
It’s not a flashy idea, but everyone has internal values they live by, whether they have taken the time to reflect on them or not.
- Maybe you truly value a life of minimalism, but you can’t stop buying things. The stress then builds on your life because your heart wants less clutter but your home doesn’t give you that peace.
- Maybe you value adventure, but your daily grind without a single break to get outside is wearing you down.
- Maybe you value being self-reliant, and having to borrow from your parents is eating away at your self-worth.
- Maybe you value your health, but you can’t stop drinking soda when you’re at work.
- Maybe you value the strenuous life, and your comfortable living is clashing with your internal feelings.
While the modern living is stressful with all the new demands we never had in the past, the real stress comes from not harnessing this new technology to get us closer to what we value.
Instead, we constantly distract ourselves from what we care about and convince ourselves that it is everything we need.
We all value different things, that’s why there is no one lifestyle that is perfect for everyone, even though every “guru” out there tries to sell you something otherwise.
Yes, stress is a good thing every now and then. Stress of exercising your body, striving for your goals, asking someone on a date, but that’s a much different kind of stress than living a life outside of what we value.
A life outside of what we value is one that wears away at the soul. It’s a stress that will kill your spirit and make you feel empty inside.
Actually, science has determined a name for the different kinds of stress: eustress and distress. One is good, and one is bad.
We want more of the good stress and less of the bad stress.
Here’s how to get your life back on track:
1. Take the time to determine your values.
The Art of Manliness has an incredible post on how to take the time to find your values.
What I did was find a notebook and write down every time something made me feel irritated. I found a few common themes: eating food I knew was bad for my system, skipping a workout, buying cheap goods made in China, having too much clutter, not making any progress on my main goals… All of those made me feel irritated.
Yes, it will feel weird to have a notebook of complaints for a month, but this is valuable in order to determine what you actually care about. You’ll be able to tally up certain things to find the real underlying values that guide your life and why you feel so stressed.
2. Calculate how you’re going to live your values.
This is the hard step. You’re going to have to change parts of your life that might feel hard to change.
A relationship might have to go, you might have to cancel that online gaming account, you might have to start changing your career. Just make sure to start with one value at a time. Start with the easiest one first if it’s a huge change.
You might have years, or even decades, of living a life outside of what you truly value so give yourself the time to make slow steps toward what matters.
3. List your basic rules.
There will be a set of minimum rules you will not break at any cost.
Some examples include:
- No phone at bed time.
- No video games until all your work is done.
- You will not sleep until you have done 100 squats.
- You will not cheat on your spouse.
- You will do something adventurous every month.
- You will donate one box a week.
- You will play outside with your kids 3x/week.
Understand some weeks will be better than others, but if you have a simple list of rules you follow, it will make life so much easier. It will also make your weekly planning much easier (A series on weekly planning is coming!).
4. Stay focused on what matters.
Don’t fall back into the trap of superficial distractions.
Sometimes we feel unnecessarily irritated and it’s important to let that feeling sink in until you find the root cause of the feeling.
Modern life makes it all too easy to distract ourselves when we’re feeling bad. There’s all kinds of stimulation to keep us busy and away from what we’re really feeling.
Benjamin Franklin is known for tracking his virtues in a chart:
(Virtues and values aren’t exactly the same thing, but hopefully you get my point.)
This might be something worth doing yourself as well. Tracking each day whether you were closer to a life you value or when you made choices that didn’t help.