The Truth About Stress

Last week, in preparation for the Tough Mudder race that ETR Publisher Matt Smith and I are doing in June, I went to the local YMCA to run ‘hill sprints’ on the treadmill. Running for one minute at 9 miles per hour at a 6% incline for six intervals was tough, but it put a positive stress on my muscles and cardiovascular system. When this stimulus is combined with appropriate recovery between training sessions, my body improves and gets better at the task.

When exercising, our goal is to apply a stress to the body in order to achieve an adaptation. For example, a young man might apply the stress of repetitive biceps curls to cause muscular growth as the desired adaptation. In contrast, a practitioner of yoga would hold stretches for extended periods of time in order to stress the body into increased flexibility over time.

However, each one of these good stresses can go bad. A runner who increases mileage too quickly can suffer from overuse injury. A beginner yoga enthusiast can stretch too far, too soon.

Physical adaptation (i.e. training improvements) is what happens when we apply good stress during a workout. Physical deterioration (i.e. overuse and and overtraining detriments) is what happens when we apply either a bad stress or too much of a good stress during a workout.

The big lesson is that there are both good and bad types of stress. Keep that in mind as we go along. The stress we deal with often walks a fine line between good and bad. Stress can make you grow (literally and figuratively), and stress can damage and destroy you.

In our exercise examples, a situation where you physically can’t handle the stress requires you to use a more appropriate alternative exercise method or to eliminate the stress completely. A good coach or trainer always makes sure to have a good reason for everything you do. Again, it’s a fine line between good stress and bad stress.

This is exactly the same approach we must take with the mental stress in our life.

Recently I posted the following as my daily inspirational quote on my personal Facebook Fanpage.

“Stress (can) kill. No matter how painful in the short-term, remove all chronically (negative) stressful situations, environment, and people from your life…Search out positive people and experiences.” – Kekich Credo #35

While some of my connections agreed with me and “Liked” it, I was dismayed to see so many other people offering excuses as to why they couldn’t follow Kekich’s advice. There was a lot of ‘moaning and groaning’, as my mom would say (that’s the phrase she used to describe my childish excuses when I was asked to take out the garbage back when I was 10 years old). But moaning and groaning is expected only of a child, but not as an adult. Certainly not an adult that is taking personal responsibility for their actions, as one should.

Listen, you can’t go your whole life blaming everyone else for the life you’ve gotten yourself into. That’s right, you got yourself here. Only you can get yourself out of whatever negative situation you are in. And only you determine how the stress is going to affect you mentally. You control your reactions. You control your life.

For this outlook in life, the best advice comes from Dr. Viktor Frankl. As a prisoner of war in Auschwitz, the most infamous of all German concentration camps, Frankl suffered and toiled for several years, and was one of the few to survive the atrocities.

In 1946, Frankl published the first version of what eventually became his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning”. This book has been the most influential of all the books I’ve read in my adult life. In it, Frankl chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate based on his psychotherapeutic method of finding meaning in all experiences, even the most heinous ones, and thus a reason to continue living.

Two of my favorite quotes from Frankl are:

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

“Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Unfortunately, most people do not, and will not ever understand this. They choose only to complain and will not look for a way to change their circumstances.

You, on the other hand, are different. You can change. And you are willing to, as Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”

To do that, you must start today. After all, as Dan Sullivan, one of my coaches, once said, “You can either create or you can complain.”

If there are stresses and troubles in your life, what steps can you take right now deal with those issues? Are you actively working on creating a better life or are you just being lazy and complaining about your circumstances?

Seek those who will support your change. Good people are out there…they do exist. They want to help.

If it is physical changes you want to make, there are many excellent colleagues of mine in the fitness industry all over the world who would be happy to help.

If the changes you seek are financial, heed this thought from another one of my mentors, Dan Kennedy, who says, “Show me the people you hang out with, the library in your house, and the material you read day-to-day, and I can predict your bank balance. Association matters.”

Make the right choices, starting today. And forget about past mistakes. Take only the lessons, and not the regrets, from the past.

If you fall “off the wagon” – in any area of life – cut your losses, don’t stress about it, and get right back on track. Immediately. It’s minor damage that can be dealt with and there’s nothing you can do about the past anyways. Focus on what you can do now and in the future.

[Ed. Note. Craig Ballantyne is the author of Financial Independence Monthly, a program that shows you how to achieve your financial independence in the new economy. He’s also shared the 10 books that have had the greatest impact on his business and philosophies in this list here.]