When the work that you do is primarily intellectual–that is, you use your brain most of the time rather than your body–difficult tasks can often have the effect of soaking up all of your available willpower. This is especially true of cases where something is hard, and you allow the fact that it is hard to stress you out.
For example, if I have an upcoming final exam, and I allow myself to stress over the impending doom I forsee, I’m going to physically tire myself out in doing so. This happens for a multitude of different reasons, but one of the biggest is because we are accustomed to fighting ourselves. We think that we need to power through, and overcome, by gritting our teeth.
In the body, this will translate quite literally into muscle tension. When you really don’t want to do something, and you force yourself to do it anyway, your efficiency drops off a cliff. One hour of work you don’t want to do is like doing 10 hours of enjoyable work, and those who can enjoy what they do are naturally better at it.
Stepping Outside of Stress
A common Buddhist technique, shared by many other methods such as Huna, is to try and understand these moments of physical tension. Before you can treat an illness, you have to first diagnose it. Much like Alcoholics Anonymous, the first thing we have to do is understand what is stopping us from attaining our goals.
One way to understand what is draining you of your willpower, productivity, and happiness, is to simply write it down. Pay attention to yourself as you go about the day, and each time you find yourself having a negative reaction, or a positive reaction, write it down on a piece of paper.
If you remember that you have to do laundry later, and you loathe the idea of doing it, make sure to write that down. Don’t judge yourself for having a negative reaction–don’t think positively or negatively of your response pattern–just be aware that it is going on. If you try to force yourself to stop having it, then you’re increasing the amount of entropy in your system, which is exactly the opposite effect that we are after.
Understanding the Beast Within
After a few days of understanding what causes negative reactions out of you, your next goal is to decrease actually doing those things that stress you out. If you feel stress at the thought of doing homework, then don’t do it. Relax, and once you feel more calm about approaching your task, then allow yourself to do it.
For many people, life is a series of tasks that all need to be accomplished so that we can get somewhere we think we need to be. In reality, the only place we should want to be (and the only place we can ever hope to be) is right here, right now. If life is a to-do list where each task is a separate stressful event, then is that life worth continuing? For me, I say no.
Meditation and Calm Direction
After you understand your stressful reactions, and you’ve scaled back the tasks that you loathe doing, it’s time to start reprogramming your reactions to those events.
I’ve found that simply by observing the emotion–by taking in a breath and understanding that the feeling is just a passing thing–it has a tendency to diffuse on its own. If I start to feel pressure, I simply have to ask myself why I feel that pressure, and why I think it’s so important to feel that pressure right now. Then I focus on letting my muscles relax (especially my shoulders), and the problems begin to melt away.
There are multitude of techniques to reprogram your subconscious. I’ve written about several in this blog (see Categories: subconscious), but one of the best is meditation. Directed meditation can be used by imagining yourself in a situation where you would normally feel stress, then casually breathing in and observing it in your mind.
Maybe you feel stress when you have to see someone you don’t want to see: first, imagine them across the hallway that you’re walking down. Here you will likely feel some of your muscles tense up–just allow them to relax away. Then, you start walking towards each other, and you focus on relaxing and breathing some more. Then you pass each other–maybe you even smile and say hi–the whole time you’re thinking of relaxing.
Stay with that process for every negative reaction that you’ve had–after some time, you’ll find that the amount of internal conflict will decrease, and you will feel more energetic throughout the day.