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The benefits of stress

The benefits of stress

The benefits of stress don’t receive much attention. Maybe it’s our desire to move away from pain and towards pleasure. 

Stressful situations will build your stress tolerance. In, Antifragile,* Nassim Nicholas Taleb says the opposite of fragile, is antifragile. This means that as a system goes through stress, it will actually get stronger and become more resilient. Your body, for example, when going through a workout; the economy and the periods of recession or a business that goes through hard times and still manages to survive and become stronger.

When you go to the gym, you put strain on your muscles, you break them down, and they ache. This process causes them to harden and strengthen. If you want to keep getting stronger, you have to consistently put them under stress and lift heavier.

Taleb says tranquil environments create fragile systems. In a relationship, when you avoid disagreements and anything that causes a challenge, you may think you’re maintaining the harmony. But the moments of tension and challenges lead to growth and create shared experiences that can strengthen your relationship. What we do by trying to keep the peace, is create an emotional flatline which ends up creating a boring relationship.

Challenges and difficulties are a natural part of growth. Any time you choose to move forward there’ll be challenges. If you see these challenges as problems that can’t be overcome and panic, you won’t be able to enjoy the benefits. By going through the difficulty, we develop the antifragility that creates progress.

We have to embrace volatility instead of trying to reduce it. In The four-hour work week, Tim Ferriss says, “A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” *

Putting yourself in uncomfortable situations creates stress, but it makes your comfort zone expand. Doing that will allow you to develop courage and the ability to take on bigger challenges.

While stress can have negative effects on your health, what determines the effect it has on your life, is your attitude.

Kelly McGonigal, author of The upside of stress,* studies stress and helps to bring awareness of the negative effects it has on our health. She did this until coming across a study of how stress could actually be beneficial to our lives. McGonigal investigated further and began to change the way she viewed stress.

These are some of her findings:

  • Your stress mindset is what determines whether stress will be helpful or harmful for you. What do you think of stress and how does it affect you, your relationships, and your health?
  • You have to understand the downside of stress, but if you focus on the upside, then you will gain more benefits.
  • A meaningful life is a stressful life. Often our level of stress is an indicator of how involved we are with everything in our lives.
  • Happy lives are not stress free and stress free people do not necessarily live happy lives.

What you believe about stress determines the results it will have on your life. If you see stress as:

  • Able to strengthen your willpower
  • Challenge you and help you push past your own limits
  • Part of the process of learning and growing
  • THEN, you’ll be able to benefit from it.

Stress can lead to worry and worry can lead to stress. What we worry about, often doesn’t occur.

Warren Buffett likes to ask, “Is it knowable and important?” *

  • If it’s not important and not knowable—> Don’t worry about it.
  • If it’s not important, but knowable —> It’s not important, so don’t worry about it.
  • If it’s important, but not knowable —> Don’t worry.
  • If it’s important and it’s knowable —> Prepare for it beforehand.


  • What are the areas that provide the most meaning\ value in your life? How much stress do they contribute?
  • Is the safety and desire to mitigate risk making this system more fragile or antifragile?
  • Are you building fragility or antifragility in your life?
  • What is causing you the most stress and why? Can it make you more antifragile?
  • Are you adding or reducing volatility in your life? What are the consequences or side effects?
Making decisions

Making decisions

“It is hard to imagine a more stupid or more dangerous way of making decisions than by putting those decisions in the hands of people who pay no price for being wrong.”

-Thomas Sowell


What you want is waiting for you. You have to decide to go and get it. It’s easier to make a decision when we’re clear on our purpose. It may be as simple as asking whether this decision is taking me closer or further from what I want.

Other times, it’s not as simple.

Decide what you want. If you change your mind along the way, that’s fine. Making the choice to go one direction, beats waiting for the right moment, the right circumstances, or more information, to make the right decision.

The one who wins, is the one that can take any circumstances they are dealt and still play a great game.

Here are some reasons we make bad decisions:

  • We don’t have experience to draw from in the situation.
  • We have an immediate pay off that is positive and overlook the long term effects which are negative.
  • We don’t consider the consequences of what we decide.
  • We don’t know ourselves well enough. We don’t know our strengths, weaknesses, we have no clear purpose.
  • We are blind to our own biases and have few tools to approach different problems.
  • We don’t consider different options.
  • We don’t understand certainty, uncertainty, risk, reward, opportunity cost, and probability.

Here is what we can do about the above:

  • Study and learn from history about what works and what doesn’t. Read biographies of people who have gone through similar situations or who have achieved what you want and learn how they did it. Deconstruct people into strong skills they possess. Work on developing those skills. Stay curious and constantly search for ideas.
  • Consider the longer term consequences by asking “and then what” would happen if I did this? Do it a few times. Look for the potential problem areas beforehand.
  • Get to know yourself. Experiment a variety of things in life, in work, in relationships, in different environments. Travel. Then reflect on what you’ve learned about yourself through those situations.
  • Ask for feedback and different opinions from a variety of people to get more perspective.
  • Learn different ways to solve problems. Search for ideas.
  • Consider all the options you have and rate them.
  • Consider the certainty, uncertainty, risk, reward, opportunity cost, and probability in your possible choices.

In, Take the Risk,4 Dr. Ben Carson discusses four simple questions to ask yourself in order to make a decision. They are:

  • What is the best that can happen if you do this?
  • What is the best that can happen if you don’t do this?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you do this?
  • What is the worst that can happen if you don’t do this?

These questions provide a simple way to uncover and assess the pros and cons of your options.


  • What are the different outcomes and their probability of occurring?
  • What is the opportunity cost? The tradeoff you are making?
  • What is the best\ worst that can happen if I do it or if I don’t do it?
  • What are some of the most difficult decisions I’ve had to make and how did I do it? What was the result of those decisions?
  • How can I improve the chance of being right in my choices?
  • What other tools can I use to make good decisions?
  • Am I being biased and is that affecting my ability to see clearly?
  • Who can provide good advice or help?
Pain and joy

Pain and joy

All the pain, the sorrow, and the discomfort we feel, makes us stronger. This is difficult to accept whenever we go through difficult situations. Often, we get stuck and see no way of getting out. We go around in circles, deceiving ourselves into thinking we’re going somewhere, when in reality, we’re headed nowhere.

To develop your ability to handle pain, first make the choice to be tough and to withstand the difficulties life throws at you. Then act the part. You must go through situations that force you to be a tougher person. This way, you develop the skill through real experience.

Pain brings with it pleasure. Sorrow and joy come hand in hand. Whatever happens, you can learn something from it and be better for it. How you respond to situations that affect your life, will determine whether or not they benefit you.

The guitar is made from the wood of a tree. Before it can be a musical instrument and produce beautiful melodies, the tree must be cut down, dried, cut into pieces and reshaped. The wood gets sanded, painted, varnished, and nuts and bolts are attached to it. All the parts are glued together and left to dry. The strings are placed and then tuned. Finally, you can play the finished guitar, and if you know how, you can make amazing music. The wood had to go through the pain of being chopped down, cut, sliced and carved, to get to the pleasure of making sweet melodies.

The four noble truths that Buddha taught were:

  1. The truth of suffering – There is suffering in life from the beginning to the end.
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering- The reason for our suffering is desire.
  3. The truth of the ending of suffering – Suffering can be ended by detaching from desire and attachment.
  4. The truth of the path to the ending of suffering – There is a path that eliminates suffering.*

If you are trying to avoid misery, you’ll end up experiencing misery. In order to put an end to it, you have to face it and accept it. We tend to shoot ourselves with two arrows, as Thich Nhat Hanh says, in No mud, No lotus.* The first arrow is a situation that causes us pain and suffering; the loss of a loved one, the ending of a relationship, the failure of achieving a dream. The second arrow, is due to our beliefs. We over exaggerate the pain and suffering and create a domino effect of negativity. As Hanh says, “we need to learn to stop shooting ourselves with the second arrow.”

First, you have to realize that happiness cannot exist without suffering. Both of these things are only momentary. They do not last forever. They are constantly working together.

Every day, as Hanh says,

“Every birthday we celebrate life, we also celebrate death and the passing of time. They are happening together, at the same time…The flower when it wilts, becomes the compost. The compost can help grow a flower again.”

The rain, the clouds, the sunshine are not the flower, but they are part of what helps the flower, become a flower. Without these, there wouldn’t be a flower.

Our suffering also comes from our resistance. As Osho says in, The art of living and dying,*

the pain often disappears if you flow with it.”

How can we do that?

  • When you feel pain or suffering, use statements like:
  1. “Such are things.”
  2. “Such is the way of the body.”
  3. “Hello my suffering, I know you are there.”
  4. “Good morning my pain, I see you. I am here. Don’t worry.”
  5. “This too shall pass.”
  • Locate the pain, sit in silence and just observe it. The more you look at it, the stronger the feeling and the easier you will see where it’s located. Oftentimes, it disappears after this. The cause of the pain may reveal itself to you. If it comes back, repeat the process.
  • Practice letting go. What would happen if you lost all the things you consider to be important and necessary to live your life?
  • Concentrate. Focus on the moment. If you find yourself focusing on the past or other things that are not occurring or going to occur, be thankful that you are not in that situation.
  • Practice meditation and breathing.

Spending time in solitude

Spending time in solitude

“Solitude is painful when one is young, but delightful when one is more mature.”

– Albert Einstein


Humans are social beings.

Lieberman in his book, ‘Social,’ says, “Food, water, and shelter are not the most basic needs for an infant. Instead, being socially connected and cared for is paramount. Without social support, infants will never survive to become adults who can provide for themselves. Being socially connected is a need with a capital N.” *

Without the social connection to caretakers, infants would be helpless and they’d die. In the past, an adult thrown out of their tribe wouldn’t have access to the food, shelter, and protection of the group. This was a death sentence.

It explains why people who are loners or spend lots of time on their own, are often seen as strange or anti-social. Yet, solitude provides many benefits that are hard to come by when we are constantly distracted, by the company of others.

Sara Maitland in, How to be alone,* discusses how different groups of people encourage spending time alone. The Aborigines, for example, sent their kids on a six month “walkabout,” in order to prepare them for adulthood. Monks and knights spent time alone prior to their initiation and called it a “vigil.”

Today, some Ivy League universities encourage gap years. A year after high school and before university where students do volunteer work, travel, try different jobs, and experience the world on their own. This helps them gain independence, get to know themselves, and experience life in different ways. It also helps them determine what they want to do with their life. That way, they’ll be more certain of what they choose to study in university and increase the probability of it being fulfilling and rewarding.

Many artists and creative people seek spaces where they can work without distractions. This leads them to long periods of time in solitude. But this solitude also allows them to fully focus and develop their creativity. Henry David Thoreau wrote his famous book, Walden, while spending two years alone at Walden Pond. Spending time on your own is a way to bring out your creativity and produce great work.

Solitude forces you to spend time with yourself; getting to know who you are, what you think, why you think that way, your dreams and fears, what you’re good at, what you’re not. It helps you understand what you want out of life and where you’re at, this very moment. It allows you to reflect and get a clear picture.

Getting to know yourself is not a destination. You’re a living, breathing thing, and you’re constantly changing. What you once considered important and what you wanted when you were young, is likely to change. Continue getting to know yourself by experimenting and reflecting. You may never know everything about yourself. The more layers you peel back, the more interesting your path to discovery.

Some ideas to embrace solitude:

  • Go into nature. Go for walks, ride a bike, paddle a boat, ride a hot air balloon.
  • Be fully present. Be mindful.
  • Plan out alone time. Go on your own adventures to new places.
  • Travel alone.
  • Do activities on your own. Go to the movies, a cafe, a museum.
  • Reflect daily on your life.
  • Ask yourself questions.
  • Get to know yourself by experimenting.
  • Create something on your own.


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