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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.

QUESTIONS

  • 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?
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.

Curiosity Matters and here’s why

Curiosity Matters and here’s why

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.”   

-Albert Einstein

 

Our desire to know makes us curious and this leads us to ask questions, look for answers, and move forward. Questions create more questions and it becomes a never ending cycle of discovery.

Curiosity helps us to gather knowledge. The more we gather, the better prepared we are to adjust to changing circumstances. We can’t adapt, if we don’t know what we’re adapting to.

If you’ve ever asked why something is the way it is, how things work or what this means, that is your curiosity at work. The space between knowing something and not knowing, forms the curiosity gap. Humans have a built in desire to fill this gap.

By asking questions, we come to understand ourselves and other people. We see a clearer picture of what is around us. Questions lead to better thinking. Many times we fear questioning. In school, we worry the other kids will laugh at us. Teachers sometimes discourage questions and we end up accepting and not questioning what they say. Let go of the fear of being laughed at and called a fool. Question your teachers, your parents, your friends, everyone you meet. Do it from a place of wanting to learn. The more curious you become, the less bored you’ll be. Curious people keep themselves busy; wanting to know more about the world around them. This is what drives progress in all fields.

According to Ian Leslie in his book, Curious,* there are two kinds of curiosity; diversive and epistemic.

Diversive is the kind of curiosity that seeks excitement and novelty. It’s what keeps you scrolling through your social media feed non-stop into the night. You’re looking for anything entertaining. Epistemic curiosity seeks to go deeper into an area to learn something new. You see an interesting article, you read it, then search more on the topic, and go deeper. Learn to use both types to your benefit.

As we age, we lose our curiosity. The way our parents respond to our constant questioning plays a big part in how curious we continue to be, through adolescence and as adults. If our parents tend to ignore our questions and don’t inspire us to keep questioning, eventually, we stop asking. If parents answer questions, they provide incentives for more questions and fuel curiosity. If parents answer questions with more questions, it pushes children to come up with their own answers and think for themselves.

Curiosity helps in keeping us from thinking we have all the answers and already know everything. It keeps us open to different perspectives of seeing the world. In this way curiosity helps to develop two other qualities; open-mindedness and humility.

Open mindedness will keep your eyes open and your ears too. It will remind you that what we know individually, is insignificant compared to what we all know as a whole. That is also small, compared to all the things we still don’t know. Accept that you don’t have all the answers and neither does anyone else. You’ll have to learn from many sources. Even then, you still won’t know that much. That, should keep you humble.

Isidor Rabi won the Nobel Prize in physics, in 1944.

He was once asked,*

”Why did you become a scientist, rather than a doctor or lawyer, like the other kids in your neighborhood?”

Rabi answered, ”my mother made me a scientist. Every other Jewish mother in Brooklyn would ask her child after school: ‘So? Did you learn anything today?’ Not my mother. She always asked me a different question. ‘Izzy,’ she would say, ‘did you ask a good question today?’ That difference made me a scientist.” 

You will find questions all over this book. They are meant to inspire you to think and search for answers which will lead you to ask more questions. That will push you to keep expanding as a person and always find something to be fascinated about. Even more important, it will keep you open to all the possibilities you haven’t considered.

Things to try:

  • To keep yourself curious, ask questions and think of your own answers. Try explaining things to yourself first.
  • Search for answers. Go to the library, search the internet, ask people. Ask everyone you know.
  • Never stop questioning!
  • Use diversive curiosity to find interesting things and then use epistemic curiosity to dig deeper.
  • If you don’t know, ask. It’s better to not know and find out, than to pretend to know and stay ignorant. Be humble, ask, and stretch your mind.
  • Ask why three times.
  • Ask why not, what, what if, where, when, who, how.

QUESTIONS

  • What good questions did you ask today?
  • What are you curious about and how can you learn more about it?
  • Why are you curious about that?
  • Who could this help?
  • Are you curious enough?

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