Self imposed stress

I have been accused” of being negative. It kind of rare around here, since Portuguese people are not known to be the most positive people in the world (hey! we’re still grieving for having started the discoveries and ended up losing it all). I also have a hard time believing in positive psychology. Smiling your way out of things seems silly and wishful thinking to me, even though there are clear studies that good smiles can take you a long way. But I’m not like that. As many negative people, I, for the longest time, called myself a realist. The story I told myself was that I was better than people with colour tinted glasses. People who chose to see only a part of reality. What I was not telling myself was that I too was only seeing part of reality. By only seeing the negatives and ignores the positives as happen chance, I was ignoring probably 50% of the reality around me.

And I grew up, worried about so much that my mother told that one day I came home with a face like I’d been to a funeral and solemnly told her that I had lost my eraser. This was in primary school. The eraser was super important and serious at the time. Of course, she had no problem calming my nerves and replacing the eraser, but the mentality was there. And it grew as I grew to become a man. The subjects about which I worry now are different (contracts, accountants, IRS, mortgage), but the worry itself is exactly the same: what if I mess this up?

This self-doubt has been crippling (still is) for all of my life. It took a kick in the butt to travel abroad and later an American partner with a healthy dose of self-assuredness, to adjust this ship (me) around a bit. Self-doubt is, for me, still a huge problem. Some days and in certain situations I can be perfectly confident (typically in controlled situations where I have more information than others), but in some other days, fortunately, rare by now, I wake up with this feeling of fear. A hollow feeling right in the middle of my torso, like I would not be able to handle the weight of a feather. On these days I become useless, self-doubt percolates every single decision I make (and you’d be surprised by how many micro-decisions you go through in a day) and even the ones I made before. Should I have delivered this as it is earlier? Now they have an urgent problem… But I couldn’t deliver work half-baked… During these fearful days, I end up doing” next to nothing, grinding to a halt and just going with the flow of anybody else around me.

Self-doubt is the basis for self-stress. It’s the thing that makes you wake up with a jolt thinking about whether you locked your car last night or if you fed your dog among the commotion (yes, you did both, is the answer 99% of the time).

My favourite definition of stress is the difference between what you have to do and what you can do. And with a mixture of perfectionism (which I may write about some other time) and self-doubt, you are changing both sides of the equation so that you have such a high differential that you’ll feel trapped, stuck, not able to move, procrastinate is a common word these days.

So the next time you feel stressed, instead of complaining about the boss or client or partner that gave you something else to do, look inward and see if you can calm down that side of you which is telling you that you can’t do it. Then, start with the smallest possible bite. And then another one. And pretty soon, you’ll be on your way.