More Success – Less Stress

Events don’t cause stress. Resistance to events triggers a stress reaction. Or, as my old friend Dan Millman said:

“Events may create physical pain, but they do not in themselves create suffering. Resistance creates suffering. Stress happens when your mind resists what is. The only problem in your life is your mind’s resistance to life as it unfolds.”  — Dan Millman, author of Way of the Peaceful Warrior

Before I go on, let me emphasize that we are not saying you should just accept social injustice or personal affronts, allowing them to persist unabated. But we are better prepared, more able to fight for what we believe is right when we focus on correcting the event rather than defending our egos, fighting to redeem ourselves, proving that our original assessment of the situation was correct.

We are limited in our capacity to achieve by the time and energy spent resisting. How much more could be accomplished by eliminating all the blocked energy caused by resistance? Understanding the relationship between resistance and acceptance is vital to the ability to succeed, and to do so with a minimum of stress. I offer the following example to clarify this distinction.

Imagine that you have always dreamed of opening a pizza parlor. You drive by the perfect vacant building for your business and see a “For Lease” sign in the window. This is it! Time to make your dream come true. You create a vision board with photos of pizzas, of people laughing and enjoying life with a slice in one hand and a brew in the other. You research everything you can about opening a small business in this industry. You do some self- analysis. Do you have the knowledge and skills necessary to open and run a successful pizza parlor? If not, you read books, take a class or two at the local community college, perhaps even go to work in a pizza joint to learn the trade from the ground up. You are so ready and so confident that you quit your high-paying job in the securities industry and begin taking actions to make your dream a reality.

Because you’ll need a use permit from the city, you prepare a detailed, thoughtful presentation for the next planning commission meeting. To your dismay, the commission turns you down, based primarily on the testimony of several local merchants who show up to protest that pizza parlors promote juvenile delinquency with their video games and loud music. Not to mention the health issues created by all that cheese, pepperoni, sausage, and lard. The merchants want something more sophisticated in the location like another dress store—which would be #31 in the small downtown area.

Just like that! Rejected after one meeting. Do you respond with resistance or acceptance?

Resistance Response: The contrast between the actual result—no pizza parlor—and your vision of the idyllic unfolding of your lifelong dream hits you like a ton of mozzarella—your ego rails at this horrible injustice. You go home and tell your partner how you’ve been treated. She/He leaves you. Well, hey, you did leave a good job and failed to deliver on the promised replacement. You decide to have a bottle of rum for lunch, write a scathing editorial in the local paper about the “scumbags” on the planning commission – and get sued by the city. To prove the merchants wrong, after hurling flaming dog-poop bombs onto all their storefronts, you open a pizza place in a ratty, rundown part of town where no use permit is required. You fill it with violent video games and a loud jukebox. The cops arrest you for promoting gang violence; you receive 6 months of community service, which gets extended to 1 year because they find your fingerprints on the unburnt portion of the dog poop bags.

Acceptance Response: You accept the conclusion of the planning commission, understanding that they were only responding to the wishes of many dissenting merchants. You hire a land-use attorney and begin planning for your appeal to the city council. In the meantime, you schedule meetings with several of the merchants who spoke against your plan. You share with them research as to the positive community effects of pizza parlors, invite them to a taste testing, giving them a role in the selection of your menu, and make concessions about the number and types of video games you’ll provide and the style and volume of the music. No gangster rap allowed. You obtain a permit and open shop.

If you try to solve events while resisting, you are not dealing with the facts; you’re dealing with resistance, with fears and desires—instead of dealing with the event. You compare the actual result with your preconceived image of how it should be.  If they are too disparate, driven by fear of diminished security, your mind clicks into high gear, working to manipulate reality so that it matches your mental image. You are so focused on redeeming yourself, proving that your original assessment of the situation was correct, that you forget to respond to the actual event. If instead of defending your ego, you dealt with the situation, you could focus on the best outcome for all involved, including yourself.

Your life path is long, unpredictable, and unlimited. You can insist that your journey follows, precisely, the map you hold in your mind, and suffer each deviation.  Or you can enjoy the journey and choose to embrace each bend in the road with curiosity and gratitude. The choice, as always, is yours.

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