Mental Stress affects all of us at one point in our life. We find ourselves in a situation where we feel that we cannot move forward because of the overwhelming amount of thoughts, actions and goals we are trying to focus on. In this blog I want to share with you a metaphor to rethink mental stress.
I will also share the 5 levels of reducing mental stress, a 3 step exercise to reduce mental stress and the 6 actions you take in step 3 of that exercise to completely eliminate mental stress – and it all takes less than 5 minutes of your time.
Your Mind Operates Like a Computer
I want to use a metaphor to make you rethink and understand the problem that causes most of us to have mental stress. Think about your computer for a second. Have you ever had the situation where your computer has frozen because you have so many different apps or tasks open, or you are trying to download something? You are left with that little spinning wheel of death, showing it is loading but not actually taking you anywhere. The CPU is overloaded, and this is most of the time what also happens with us humans when we have mental stress.
The neuroscience shows that attention and consciousness can actually be split. Think of attention like the RAM of the computer, dictating how much you can actually handle. When you have all these extra little things going on you are constantly trying to hold on to them and switch between each one, which eventually leaves you incapable of doing anything at all because of the stress it inflicts.
Imagine you have 100 units of computing power. The video you are trying to download, which could be the equivalent of a project you are trying to handle, takes up 60 of those units because let’s face it, projects take up a lot of our time. Imagine then that you have 5 other little actions that you know you need to do which takes 10 units each. You may also have 5 or 6 little ones that just takes one of those units each. If you are any good at maths, you will by now have realised that you have exceed those 100 units that your brains RAM could handle. You are stuck and you can’t process anything, because you are taking so much time looking after all these other tasks.
So what do you do when your computer shows that little spinning wheel of death? You either close it down or you start closing down tasks, one by one to increase the space and capacity of your computer. The problem a lot of people today have is called “open loops”. It’s these little things we know we have to do at some point, and we keep having to remember them, but the act of remembering them at times when we can’t do anything about them takes away brainpower from focusing on things we could know we need to do. If we could just close down some of those extra little tasks, the same way we close down tasks on a computer, then we could reduce mental stress significantly, and avoid health issues and all sorts of other issues that can arise from stress.
5 Levels of Mental Stress – Where Are You?
If we can close those open loops in our minds, so that they are not causing 10 % of the CPU being used up in your brain, but perhaps reducing it to 1%, then maybe we can get you moving forward again. The 5 levels of mental stress manifests as follows:
Level 1 – Distraction: At this Level everything is a bit fuzzy in your head, you are not really clear on what it all is, you are just distracted. You’ve got this vague sense of wanting to do a specific thing one day, like starting your own business for instance, but you have no plan and no idea of how it would happen. It pops into your head now and again, but fundamentally you don’t have an actual plan of how to get started. It’s not really doing anything for your current situation.
Level 2 – Diversion: At this level you are more clear on what you need to do. You know you need to pay that bill, build that website etc. You may be clear on your goal or action, but it’s still in your head, so every now and then your brain has to loop back and remind you of it, all while you should be doing something else or you may already be in the middle of something else. You might not be able to build you website, or whatever action you are thinking about right there, so it’s just diverting your attention elsewhere. It’s not a complete distraction like on Level 1 though, as it’s still something important that you have to do at one point, just not right at this very moment.
Level 3 – Doubtful: This is the first step of getting it all out of your head. This is where a lot of people are doing goalsetting but in a very fuzzy manner. You are back to being fuzzy, like in Level 1, but at least it is out of your head, you are putting it down on paper or in an app. It might be something like a written goal about starting your own business and you have put the paper in a notebook somewhere. But it’s not clear enough yet, you don’t really have an action plan of how you are going to achieve it. At this level we are talking about goals like “Be Happy” or “Make more money”, goals that are not specific and measureable as they don’t have a plan of action behind them. You are doubtful at this stage that you are ever going to achieve that. So it’s not really distracting you or diverting your attention – but it’s also not moving you forward. But at least you have taken the step of getting it out of your head.
Level 4 – Designed: At this stage you have a clear goal and clear actions of what you need to do. You design what is going to happen and make proactive progress and you can go back and check what you have to do in order to move forward when you need to, having something to refer back to.
Level 5 – Deliberate: Not only is it out of your head and clear to you, but it’s also organised, accessible and helpful. You have a clear sense of what the goal is and what your actions are to get you there. If you just have this random list of some goals or some actions, it’s not clear enough and doesn’t reduce the mental stress as much. It needs to be clear distinct lines of what the big project is and what the little chunks are, as well as what little chunks you can get rid of to free up more space and reduce stress.
3 Steps to Go Up A Level
Since we obviously want to move you up the levels as quickly as possible at Stryv, I want to share with you 3 Steps and some exercises to get you there. We call them:
I did this exercise myself when I was incredibly stressed, just so you can see how I do it. I personally use the Stryv App, but you can also use a pen and paper for these exercises.
The first thing we need to do is get a place to get all of these thoughts and ideas out, somewhere we can do a mental download. Our brain needs it in order to operate, as there are too many open loops and mental overload happening. When this happens to me I use the Stryv App to create a new goal – in this case called Mental Download. You can just write this down on a piece of paper too.
The first action I would enter under my goal in the app or on my piece of paper is “to scribble down everything I think is on my mind at the moment”, in order to get it all out there. Personally I would need to put in actions such as creating frameworks for the mental download for you and creating a podcast. I then put the Goal of Mental Download at the top of my list of goals, because it is what I want to focus on in order to move forward overall and not feel so stuck. The goals of creating frameworks for you and creating a podcast is actually a part of another goal of mine which is reaching 10,000 subscribers on YouTube, so I will go into the app and connect those actions to this goal in order to keep it organised.
Going into the different task on the app or on paper, you can start looking at each individual one and see if it is something you can delegate or do yourself, or if it is something that is definitely related to work versus personal life, and essentially categorise them. Taking them out from you brain and putting them down on paper or in the app, knowing you can access them later is really valuable.
Actions to Reduce Mental Stress
When you have completed your list and chunked it into different areas, you have to actually complete some of the things too. You have already reduce some aspects of the effort that is being used to remember all those things, but you still want to get rid of some of the things completely. These are the 6 Steps to do that.
- Delete: Can you do this now or not? If you can’t, then can you delete it? You might realise that actually it’s not something too important and you don’t have to spend more mental energy on that.
- Document: Can you document it? Maybe you can’t do this right now. You might have come across a really good article that you feel could be good for your business 6 months from now. You can use something like Evernote or the Stryv App to capture it and come back to it when you actually need to.
- Delay: Can you just delay it? Does it have to be done now? Can you circulate back to it in the future? I wouldn’t recommend this as much without putting a date on it, but at least you have captured it and got it out of your head freeing up more space for you to focus on more important things.
- Do: If you can take action on it and it takes less than 2 minutes then do it now. It will feel SO good to get rid of it. This same rule applies to when you are going through your inbox. If it takes less than two minutes – just do it now. It’s one of the most key pillars of productivity management.
- Delegate: Can you do it and is it worth your time? This is key if you want to increase how much you are earning and the lifestyle and freedom that you have. You have to move towards doing the more important tasks that needs doing and delegate the ones that aren’t as high in value to others.
- Diarise: You want to either do it, delegate it or diarise it. At step 6 you want to get it in your diary and schedule it so that you know when you are going to do it. That’s why the Stryv App is really useful because it makes it really easy to capture everything, chunking it into goals. If you haven’t yet diarised it, everything shows up in the unplanned section at the bottom and can quickly be scheduled into the section of your diary where you want to do it.
Those are the 6 steps that should reduce your mental stress a lot, freeing you up to do the things you truly need to in order to move forward. Now you have clear defined areas and goals you are after, the aations you have to take within them – and you can access them whenever you need to without having to go around in your brain for them. It’s also easy to schedule them in your diary, complete or delete them.
I do hope you enjoy this blog and if you do decide to follow many other Stryvers who have completed this 5 minute challenge previously, please leave a comment about how it went and what you managed to get rid of!
Zander is Stryv’s Founder & CEO. He has coached Global Executives & Olympic Athletes & Coaches. He likes creating video content and designing new products for the Stryvers community. He believes more awareness and compassion will create a better world.