The other day I was talking to a woman who, in a dispirited voice, told me that she was stressed to the point of not being able to focus on her work. I told her that, when all is said and done, stress is just a state of mind brought on by an external event.
An external event, however, can cause stress only if an individual chooses to react to it in a negative way. In other words, there’s no such thing as external stress. Stress is something you unconsciously create in the shadows of your mind.
I went on to assure the woman that she shouldn’t feel like she’s out there on a limb all by herself, because every human being feels stressed from time to time. That includes even those who normally display an aura of being calm, cool, and collected.
That said, since everyone experiences stress, what it really gets down to is frequency (how often) and extent (how extreme). And controlling frequency and extent is directly related to two factors: desire and self-discipline. If your desire to not be stressed is great enough and your self-discipline strong enough, the frequency and extent of stress in your life will be minimal. It’s a matter of choice.
This got me thinking about how many other choices people make that are not in their best interest. Putting aside the issue of those things that are presumed to be inevitable, the number of choices we make every day are, for all practical purposes, infinite.
For example, last weekend I had a mental lapse and forgot that I’m allergic to 21st century bread-and-circus America. Yep, I actually ventured into one of those Goodies for the Masses Shopping Malls and was in awe of how every store was stocked to the brim with shoddily made goodies from China, Pakistan, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, et al.
Here in the D.C. area, rapacious government employees jam these Goodies for the Masses Shopping Malls in a frantic effort to exchange their rapidly depreciating dollars for tacky products from Third World countries. And as they spend, spend, spend, the nation’s debt clock continues to tick, tick, tick.
I was also awed by the number of people who looked like artificial eating machines mounted on human legs. Don’t get me wrong. I have a great deal of empathy for grossly overweight people, because they remind me of myself in my early thirties — a time when my waistline got so big that I was lucky the universe was expanding.
But, empathy or not, I know, from firsthand experience, that a sumo-sized body is a result of choice. Like a giant python, I once chose to eat everything I could fit into my mouth — food, napkins, silverware … you name it.
I finally took a hint from my mirror and started cutting back from obscene gluttony to mere giant-sized portions of food. And, through the power of choice, I ultimately succeeded in developing semi-normal eating habits and thus managed to resurrect my humanoid (sort of) physique.
In thinking about it, it occurred to me that eating is very much like stress. (In fact, it’s often a result of stress.) Food is all around us all the time — at least those of us who live in industrialized countries. But it can’t get into your stomach unless you make the choice to put it there.
Again, like stress, everyone overeats at one time or another (frequency) and to one degree or another (extent). The trick is to not do it too often and not to do it to an extreme. It’s a matter of choice, and that choice is determined by one’s desire and self-discipline.
Then there’s laziness. Millions of people in our brother’s-keeper society embrace laziness with a religious fervor. Yet, even the hardest-working, most responsible among us have their lazy moments.
But laziness is also a choice (made possible by a plethora of so-called government safety nets), and it’s okay to choose to be lazy now and then. It’s when it becomes a permanent way of life that it destroys a person’s self-esteem. Again, however, all that is required to cut back on the frequency and extent of one’s laziness is the desire to do so and the self-discipline to get off one’s butt.
Another example: swearing. I doubt there are many people who have never sworn, though they may do so rarely. But millions of people swear to the same extreme as some folks overeat. It’s not that there’s anything inherently wrong with swearing. It’s just kind of a stupid way to express oneself, and excessive swearing tends to make people view the addictive swearer as an immature, unmitigated fool.
Again, it all gets down to choice. You can choose to swear or not to swear. It’s a matter of having a great enough desire not to swear and the self-discipline to control yourself.
One final example: lying. No one is perfect, so everyone probably tells an occasional little white lie. But if someone tells giant-sized lies day in and day out, he has a serious, self-destructive problem. Fortunately, however, it’s a problem that can be solved through choice. If one’s desire to change is great enough and his self-discipline strong enough, he can change. No one can force him to make a career out of lying.
I could go on and on with other examples, but the point is always the same: It’s a matter of frequency and extent. If you do any of these things too often or to an extreme, it can lead to serious problems. But the nice thing is that you always have a choice. The question is, do you have the desire and the self-discipline to moderate the frequency and extent of activities that are self-destructive?
When I went back over this article, I was hesitant to publish it because what I’ve said sounds self-evident to the point of being simplistic. But then I asked myself, if that be the case, why do so many seemingly intelligent people fail to grasp it?
It’s a question that is definitely worth thinking about, which is why this ended up in your mailbox. Choice, desire, and self-discipline — embrace all three.