27 September 2023

Three ways to avoid unnecessary stress

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When May Busch* was about to begin university, her mother urged her to ‘avoid the three Cs’. It is advice that she has followed ever since.

When you’re a high achiever, others are likely to see you as doing well — even exceptionally well.

However, all the striving that comes with being an achiever comes with a cost. It makes life stressful.

The pressure of constantly doing and achieving can make it hard to enjoy life.

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to keep striving to achieve greater success and, at the same time, find more joy in life?

To keep improving, perform better and achieve your goals without derailing or, worse yet, burning out?

Well, there is.

When I was about to leave home to start university, my mother pulled me aside and gave me this pearl of wisdom: Remember to avoid the 3Cs.”

She explained that I must avoid unnecessary Comparison, Competition, and Conflict.

That advice served me well then and it continues to serve me now.

Comparison is the thief of joy

As an achiever, you want to be the best.

To get the best grades, be at the top 10 per cent of your cohort at work, add the most value, be recognised as the best performer in the group.

It’s all too easy to compare yourself to the best in each category of your work and life.

Like being the best mother and the best candidate for the job and having the cleanest house and being the fittest person in the gym and the list goes on.

This sets an impossibly high standard because you’re comparing yourself to the best qualities in others.

For example, I was pretty good with a spreadsheet but not as good as Sasha the computer whiz.

I was good with clients but not as successful as Chris who was our number one revenue producer.

I learned to speak up in meetings but couldn’t quite muster the gravitas that came naturally to Alisha.

Despite my achievements, I was constantly disappointed with myself and pushed myself to try harder.

The problem is ultimately, this kind of comparison will lead to burnout if you’re not careful.

Which brings us to the second ‘C’.

Competition breeds a scarcity mindset

Especially the kind that leads to a zero sum mentality where either you win or they win.

For example, when you’re out running and see someone ahead of you, the competitive instinct is to speed up and see if you can pass them.

Competing with others makes it harder to see people as collaborators.

Instead of teaming up to rise higher together, you might waste mental energy trying to outdo your colleagues.

Unnecessary competition can also be with yourself. There’s a good side to this — of course you want to keep improving and challenging yourself to bring your best effort.

However, too much competing with yourself can also drive you into negative space where you’re never satisfied and constantly self-critical.

Ultimately, this negative self-talk becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that hurts your performance.

One way to stop yourself from going too far is to notice what you’re saying to yourself and ask whether this is something you would say to your best friend.

If not, then don’t say it to yourself either.

On to the third C.

Conflict that doesn’t make you stronger

Unnecessary conflict often stems from the need to be right.

You’ve done all the research and thought things through. You’re an expert in the area and you expect to be right.

So any challenge to your views can feel personal. Like someone’s challenging your identity.

You get into a debate and sound defensive. You might even say things you regret later. This is the crux of unnecessary conflict.

It wasn’t useful, it didn’t resolve anything. In fact it created more problems.

The more senior you become, the more your success comes from working with people.

This means ongoing conflicts will be a distraction to building the kind of trusted relationships you need to achieve greater results than you can alone.

So instead of engaging in unnecessary conflict, learn to disagree without becoming disagreeable.

As with so many things in life, it’s a question of degree.

Even your greatest strengths taken to extremes can become weaknesses, and being an achiever is no different.

So it’s everything in moderation. Live consciously and remember to check in with yourself about the 3Cs.

*May Busch works with smart entrepreneurs and top managements to build their businesses. She can be contacted at [email protected].

This article first appeared at maybusch.com.

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