Episode: 3 Truths to Change How You Experience Stress
Michael Hyatt: Hi, I’m Michael Hyatt.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: And I’m Megan Hyatt Miller.
Michael Hyatt: And this is Lead to Win, our weekly podcast to help you win at work and succeed at life. And today we’re going to be talking about stress. In fact, we’re specifically going to be talking about three truths to change how you experience stress.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: This is going to be maybe a little controversial. We might ruffle some feathers. We’re definitely going to stoke a little curiosity. I think this is a topic that we don’t talk about enough except to say stress is bad, we shouldn’t have very much of it, everybody’s overwhelmed, everybody’s burnout, but this is something we’ve got to really look at and be careful that we don’t overcorrect on the other side, or we’re going to have a problem, right?
So today we’re going to be talking about three truths about stress that can really change how you experience it, because we’re going to get into this. But stress is just a fact, and it’s going to be part of our life. So the question is, as business owners, as leaders, how are we going to intentionally design our experience of it so it can be positive instead of overwhelmingly negative?
Michael Hyatt: I think this is an important conversation. First of all, it’s a cultural conversation. There’s a lot of discussion about stress, burnout, overwhelm, and those are the evil things, the unholy Trinity that needs to be eliminated from our lives. And the problem is when we have that mindset that these are things that are always bad, that should always be eliminated, we set ourselves up for failure. And in fact, when we don’t expect stress and then we experience some stress, it actually creates more stress, right? So we’ve got to have a view or we’ve got to have the discernment to distinguish between good stress and bad stress and not all stress is bad. And that’s basically our argument today, that some stress is necessary, some stress is helpful and some stress we don’t need to eliminate, in fact, we need more of it, that’s really controversial, but let’s get into it.
Maybe as a business owner, you’ve wondered, is it possible to achieve more by doing less? Could my business scale at the same time I carve out more margin for the rest of my life? Is it possible to win at work and succeed at life? Well, we’re happy to report that it is. So we have an opportunity for you to book a free call with one of our business consultants, we call it a business performance assessment call, but this will give you the insight you need to take your business to the next level. You’re going to discover three performance accelerators necessary to upscale your business. You also get an exclusive diagnostic look at what’s currently blocking your path and you might be surprised it may not be what you think it is. These insights are essential for learning what you need to do to drive extraordinary results and scale your business without compromising your values.
The assessment eliminates slow and painful learning by taking you right to the source of your strengths and importantly, where you struggle so you can score some quick wins and lay the foundation to scale. We developed a business performance assessment based on our experience, working literally with thousands of companies. On the call with our business consultant, you’ll get immediate and specific insight into your business and how to jumpstart your growth and go further, faster than you thought possible. So all you’ve got to do to book a call, and again, it’s free, is go to businessaccelerator.com/podcast.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: So we should probably start before we even dive into this conversation, which I’m so excited about. We are the double win team, right? Team double win. Like we’re all about winning at work and succeeding at life. We don’t want people overworking, we want people prioritizing their family, their health, their contribution in their community, outside of work, these are the things that we care about. We also want people to have thriving businesses with fantastic operating results. So it seems like stress would be the great villain in that story of the double win, but that’s not exactly the case. So before you might be tempted to think, well, are you guys contradicting yourself with all this talk of the double win and now you’re going to tell me that stress is actually a good thing, not a bad thing? We should just talk about that for a second, dad.
Michael Hyatt: I think we should, because again, it goes back to this idea of all stress is bad, which I think is a mistaken idea. Not all stress is bad. And in fact, I think we should go into the first truth that we want to talk about, because I think that this will address it. And that is that stress is unavoidable. It’s just is. You’re not going to get through life without experiencing stress even if you’re committed to the double win. There’s going to be stress at home, there’s going to be stress at work. And the truth is, it’s that stress that often acts as a polishing agent on our character and on our skill set and it forces us to grow, and that’s a good thing.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Absolutely. Well, maybe we should even back up for a second and just really be clear about what we’re talking about when we talk about stress. So this is my definition, as I was thinking about it, as we were preparing for this episode. I think stress is really that experience, whether positive or negative, that results from our evaluation of our own ability to overcome the gap between the internal resources that we think we have and the challenges that we think we’re facing.
So basically, stress is the experience that we have based on that evaluation of our ability to overcome the gap between our internal resources and the challenges that we’re facing. So that can be a positive thing. You think about like exercise or weightlifting, or it can be what we think of as a really negative thing. If we feel overwhelmed or maybe burnout, there’s too much, or it goes on too long and that can feel negative, but it’s really that gap between what we think we have to bring to the table and what life is demanding from us, that gap is where stress comes in.
So I think this point about stress being unavoidable is really key because if you think about what it takes to start a business, to successfully grow a business, what it takes to be successfully married or in a long term relationship, to have a family, to contribute to something meaningful in your community, to pursue health. I mean, those are not like laying on the couch activities. That’s not like you’re on a beach somewhere. I mean, that requires some stress. You’re always creating a bigger gap between the resources that you have now and what you’re trying to do in the world, thus stress enters the picture, right?
Michael Hyatt: That’s really good. And that reminds me of this research that was done by psychologist, Kelly McGonigal. And she said that stress is a barometer of how engaged you are with your life and your goals. In other words, it’s a natural byproduct of action. So countries with higher self-reported stress levels, guess what? They’re also the countries with higher levels of wellbeing, life satisfaction, happiness, and interestingly, GDP.
So we have to differentiate between different kinds of stress. Not all stress is created equal. And we used to have, Megan, a person that we worked with closely, was an outside partner, who basically viewed all stress as negative. So the moment he started to experience a little stress, he would back up from it and just stop that activity, which, by the way, created a lot of stress for everybody else in his life, including us. So not all stress is negative, not all stress is positive and psychologists even have terms for this.
So the kind of stress that’s negative, that’s destructive, that you feel in your body, that affects your health, that affects your relationships and all that is called distress. But there’s another kind of stress. And that’s the kind of stress that’s positive, that’s constructive, that builds you up, that makes you more resilient, more able to handle bigger challenges in the future. And psychologists call that eustress, like E-U, eustress.
And so eustress is what you experience at the gym when you put pressure on yourself to lift weight that you’ve never lifted before. Now, too much of that can turn into distress, right? So like if I try to lift something that’s way beyond my capability, that’s going to cause my body to go into distress. But some stress is the way that we build muscle. It’s a way that we develop resiliency. It’s a way that we become more healthy, that we strengthen our immune systems and all the rest. So eustress good, distress bad. We need more of the former and less of the latter.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: This is a big idea. This is a big idea because if you think knee-jerk reaction, assumption you don’t even know you have, stress is bad. When you experience stress, when you have a gap between your internal resources and the challenges you’re trying to face or that you’re facing, or what you’re trying to do in the world, you’re going to get this message of abort, abort, abort, right? Like run for the hills, go do something else. And that’s going to actually, if you stay in the situation that you’re in, it’s going to create more stress or more likely, you’re just going to give up and really try to stay in your comfort zone.
But we know, from our own research, in a goal setting, that unless you get outside of your comfort zone, you’re not going to achieve anything that’s worthwhile. Whether that is a thriving business, it’s making a meaningful impact in the world or a family that really stands the test of time or health that enables you to do all the things that matter to you in your life. Those things require you to step out of your comfort zone if you’re going to make progress. And so how we think about this is just so critical, and this is an area that I think is largely unexamined for people.
Michael Hyatt: Well, to give an example, and Megan, I’m going to use you as the example, but any of you who are parents know that this is a real thing. You’re going to, from time to time, experience stress with your kids.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: And by time to time, we mean every other hour for at least 20 years per kid, maybe 30.
Michael Hyatt: Well, and young parents don’t always know this. But this is one of the gifts of parenthood is that it really does develop your character and it makes you more resilient. And so you had an experience last week with one of your kids, just normal thing that parents are going to experience from time to time. And it was stressful. And I was thinking to myself, I’m glad I’m past that though, I still face stress in my own life, but you seemed to handle it with such calm and just as a matter of course, well, my guess is that 10 or 15 years ago, that wouldn’t have been the case.
You’re like a well trained athlete who’s been working out in the gym for a long time. And so when these things happen to you, with your kids, you don’t freak out, you don’t panic, you don’t beat yourself up, you don’t say, oh my God, I’m doing something wrong or there’s something wrong or the world’s falling apart, but you’re able to take that in stride. So anything you want to say about that?
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Well, people have heard me talk before, if you’ve listened to this podcast for a while or followed our work for a while, that some of my kids have special needs. And we had a significant situation that happened in school a couple weeks ago, that necessitated kind of an emergency ish therapy intensive trip. We go to Cleveland for therapy several times a year, and we made an extra trip to Cleveland and I got back and you were asking me how it went. And I just said, oh, well, not sure if we’re going to be able to continue at that school, might have to change, whatever. It was just nonchalant about it. And you were like, “Wow, you’re really resilient.” And I said, if I got upset and dialed up the drama about every one of these things, I would’ve emotionally burned out like about a decade ago.
And I have learned over time that you just figure it out. And so what that means is when, and I would say in this part of my life, this is probably the most well developed area. You just realize, you do figure it out. This is not going to be the end of the world. Every hard thing you’ve been through, somehow, you figure it out and you go into the next thing. And it just enables me to not experience that stress between the resources I experience or I think I have now. And that gap between the challenges I’m facing, because I know, somehow in ways that I don’t even understand right now, somehow I’ll bridge that gap by God’s grace and will be okay.
And I don’t always have that perspective, but that’s the perspective I want to have when I face any challenges, because I think that’s true. We do figure it out and gosh, it adds a lot of pain and suffering to our life when we go to catastrophizing, which I can totally do. I mean, Joel, my husband, is on this call with us, helping to guide the conversation and he could attest to that, but hope the older I get, the better I get at just framing this in a way that’s empowering instead of disempowering.
Michael Hyatt: I want to ask you another question. In preparation for this, you used a phrase that I’d never heard before, but it instantly rang true and I want you to expand upon it. But you referred to something you called trauma inflation.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Well, first of all, I say this tongue in cheek as a parent who has children who have endured capital T trauma that’s very significant. We’re adoptive parents, so we take trauma in our house very seriously, we’re very trauma informed. We’ve done a lot of research. So this is not a flippant comment or an uninformed comment. What I have seen though is, especially in the last probably five years, the language of trauma has really gone mainstream, probably more people than ever are in therapy, which it’s awesome, I’m all for that. I have been a frequenter of therapy myself throughout the years, but at the same time, I think sometimes we forget that there’s capital T trauma and there’s lower case T trauma, and capital T trauma is like surviving a natural disaster, having someone close to you die unexpectedly or traumatically, surviving assault. I mean, the list goes on, there’s stuff we’re all familiar with.
And then it’s like, we start using this language of trauma. Like my job description changed, that was really traumatic. It’s like, no, it literally was not traumatic by definition, it was a change. And that might have created some friction for you, might not have liked it, but something you don’t like that you maybe you really don’t like doesn’t necessarily constitute trauma, it probably does not. And so I think that the problem is when everything is trauma, it’s kind of like nothing is trauma.
And I think trauma is really important to understand and properly work through with the help of professional guidance. And I think when we make everything trauma, we infantalize ourselves around normal, ordinary stress in life that is just part of being an adult and contributing in the world and having a meaningful life. And we need to save the trauma for the real trauma. And just expect that they’re, like we said in the first point here, that stress is unavoidable and stress and trauma are not the same thing. And I think we’ve come to a place where we actually use those words almost interchangeably. And they’re just not the same.
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The assessment eliminates slow and painful learning by taking you right to the source of your strengths and importantly, where you struggle so that you could score some quick wins and lay the foundation to scale. We developed the business performance assessment based on our experience, working with thousands of companies. On the call with our business consultant, you’ll get immediate and specific insight into your business and how to jumpstart your growth and go further, faster than you thought possible. Book a call by going to businessaccelerator.com/podcast.
Michael Hyatt: And that brings us really to truth number two, stress is a mindset.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: This really reminds me of my experience stepping into the world of public speaking. So I’ve talked about this so much on this podcast about how several years ago, I was deathly, and I don’t use that word lightly, deathly afraid of being on stage and speaking, like delivering a keynote. Over time, I’ve gotten more comfortable with doing things informally like Q&A’s or whatever on stage. But I was really scared, really scared, to define my whole growing up years, as well as the first, I don’t know, 15 or, or almost 20 years of my adulthood. So I decided to speak, I went on stage, I did it, it was great. It was a long story. You can look up the podcast, we can link to it in the show notes.
One of those parts of how I was able to get over my fear of speaking was to really reframe what the physical sensations of stress meant when they came up in my body. So what I had told myself previously, which is really the mindset that McGonigal identifies in her work around stress, is two mindsets. One, mindset number one is stress is harmful. So what I told myself with speaking was when I start to feel my mouth get a little dry, when I start to feel it’s difficult to take a deep breath, when I feel my heart rate start to speed up, that means I’m about to completely melt down physically, which is what I thought would happen. I really thought I would lose control of my body, which is like a funny thing to say now, because I’ve done it many times and it’s never happened. Those fears have never come to light, but that’s what I thought.
What I started to say to myself was, and dad I got this from you, is that’s just my body getting ready to perform, of course. And then it just goes away. What I found is about two to three minutes in, at the most, all that stuff dissipates, I’m totally present, adrenaline is my best friend, I actually enjoy it. But I never got past those first couple minutes because I was really stuck in that mindset that McGonigal identifies as telling myself stress is harmful. So that’s where you’d say things like, gosh, stress just drains me, it prevents me from achieving my goals, it undermines my health. And certainly, in excess, it can.
But the alternative is her mindset number two, which is, stress is enhancing. Stress actually improves my performance. And this is what I’ve learned about speaking, the adrenaline rush that you get when you speak sharpens your mind in ways that nothing else is going to do that. I mean, there are few places where you think better than when you have that rush of adrenaline that comes with performance of whatever the context is for that. It also facilitates learning and achievement like, wow, that kind of be your best friend in a way. And you can imagine that what you’re telling yourself, whether it’s mindset number one, stress is harmful or mindset number two, stress is enhancing, radically transforms how you experience the physical sensations and emotional sensations of stress.
Michael Hyatt: I’m reminded of this mindset issue when it comes to air travel. So that’s now a thing again, like it wasn’t for the pandemic, but now we’re all traveling. And I was in an airport recently and there was somebody trying to negotiate with the person at the ticket counter and their flight had been delayed and they were losing their freaking mind. They had no frustration tolerance. Their mindset was this was all bad. And all I could remember was that question that we loved to ask ourselves that I got from my coach Eileen at one time, what does this make possible?
And literally, I used to stress out at travel too. When things would happen that were unexpected, but here’s the one thing that we absolutely know for sure when it comes to air travel or any other kind of travel, there are going to be unexpected challenges. Things are rarely going to go according to plan, but that’s okay because what does it make possible?
One of the things I’ve learned is that when I’m in the airport, when a flight’s been delayed, that’s an enormous opportunity to get tremendous amount of work done, right? Because I can be in near isolation. Somehow in the midst of all those people, I’m like in this little bubble and I can really focus. Maybe that means I’m ADD, I have to have a little bit noise. I don’t know, but I’m able to get a lot done. But it’s all a mindset. And how we approach those situations will determine how we react and more importantly, what we experience. If you expect that to be a negative thing, you’re going to be distressed. But if you see it as a positive thing, you can experience eustress.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Well, it reminds me of going to Cleveland this week for that emergency therapy trip with one of our kids. I ended up driving, it’s like eight hours from Nashville. And that wasn’t really what I wanted to do with last week on all kinds of other things that I would’ve liked to have done, however, it was clearly necessary. And so I thought, okay, this can either be miserable or this can be a profitable time.
And so what was great, I drove with just one of our kids, so I didn’t have anybody else in the car. And he was watching a movie the whole time, the joy of entertainment systems in cars. So I got great phone calls done with meetings that if I had been in my normal schedule, I wouldn’t have had time for, I got two books read in the car and I listened to about five podcasts. And at the very end, I did a ’90’s country marathon sing along with myself for the last two hours. And it was a blast. I sang all of my favorite old country songs, listening to Apple music, because I’m like trying to keep myself awake at the end of this long trip. And that could have either been a miserable waste of time that I felt a ton of stress because I was missing out on meetings I needed to be in, or I needed to be at the office, or it could be really productive. And it turned out to be, honestly, a great use of time that I loved.
Michael Hyatt: If only we had a recording of that, that would be so, so valuable. I don’t know what we could do with it. Maybe bribe you or blackmail you at some point.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: That’s what I’m worried about. If you’re wondering, the best part was Garth Brooks, Always and Forever, if you know, you know. And then I really dug this out of the archives, some Mary Chapin Carpenter, also, if you know, you know. But, I mean, that’s a real blast from the past.
Michael Hyatt: Unbelievable.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Feel free to recreate your own moment.
Michael Hyatt: That leads naturally into our third truth, which is stress is a choice. That’s hard to say, but it’s true. What you experience when pressure comes into your life is in many ways a choice. And that’s not to minimize traumatic situations, I know those are like a separate thing. But you’re responsible for your own stress and you’ve got a lot more control than you think. So just a couple things and we’ve talked around these, but I just want to call these out and name them. First of all, reframe it.
So I remember talking on the phone, this was years ago, I was on the phone, I was going to a speaking engagement in San Diego. Somebody called me on the phone right as I sat down in my seat before we were leaving, before they told us to turn our phones off. And he said, “So what are you doing?” And I said, well, I have to go to San Diego and I caught myself. And I thought, I have to go, nobody’s holding a gun to my head. I’m getting to do what I said I left the corporate world to do, which was to do public speaking. I am living the dream baby.
And so I said, wait a second, I want to say that again, I said this to my friend. I said, I get to go to San Diego because I’ve got a speaking engagement, but just that little shift, just that little reframe changed everything, which also is a good reminder that the language that we use can influence the way that we experience it. So if we use catastrophic language or negative language, it’s likely that we’ll have a catastrophic experience. I can remember another situation coming home from work. And Gail said, this is my wife, Gail. She said, “How was your day?” And I said, it was horrible. She said, “Well, tell me about it.” So I told her about it. And after I told her the whole experience, she said to me, “It sounds to me like you had a really bad 30 minutes, but the rest of the day was pretty good.”
Megan Hyatt Mil…: I love that. That’s awesome.
Michael Hyatt: And I said, that’s exactly what happened, but my language had amplified and intensified the experience. So there’s this way that our language influences our experience and we got to watch our mouth.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: You and I have been talking about this a lot in the last couple months, just this whole idea of amplification in the language that we use, particularly as business owners and leaders, because we set the emotional tone for a whole company. And so if we’re running around with our hair on fire and we use a lot of intense dramatic language, rather than detached and neutral language as much as possible, that really has a different outcome for the people who work for us. And typically, whatever we say or do gets amplified. I mean, this is just how leadership works. So even if you’re using that neutral language or more neutral language, the likelihood is that people who hear that, or are on the receiving end are going to amp it up anyway.
And so, especially, if you allow yourself self indulgently to use amplified catastrophizing language, then imagine that getting dialed up by 25 or 50%. And all of a sudden, you have people whipped up into a frenzy or a panic when you were just like a little late eating lunch and your blood sugar was low. And so you just gave into yourself and let yourself, again, from a place of self-indulgent, just say whatever you thought. And so, I don’t know, I think that that plays in here.
Michael Hyatt: That’s where I think in our own personal practices, we need to get adept at processing stress. So exercise is fantastic for that. It’s one of the reasons why I aim to exercise five days a week, because it’s a way for me to process the stress in a natural and healthy way. But another thing too, I’m not doing it right now, but just talking about this makes me want to do it, but is meditation. That could be a great way. Also, I know when I do meditate, I feel better, I don’t experience as much stress. It’s a chance to breathe, get perspective and get back in the game.
Megan Hyatt Mil…: I can’t remember the name of this book, but I heard somebody talk about stress. It was during the pandemic and they were talking about exercise and they were saying part of why we experienced stress so negatively is because our stress response was designed for being chased by a bear, right. Hit of adrenaline, you run, you either get eaten or you outrun the bear. I mean, those are like the two options. And for most of us, there are no real bears unless maybe you live in the west. So we don’t have that physical threat, we just have an existential or psychological stress that we’re experiencing.
And so what’s great is when you’re running from the bear, you actually dissipate all those stress hormones in the running. And so by the time you get into the village or wherever you’re going, you’ve actually processed the stress, which we don’t have naturally built into our lives. And so that’s where exercise can really come in handy. You actually functionally move through those chemicals and other things, hormones that are in your body by exercising, which helps to get to the place of like it’s resolved chemically in your body in a way that’s really productive, which I think is helpful.
So one of the important things, dad, you were talking about trauma earlier is that part of what creates a traumatic experience for people is a sense of powerlessness. There’s lots of research on this, but basically, you can have two people experience the same “traumatic event.” And what it really is the determining factor is whether it becomes trauma for them is how powerless they feel. And you think about like kids, right? Kids are very powerless, which is why so many adverse experiences in early life are truly traumatic because they had no power, they were victims in that situation.
And so I think as we consider how we reframe stress, if we can figure out how to do it in a way that is empowering, what do you have agency over? What do you have confidence? And those kinds of things? Again, I’m not really talking about how to handle trauma, that’s beyond our expertise, but what I think there’s lessons to learn from the research there, as we think about stress, if you can focus on empowering language, empowering activities, that really changes, in empowering mindsets, how you’re going to experience stress in a way that can be productive instead of destructive.
Michael Hyatt: An example of that, back when I was in college, I worked for a boss that was really difficult to work for. And he provided a lot of opportunity for me to learn to manage stress. But I can remember making the choice, because I could have quit, right. And I think that’s what people forget sometimes. So by staying, I was choosing to stay and subject myself to it. And that summer, I grew more than I’d ever grown before. I felt like I learned some life lessons that to this day, I still refer to. But it was that whole thing, Megan, we’re talking about, where you feel like you have a sense of empowerment, because again, nobody was holding a gun to my head. I didn’t have to stay in that job. I could have gotten another one, but I chose to, because I felt like learning to manage that level of stress with a bad boss was probably going to be important later.
Wow. Did I underestimate that? Because I worked for a lot of bad bosses, but that’s where I first began to learn how to deal with it. Today we’ve been talking about three truths, three truths to change how you experience stress. Number one, stress is unavoidable. Truth number two, stress is a mindset and truth number three, stress is a choice. Megan, do you have any final thoughts?
Megan Hyatt Mil…: Well, we started this conversation talking about how to think about stress and the double win together. They’re really not antithetical to each other, that they actually can be complimentary. And I think what we’re asking people to do at full focus is to pursue a life of intention and meaning in such a way that ultimately they can win at work and succeed at life. And if you’re the kind of person who’s not just going to settle for the mainstream version of success, you really want to do this on your own terms in a way that aligns with your values, you’re going to experience stress, you’re going to have to be out of your comfort zone in order to accomplish things that matter for you and to really take a stand for the life that you want for the people that you serve and you care about.
And that’s where I think it’s so empowering to develop a different relationship with stress and actually make friends with stress because it could be the very thing that points the way toward your version of the double win, winning at work and succeeding a life.
Michael Hyatt: Well, I love this topic. First of all, it’s very countercultural, but I think it’s a message for our time. Because a lot of people are experiencing this, but I think today, hopefully, we’ve given some real handles on how to deal with this. So guys, thanks for joining us, we look forward to being with you next time, but until then, Lead to Win.
Maybe as a business owner, you’ve wondered, is it possible to achieve more by doing less? Could my business scale at the same time I carve out more margin for the rest of my life? Is it possible to win at work and succeed at life? Well, we’re happy to report that it is. So we have an opportunity for you to book a free call with one of our business consultants, we call it a business performance assessment call, but this will give you the insight you need to take your business to the next level. You’re going to discover three performance accelerators necessary to upscale your business. You also get an exclusive diagnostic look at what’s currently blocking your path and you might be surprised, it may not be what you think it is. These insights are essential for learning what you need to do to drive extraordinary results and scale your business without compromising your values.
The assessment eliminates slow and painful learning by taking you right to the source of your strengths and importantly, where you struggle so you can score some quick wins and lay the foundation to scale. We developed a business performance assessment based on our experience, working literally with thousands of companies. On the call with our business consultant, you’ll get immediate and specific insight into your business and how to jumpstart your growth and go further, faster than you thought possible. So all you’ve got to do to book a call, and again it’s free, is go to businessaccelerator.com/podcast.