In part 1, I outlined my personal experience as a young adult who didn’t know how to constructively cope with stress and how it resulted in delaying my university graduation by 4 whole years. In that time frame, I was also lonely, depressed and completely dependent on my parents and government bursaries for financial support. I would frequently go to bed past 3 in the morning and wake up past 1 in the afternoon. It was just a completely awful time in my life. But through years of therapy and a vicious will for self-improvement, I have completely turned my life around. The key component in this transformation has been my ability to handle stress, which is what I’ll be talking about in great detail.
If you recall my post about technological addiction, in the last paragraph I outlined some rules I was going to follow as best as possible. They were:
- Only use your phone for messaging friends and other basic functions such as checking the time, using google maps to find a nearby store, etc. Do not read emails or browse articles on the internet.
- Turn off your laptop and phone an hour before going to bed. Initially there will be a lot of insomnia and restlessness, but you will get through it.
- Your laptop is used strictly for doing work and other productive things such as looking up recipes. Don’t even listen to music when using it.
- Give up listening to music altogether for a month. If you really need to hear music, go to a concert or something.
- No phone on the John, obviously
- Do not check your phone when you’re moving or talking to others. In fact, try to check your phone as little as possible.
- If you do find yourself mindlessly browsing reddit, do not beat yourself up over it. Immediately stop and be relived that you only wasted 30 seconds of your life. Not the end of the world.
I have been following these rules for a week now and the change has been absolutely dramatic. In fact, I should’ve added another rule to the list:
- Eat meals distraction-free: No phone, laptop, TV, etc
This, more than anything, has been the catalyst for the flurry of positive changes in my life. That sounds crazy, doesn’t it? I assure you, I am not exaggerating. First of all, when you eat meals distraction-free, the meal becomes its own experience. You actually taste your food properly, for better or worse. If the food is dull, you experience that dullness in full clarity and quickly learn how to properly spice your food. If it’s delicious, then every bite is an enjoyable experience. But beyond the meal, training myself to always eat in the living room in complete silence has produced a habit of being able to enjoy the simple things in life. I know, it sounds like some hippie nonsense and I can’t believe I’m writing this myself. I assure you, though, give it a chance and you’ll see for yourself. Based on this eating habit, I’ve adopted the habit of drinking a large glass of mint tea just before bed, in this same distraction-free manner. It is incredibly relaxing. Something about the warmth of the tea, the meditative effect of the tea itself, and the acceptance of feeling good just staring at a wall or a bookshelf provides this incredible sense of well-being.
Ever since adopting the habits I outlined above, I feel so much calmer. My mind isn’t getting stuck in these anxious, repetitive thought patterns as often, and even when it does, I am more self-aware of it. I can actually sleep at night and for the first time in my life, I am consistently waking up at 7 in the morning. This is coming from someone who’s suffered years of insomnia and could never wake up before 11 am without feeling like a zombie. I’ve had the discipline to adopt an eating pattern of 1 meal per day, eating all of my food in a time window between 9 and 11pm. Out of nowhere I’ve developed the habit of cycling at least an hour a day, just to help deal with the restlessness that occurs from working at your computer all day long. But most of all, my focus is now razor sharp. I am now able to work on my laptop from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed without any need for distraction: no youtube videos, no browsing reddit, no reading articles, just me and the task at hand. It is because of this unbelievable focus that I’ve landed myself a career-defining job.
So where does stress fit into all this? All of these positive changes were made possible by discipline and self-restraint. Now discipline isn’t even particularly hard to maintain if you feel relaxed. It’s just a bit of conscious effort. However, when you’re stressed, you crave release from that stress, an outlet for that pent-up anxiety. That’s where discipline is truly tested. Suddenly your body wants to give in to every stupid impulse that you have. How you handle this feeling can mean the difference between being a depressed videogame addict and a genuinely successful, happy person.
I feel bad for other people because it really does take a lot self-awareness, conscious effort and resilience to get out of this insidious trap of depending on instant gratification. I saw this vividly while waiting at the hospital yesterday. Half of the people (and literally every millenial) sitting there were glued to their phones. They were not just checking it once in a while. Their eyes never wandered from the plasma screen in front of them. It was almost as though they were hypnotized. The people not on their phones were visibly restless. One woman even made a bit of a scene, walking up to the reception after having been seated for a while. She asked how much time she could expect to wait, received an answer, then started audibly huffing and puffing like some kind of diva. Maybe 15 minutes later, she walked up to reception again, complained some more, and left the clinic altogether because she was sick of waiting. This was not an isolated incident either. Another lady just about did the same thing, and you could see the misery and restlessness painted on everyone’s faces there. I won’t pretend that I wasn’t a little bored as well from the waiting, but its effect on me didn’t even remotely compare to the rest of the people in the clinic. It’s sad because society is essentially conspiring to make people this restless and impatient. Capitalism thrives on instant gratification and every new technological innovation optimizes the means of delivery of these cheap thrills. Where, in this world of ubiquitous advertising and conspicuous consumption, is discipline and restraint encouraged? Fueling this need to fill every moment with trivial entertainment is not harmless. It is a corrupting influence. It destroys your values by promoting narcissism and self-indulgence above all else. When you free yourself of these influences, you start to see these things more clearly.
Returning to my main point: I had a job interview recently. Everything went fine until they started asking me technical questions. I absolutely bombed them. I was pausing for long periods of time, giving completely wrong answers, and probably sounded like a complete idiot who didn’t know what he was doing. After the interview, I was so stressed out that all I wanted to do was return to my toxic coping habits. I kept having to repeat to myself, “It’s okay”, “learn from this”, “don’t let this get to you”. I even gave myself permission to “emotionally eat” a couple hamburgers and donuts because of how immensely disappointed I felt. Then something crazy happened. An hour later, I received a call from the company’s HR that the people who interviewed me gave me positive feedback, and that usually meant a job offer. What a total mindfuck! My mind got stuck trying to reconcile how a company could be willing to hire someone who got destroyed on the technical interview questions. I ran through all these hypothetical scenarios in my head. The important distinction in how I handled this stress is that instead of eating a horrifying amount of chinese takeout or watching copious amounts of porn or what have you, I went for a 2 hour bike ride. I was able to resolve my thoughts. I understood that the interview bothered me so profoundly because it attacked my sense of identity. I accepted the uncertainty of the outcome and convinced myself I would go through 10 horrid interviews like this if it meant the 11th would land me my dream job.
The next day, I got another phone call and received a job offer. The amount I was offered was so large that I actually swore over the phone in disbelief. When I got home, I made a spreadsheet outlining a budget to see what I could potentially afford off of a year’s salary. Even after factoring in income tax and monthly expenses, I would still have enough money to afford just about any high-end electronics or material good I would ever desire. I finally had what I’ve always wanted: freedom money. I will now be able to go to the grocery store, buy whatever I want and not have to look at the bill. I can afford a nice vacation to anywhere in the world. I can pay for personal trainers, dance lessons, guitar lessons, cooking lessons, spa treatment, pretty much any experience a person could want. Aside from vanity purchases and luxury cars, for all intents and purposes I am poised to be a wealthy person. The world is now my oyster. None of this would have been possible had I not freed myself of the lethargic hellhole of technological addiction. And that change was triggered by dealing stress in a self-aware, constructive way instead of a mindless, self-destructive one.