5 Stress Management Techniques for Successful Executives

stress management techniquesStress can be a killer to your self confidence and productivity.   Even the most accomplished executives must learn how to manage stress in order to be effective all the time.    When you are not stressed, you can be at the top of the game.   However, when destructive stress sets in, it can suck up all your energy and render you sub-optimal.  This is why it’s important to learn and practice stress management techniques early in your career.  Stress will only increase as you climb the career ladder.

As I am still learning to master this skill, I turned to one of our Executive Authors for advice.  I have known Louis Johnston for 12 years.   He is one of most even-tempered people I know in business despite experiencing many unexpected and stressful situations.   Recently, I had a chance to interview Louis about his stress management techniques.  There are five techniques he shares in this 15 minutes conversation.     You can also read the audio transcription below

  1. Find out how the book Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson can help manage stress
  2. Learn how to stop destructive self-talks with a simple phrase
  3. Discover good pattern interrupts to relieve stress
  4. Find out how visualizing a cartoon character can help you with your next stressful conversation
  5. Lastly, but not the least, find out how to maintain your self confidence despite having terrible bosses at your company

Your comment: What is your most effective stress management technique?  Which one shared by Louis most resonated with you.  Share your comments here. 

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Audio Transcription – 5 Stress Management Techniques shared by Louis

Lei: Louis, thanks for coming in today. I wanna focus today’s discussion around stress management. I think one of the important soft skills that people sometimes may overlook, is how to really manage stress. Here’s why. Because a lot of people can perform really well at work when they’re at a really optimal mindset. But when you’re under a lot of stress, then things change internally and that actually kills a lot of the skills that you may sometimes already have, because you’re a little bit manic in your head or anxious. You might be taking work home and thinking about it all the time. So a lot of our readers are actually reaching out to me and say well you just wrote how to stop thinking about work. How’s that going? And I thought about reaching out to you, because I know you’re one of the people I’ve seen in the last many years who have really coped very well with very highly stressful situations. We’ve talked about a lot of those.  Today I really learn a little bit about how do you cope with stressful situations, and what are some of the stress management techniques that you can share with our audience here around. How do you do it and still be very balanced, very optimal at work?

Louis: This is a great question.  I think this is constantly in motion, right? This is something that is definitely iterative, and I test a lot of things. One book I read of all things, that really made me understand how to deal with stress is a book that had nothing to do with business, but it can be considered a great book for management.  It was called Eleven Rings by Phil Jackson. The amount of stress he was going through, it’s understandable, right? He had two World Championship, two different teams, The Lakers and The Chicago Bulls.

Lei: This is Phil Jackson, the basketball coach? For the NBAs.

Louis: Correct. And who’s considered the greatest basketball coach in the world. And he had two of the greatest players ever to play the game. With that comes egos that you have to manage. And he goes into it in the book about how he was dealing with that and empathizing and things like that. So I would recommend reading that book to people, because it was a very different approach to things, but it really resonated with me.

Lei: Okay, how does it resonate?

Louis: You’d be surprised at, he starts talking about, he’s heavily involved in meditation and zen. And I learned martial arts for a very long time, many years, and I didn’t actually understand meditation and buddhism, or the meditation part of it and zen until I actually read this book. And it was a lot clearer to me. So that was one thing. The other things, there’s a couple of techniques that I used. One, I really heavily believe in pattern interrupting.

Lei: What do you mean by that?

Louis: And what that is, is that immediately when you have an issue or a problem or bad news or something happens negatively.

Lei: Unexpectedly.

Louis: Unexpectedly. Let’s say you have a run in with a colleague, a co-worker. Things are said and they sting a bit. And this is an example.

Lei: Right.

Louis: I find that what happens is you replay that in your head.

Lei: Oh yeah.

Louis: A lot, right?

Lei: Right.

Louis: And what you need is actually something to immediately break that pattern from setting into your brain. And what happens is, memory can be your greatest asset, or it can be your greatest enemy.

Lei: Right.

Louis: And when you replay that bad incident. You’d be surprised, something that’s an hour long conversation, you actually remember maybe bits and pieces that are in five second increments. Things like that.

Lei: Right.

Louis: Things that they said, right? And it’s those things that you need to immediately change the pattern of thought so that it doesn’t sink in. Because think of it like this. If you continuously think about that, it’s kind of like a needle in a record or in a tape, that what happens, it finds its groove and it permanently records into your memory as you keep replaying.

Lei: Right. And that also could amplify, because as you start replaying, you start building an emotion with it.

Louis: Well.

Lei: It might actually be bigger in your brain.

Louis: So that’s a great segway into the next technique.  And what happens is that when you replay that, the next piece that happens when that memory sets in, that is one of the worst enemies in my opinion, is the conversations in your head that you start building up.

Lei: With the person.

Louis: Well, it could be with a person, but it could be with yourself. Because then you’re like, well what did that person mean? What is their objective? Why are they doing that? Did they talk to my manager? Did they talk to so-and-so? Did they, so right there there’s five or six different pathways you’ve already started going down. So think of it as a weeds that starts growing in all these different, one, from one focal point, it starts growing in its own directions. And what happens is, those many conversations you have start causing self doubt. And the self doubt is what kills you. So the technique that I use to, once again, immediately stop that, is when I feel this negative conversation start taking place in my head. And this is a muscle you’ll build, right?

Lei: Right.

Louis: And recognition is the key, the first piece. And the second piece is a simple two words that actually help me. Is when the conversation starts happening, I immediately recognize it, and then I say stop and I say delete. It’s a very, it sounds very simplistic, but what happens is, I’ve given my memory permission to stop that pattern, stop that conversation from going down the wrong path, and I basically walk away from it, which is the delete word.

Lei: Sometimes that’s pretty hard to do, because if you keep trying to stop something, there’s almost a focus on what it is you’re stopping. When you say pattern interrupt as a stress management technique, do you focus your mind on something else when you say stop and delete or, how do you make it stick?

Louis: So the pattern interrupt is mainly let’s say, I like to watch something funny. Even if it’s a 30 second video or something like that. If it’s something that bothers me. But that’s for the pattern interrupt. The stop and delete is another mechanism.  And it can be a pattern interrupt, but what that is really meant to do, is stop the discussion from happening in your head. So let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re actually arguing with someone physically, in front of you, right? And it just keeps escalating. Now you have a choice at that point to either argue with them and keep arguing, and increase and escalate, or you have a chance to actually stop and walk away, and then come back. What do you think’s more effective out of those two options?

Lei: Well, stop and walk away and come back.

Louis: So stop and delete is actually that mechanism mentally for myself. It’s the equivalent of that. So that I give myself permission to walk away and then revisit. So what happens is that, and here’s a third piece, is that I can start looking at this more objectively, and look at it from a third person and say what was going on there, instead of me getting involved with a discussion with myself and talking about it. I know it’s a little abstract, but.

Lei: Is that what you mean by the meditation has helped you. Because a lot of times I read that when you meditate, then you get to observe your thoughts, versus be emotionally involved with your thoughts.

Louis: Correct. That’s a big part of it, right? Because when you’re involved in it, have you ever had this situation where you’re involved in a situation and you have these problems, and you can’t really understand why you have them. But yet your friend comes to you and has the similar problem that they want your advice on, and for some reason.

Lei: You can tell.

Louis: You can tell them, very clearly, oh you should do this, this, this and this.

Lei: I think everyone has that experience in a way.

Louis: Exactly.

Lei: Because you’re emotionally not involved in your friend’s situation.

Louis: Correct. And what’s the key piece of that? Objectivity.

Lei: Clarity.

Louis: So you have to get the objectivity first, in my opinion, then clarity starts happening. And then you can actually start with a solution based type of approach, right?

Lei: So you’re saying meditation gives you a little bit of that space to have objectivity? The pattern interrupt helps you walk, let yourself walk away from something mentally, and then when you’re mentally in the loop of talking to yourself about a situation, having that conversation to yourself to say stop and delete.

Louis: If it’s a negative conversation, correct.

Lei: If it’s a negative, so that you can actually pause this never-ending loop, because it’s not like it’s gonna resolve itself in your own head.

Louis: And all it does is, it reinforces a negative action in your head, right?

Lei: Right.

Louis: Because you’re gonna reply that conversation once again. And the replaying of the negative actually.

Lei: Stresses you out.

Louis: It stresses you but it actually has impact on the way you communicate from there.

Lei: Oh, that’s true. That’s true.

Louis: So let me give you an example. I was reporting to a young CEO at a startup. And he was notorious for not knowing how to communicate and quite frankly being, I’m not sure how to actually describe this, but he was very harsh in the way he’s, and he was very critical. Young guy. He and I, outside of the office, were fine. But his management style, he basically didn’t have one. And it was very negative driven. Anyway, long story short, I had to think of ways when I was going into one-on-ones, how to not get so involved and not stress before going in. So I was having these conversations in my head, and it was turning negative, so by the time I would go into the one- on-one, it was already set up in a negative context, right?

Lei: You were already highly emotionally charged.

Louis: Correct.

Lei: With the person you imagined.

Louis: When I was defensive. I was already going in defensive, right?

Lei: I think everyone has experienced that.

Louis: So what I did was, and I don’t know, I was thinking of ways of trying to offset that, so that I wouldn’t go in and I wouldn’t think about it prior in a negative light. I would actually look at him and I would think of an image, and I would think of it in a cartoon way. And for some reason, I don’t know why, but I thought of him as a baby adult in a diaper, with short arms kinda waving around. And it kinda made me actually laugh beforehand.

Lei: Not necessarily in his face.

Louis: It wasn’t to mock. No, no, no. This was before.

Lei: Right.

Louis: So that I could get away from the negative thoughts in my head.

Lei: Or the power he may have over you by saying anything, in your head.

Louis: In my head.

Lei: Or in reality.

Louis: Correct. So it wasn’t to mock him, in a way, at his expense. It was more for me to deal with it mentally and emotionally prior to going into my one-on-one. And it helped a bit. I think the larger point I’m trying to make is, you have to think creatively at times. And you have to think about what tools you have at your disposal with your mental area. Some things that are at my disposal: pattern interrupting, stop deleting conversations, cartoon imagery in my head, watching something funny, right? I started utilizing those things. It may be different for other people and you might have four or five things, but these are coping mechanisms that I was starting to implement more so and it helped me deal with different personalities. Because there is no shortage of people you’re gonna have to deal with that are quite frankly axxholes at times, right? Or they’re full of shit. What I found is, I started moving up, there was a lot of people full of shit out there. And none of them necessarily know much better or a lot of them don’t know as much as you would know. But what they do have is full on confidence to the point where they actually believe some of the bullshit.

Lei: Right, and they might use that to start criticizing you, your work.

Louis: Correct.

Lei: They could be your colleague. They could be your boss. They could be your executive.

Louis: Correct. And the reason why I bring this up, is.

Lei: Don’t believe all the bullshit that’s out there.

Louis: Don’t believe the hype. No, well what it is is you don’t want to believe or start believing the negative pieces of it. I can understand feedback that’s constructive. But negative feedback that is given to you in a destructive way, let’s say, that might be a bit strong. That can give you, that will definitely affect the way you won. You’ll second guess yourself. Doubt will set in. Doubt will start transpiring through your conversations and doubt is not a good thing, in yourself. One thing you have to know is you know what you know.

Lei: Right. And you’re there to help.

Louis: That’s it. You’re here to help and you’re here to get a result. And if it’s not appreciated, you have to think about your options from there. Those are just a few of the things that I utilize, and my mindset. It really is a mindset thing. The reason why I brought up the point of, a lot of, there’s quite frankly people who are full of shxt, is that, don’t let people talk down to you that way. Because they may not necessarily know. They just feel like they are there. That they can. Maybe that’s their style.

Lei: Maybe that’s how they feel confident.

Louis: Correct.

Lei: Is by abusing their position.

Louis: Or tearing down other people. It’s kinda “peeing on the tree” type of approach. And marking territories and things like that. Just keep that in mind.

 

Lei: These are great tips. Thank you, Louis.

 

3 thoughts on “5 Stress Management Techniques for Successful Executives

  1. Michele Perkins

    What was most helpful to me – learning about pattern interrupt technique – breaking that negative “playback” in your head when a difficult conversation has occurred. I am going to try this!

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