A lecturer walked around a room while teaching stress management to an audience of executives. As she raised a glass of water, everyone expected they’d be asked the “half empty or half full” question. Instead, with a smile on her face, she inquired: “How heavy is this glass of water?”
Answers called out ranged from 8 oz. to 20 oz.
She smiled, shook her head no, and replied, “The absolute weight doesn’t matter. It depends on how long I hold it. If I hold it for a minute, it’s not a problem. If I hold it for an hour, I’ll have an ache in my arm. If I hold it for a day, my arm will feel numb and paralyzed. In each case, the weight of the glass doesn’t change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes, and the less effective I become.”
She continued, “The stresses and worries in life are like that glass of water. Think about them for a while and nothing happens. Think about them a bit longer and they begin to hurt. And if you think about them all day long, you will feel paralyzed – incapable of doing anything.”
Remember to put the glass down.
The problem with the story/message
Easier said than done!
We all know that carrying around unresolved issues, unmade decisions, worries and stress are bad. We know they feel heavier and heavier the longer we carry them. No big revelation there.
So what can we do?
We can develop a discipline and a practice of regularly putting the glass down. Different things work for different people, of course, but here are a few ideas…
- Make faster decisions. Most of us are prone to want to think about things before making a decision. We want to sleep on it. We want to marinade. We want to give it a little time. But you know what actually happens? A day turns into a week, turns into a month, turns into a year. Your arm gets tired of carrying the water glass. So tired that it’s harder and harder to move it. Any time I’ve helped someone figure out and commit to a decision, I’ve heard a sigh of relief and a desire to have made the decision sooner. Every. Single. Time.
- Make better decisions. This one’s tricky. If we knew how to make better decisions, then of course we would. Who wouldn’t? But those who are committed to making better decisions tend to have a discipline, practice and forum for doing so. Some people do it in a peer group, like the kind that I lead. 16 smart heads are better than one. Some people do it with their mentor. Some with a trusted friend. Some with a coach or therapist. But all have a regular time and place where they examine the glass of water, decide what to do, and finally put it down.
- Make supported decisions. Before you decide to do X, make sure that you have the necessary support to do it well. Often, that’s the missing piece in making a decision. Knowing that you don’t have the pieces you need to execute on X. So line those up first, and then decide that yes – yes you can.
- Make mindful decisions. Developing mindfulness is one of the most helpful habits you can establish in handling stress and making decisions from a calm, centered mindset. Becoming more mindful doesn’t need to be difficult or complicated. Just begin and/or end every day with a short meditation (I use the Calm app on my phone, which I can set for 5-20 minutes.. usually 5.. that’s all I can do on most days, but it makes a world of difference).