When I submitted my first case study in my MBA program, my professor glanced through my lengthy submission in a few seconds and returned it back to me immediately, saying I had failed and needed to redo the whole submission. I was perplexed and angry, as he never even read my submission but simply glanced at it superficially. I asked him why, and what he said fundamentally changed how approached my professional (and personal life) forever.
He said the bulk of my submission was devoted to solving the problem and creating the action plan. But, he said, you can only be an excellent strategic business consultant if you spend the bulk of your effort in truly understanding the problem (i.e., situation analysis and problem identification). If you get the foundation wrong with an incorrect understanding of the problem, you will never find the true, sustainable solution.
If you have been struggling with stress, you might have read books and articles on stress management and on techniques to practice being calm. This article is to help you understand stress better by spending more time on understanding the true nature of the problem. For this, I will use certain concepts from physics, as you can learn a lot from observing the natural laws of science.
What causes stress?
When you are sitting in a moving car that brakes urgently, you feel the stress in your body as it jerks forward. As per Newton’s law of motion, an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Emotional stress comes from deviations from what you expect in your life. So, the next time you experience stress, ask yourself what you are holding onto that is causing this strong inertia and producing stress.
Chaos and uncertainty
There is always chaos happening inside your mind, traveling at the speed of light. This chaos arises due to the uncertainty built into the whole system. If you develop a practice of observing and embracing this uncertainty, on its own this reduces stress. Chaos is natural. From Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics principle, we know that the position and the velocity of an object cannot both be measured exactly, at the same time, even in theory, as everything is changing rapidly every fraction of a second. Embracing this insight with clear understanding that the intrinsic nature of external force has a strong propensity to create chaos within you will help you to understand the true nature of stress.
How does stress manifest?
Stress in physics is force per unit area of a material (stress = force / area). How does this relate to the emotional stress you experience inside your mind? As an analogy, consider this:
- Force: External stimuli (people, circumstances, events) that trigger stressful situations
- Area: Your mind
There is not much you can do about the external force factor; you cannot always have the most pleasant peers, leaders, employees, clients, etc. Nor can you ensure that the events you experience will be always happy. In fact, the more you complain and get irritated about the external force, the more negative energy you add to the numerator in the equation above, thereby creating a spiral of perennial stress.
However, you do have control on the denominator in the equation: the mind. To minimize stress in the above equation; you have to increase the value of the denominator in the ratio, thus increasing and making your mind “big.”
How your mind can eradicate stress
So how do you make the mind big? From Einstein’s equation of E=mc2, you can derive that mass (m) can increase when energy (E) increases and speed (c) reduces. So, to create an analogy for reference, the mass of the mind can become big if:
- You increase the energy of the mind (E)
- Be more aware, concentrating, alert, sharp, vigilant
- Be wiser and approach the situation holistically from all angles not driven by selfishness and bias
- Try to intrinsically smile more
- You reduce the speed of chaos inside your mind (c)
- Make the mind more still and calm
Methods to deepen understanding of stress
Stress is something extremely abstract, thus making it difficult to observe. However, you can neutrally observe some of the phenomenon:
- Force: Observe what kind of external force (people, circumstances, events) is causing your mind to be in chaos while dealing with uncertainty.
- Chaos and uncertainty: What’s the nature of the chaos inside your mind? What did you assume would be certain that has become uncertain? Why are you thinking the way you are thinking?
- Can you make your mind big? Are you able to keep the mind still, and what can you do to improve this?
What to practice
Start with practicing neutral awareness. Maintain continuous, conscious awareness of how your mind is functioning and responding to stimuli. And then practice being neutral to that external stimuli in that moment.
The external force will always be there. However, stress will only arise if your mind is reacting to that stimuli with a small mind. So, the next time you are feeling stress, practice these methods of observation. They will help you get a deep understanding of the situation and identify the true nature of the problem, and gradually there will be less stress inside your mind.