THE BLOG
04/28/2013 09:06 am ET Updated Jun 28, 2013

Take Charge of Your Serenity Stealers in 3 Powerful Steps

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The art of positive choices helps you to create the life you want. Poor life choices, whether it's work you detest, a troubled relationship, or living in the wrong climate, are serenity stealers. These negative choices rob you of your peace of mind and well-being. The first step in building a life of positive choices is identifying your personal serenity stealers.

Without thinking too hard, make a quick list of your "Top 10 Serenity Stealers" -- 10 things that stress you out the most. Look over your list. Next to each item, write down its opposite. The opposite is a positive choice for you. For example, Susan wrote, "horrible morale at work" and then its opposite, "a lively, supportive work environment." I asked Susan to ponder the possibilities. Could she quit and move to a different company? Could she switch bosses or departments? Could she negotiate with her boss to work at home? Could she ask for better projects, maybe even ones that put her in contact with a whole new group of people? What specifically is causing the low morale and does she have any ideas about how to change it?

Ask yourself some key questions about what's possible. Starting with your number one serenity stealer, keep a log for two weeks of every episode of this stressor. A good serenity stealer log includes the following information to help you to tune into specifics:

  • The trigger event
  • Day, time, location
  • Your physical reaction
  • Your emotional reaction
  • Your coping reaction
  • Your analysis of the "real problem"

Susan noticed that everyone in her office looked miserable and therefore they were irritable and snapped at each other in conversations. There was never any time to rest or even get to know her coworkers. She noticed that people rarely smiled and that the office was silent except for the sounds of technology. Plus management never gave anyone any positive recognition when his or her work was exceptional. Armed with a better understanding of this serenity stealer, Susan can now make some decisions about it.

Whenever you identify a specific serenity stealer, you then have three choices of action. You can avoid it, alleviate it, or adapt to it. Avoidance means subtraction. The power of subtraction clears the way for new experiences, free of the agony of battling a choice that doesn't work for you. Ideally, you want to subtract anything that angers you or undermines your creative energy. Serenity stealers keep you stuck and unhappy. For example, it is scary to acknowledge that you're in the wrong career or job. You may try to deny it or cling to the unrealistic hope that you can recapture your initial enthusiasm for this choice. When you don't, it can be gut-wrenching to let go and begin again, but worth it. Susan had a consultation with me and called three weeks later to say that she quit her job. She realized that she spent all day at work "stifling" herself, as Edith Bunker would say. The negativity at work sabotaged her motivation. She's now part of a new workgroup that she adores, and feels like her old self again -- vocal and committed. Avoidance via subtraction led her to exchange a negative choice for a wonderful, positive one.

However, John, one of Susan's coworkers, decided that he liked his job well enough to try and alleviate the negative stress. Alleviation means you try to fix the problem, or at least improve it. He began asking people he admired at the company out to lunch (away from the office), and negotiated a half-time slot at another branch of the company. He also made an effort to smile at people in the office, and some folks even smiled back and chatted with him. These are baby steps, as the corporate culture needs a makeover; but for now, John is experiencing less negative stress, which allows him to continue building key skills that will allow him to make better long-term decisions.

The third option you have for dealing with a serenity stealer is adaptation. This means that you've tried to change it or it's not within your power to change it (like your company gets taken over, you get diagnosed with diabetes, or a friend dies), and therefore you must manage it. Mary, who also worked at this same company, felt she needed to stay at this job as it was funding her education 100 percent, a rare benefit these days. In addition, they provided her with childcare on the lower floor so that she could have lunch with her daughter every day. Fortunately for Mary, her boss was more supportive than most. So Mary decided to put up with the stress. But, even then, Mary has two coping options available to her. She can change her attitude about this job and focus on the benefits, and also take exquisite care of herself so that she can survive until she gets her degree.

So go back to your list. Note down next to each of your serenity stealers if you can avoid, alleviate, or adapt to it. This becomes the foundation of your positive choices action plan. Successful people are proactive. They admit the truth about their quandaries and design solutions. The positive choices technique helps you to relieve the stress in your life by changing the choices you make. By subtracting negative choices that deplete your energy and sidetrack you from your goals, you step into the land of potential fulfillment. Positive life choices, carefully selected and added one at a time, act as powerful catalysts to bring you closer to a life that reflects your unique image of contentment. The philosophy of addition and subtraction may be simple, but the process of naming the underlying dilemma, taking responsibility for your part in it, and then forging ahead to change it stretches you. Change requires faith and courage. Positive choices help you to discover what truly makes you happy. Life is a series of additions and subtractions. You control the calculator.

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