Scott Taylor

Superintendent , Kenilworth Public School District

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Stress is the bane of a leader's existence

In an August 4, 2013 USA Today article, Deepak Chopra, the 66-year-old holistic health promoter and prolific author, says he never feels stress. He's never had surgery and he's never been hospitalized. The trick? According to the article, Chopra wakes up at 4 a.m. daily and meditates for two hours. Then, he writes for an hour before going to the gym.

I am not Deepak Chopra. I don't mediate, and I don't write for an hour before the gym. My trick? I used to let stress get the best of me when I was an inexperienced leader because I didn't realize my problems would be resolved without doing too much harm as long as I considered them thoughtfully and with great care. In time, the repetition of tackling problems and solving them (successfully or otherwise) conditioned me to realize everything will work out in some way, and I will still survive.

I've gotten get better dealing with stress over time because I've learned from my experiences that everything will work out no matter what, even if the outcome isnt necessarily positive. The bad results will likely not knock you out for the count, and the good results will positively reinforce the effective approaches to resolving problems.

Some leaders have the ability to figure out their confidence early on. I am not one of those leaders. It took me years to realize problems will work themselves out if I consider them patiently and thoughtfully. It is only recently that my body has positively adjusted to my new way of thinking. I don't stress as much over the hot-button issues like I used to. I have come to realize that everything will work out in the end.

"Sometimes when people are under stress, they hate to think, and it's the time when they most need to think" (President Bill Clinton).

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    Aug 8 2013: To beat stress, i believe and continuously work on the following statement.

    No matter what i will be happy.

    Stress or happiness is how we percieve a situation.
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    Aug 13 2013: .

    Hope no stress, and then stress disappears!

    Our brain is the most powerful computer today.
    Needn’t be stress, let brain solve the problems.
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  • Aug 10 2013: I am more like Deepak Chopra that I also had never had hospitalized due to any disease. And I had never had surgeries to repair or fix any internal organ. I am 87 now and am still quite healthy without any hadicap.
    My way of fighting stress is simply to refuse to be affected by stress. I am always happy. And even when I was under the pressure of "stress", I just did my best to alleviate the bad/demanding situation, while forgetting about the stress. Yes, this could be self-trained and learned. To paraphrase Mr. Clinton's word, I say "To think first, before you respond to the stress situation."
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    Aug 9 2013: I think waking up at 4 am to meditate for two hours would not only be stressful, but send me right over the edge.
    People find different events stressful. What is stressful to you might not be to me. I find it infinitely less stressful in the leadership position than having to follow orders. I am not good at that. - at all - under any circumstance. So the stress of leadership is much less stressful than any alternatives for me.

    For me, stress is the bane of a follower.
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    Aug 8 2013: Some people are more productive and innovative under stress . At times that's the biggest differentiator between a leader and followers .
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    Aug 8 2013: I agree. I am in a curve alike yours. I took around 15 years, and it's not yet totally done. I am researching and thinking hard in simple methodologies to improve the stress learning curve, and inspire and help people to deal with stress.
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    Aug 8 2013: Great words! I agree that life and experience bring us tools to lead with stress. Neither alcohol, drugs, tobacco, can slow down your stress, that's an illusion. Only learning trough experience can make you adapt. I think Darwin will agree, and also Lamark. It's a mix match of environment changes, genetic heritage and learning. Only one cannot be changed, genetics, but we can deal with it, and deal with stress.
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      Aug 8 2013: I just wish my "stress learning curve" wasn't so steep. It took my roughly 20 years of experience to figure out how to manage my stress!
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    Aug 7 2013: I really appreciate your comments Greg because while I can write about this subject, I am still plagued by the problems with unmanageable stress. I'll add that one way I find myself dealing with "destructive stress" (as Edward puts it) has been to try to control situations around me. I recognize this is not the healthiest way to handle stress, but it has been my immediate, gut reaction.

    More sleep does always help and waiting for the process to unfold, rather than jumping to resolve a problem or challenge, definitely has benefited me in the past.
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    Aug 7 2013: Good point Edward. I should clarify then that "destructive stress" led to disease in my case (Crohn's). Perhaps it's all a matter of managing stress rather than working to eliminate stress!
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      Aug 7 2013: Scott, good and unstressed leader use the little red 'Reply' option of someones comments here, so that they get notified about the answer they are getting ... pretty straight forward technology on TED's site ... :o)
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    Aug 7 2013: I would say Scott that as long as you do your best, you can be very serene, to me it's all about doing your best and you can't control the rest.

    I have noticed that sometimes in the evening I'll be stressed about what I have to do tomorrow, but eight hours of sleep seems to change my perspective, when I wake up I'm relaxed and often realize that certain things I thought had to be done immediately either don't have to be done immediately or don't have to be done at all.

    Another thing that can cause stress is feeling one has to immediately make a decision about something. I have noticed sometimes that one can ask oneself "why is a decision necessary right now?" and one sometimes discovers a decision can be delayed.

    I've also noticed that stress about a situation can result from lack of information, sometimes when I'm stressed I ask myself what information am I missing here, I'll either discover it's information I can get to make a better, more relaxed decision, or it's information that's not available to me, so perhaps it's a situation that I can't make a perfect decision about. But oftentimes one can get more info to become more relaxed.
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    Aug 7 2013: In the material word a stressless material has no resistance to strain. In the biological world there may well be similarties to the material. Bill Clinton is a High Priest of thinking under stressful conditions as seen when he faced-down a Congressional Impeachment Committee by asking them, "What do you mean by 'is'?". Everything worked out in the end for him too. As Fritzie points out below Chopra surrendered to the stress of surgery and sought a more bucolic existence. Why does that make him an example of how to deal with stress? I would say it disqualifies him. Stress is not undesirable. Unmanaged, destructive stress is undesirable.
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    Aug 7 2013: I believe Deepak Chopra came to his current way of life also after finding his life as a surgeon too stressful for his health.