I recently talked to a fellow entrepreneur who seemed quite stressed out. Despite business going well, being healthy, and otherwise not having any complaints, he felt stressed. Very stressed. I could relate because I tend to feel the same way. Despite being in a very good position – no shitty boss, no looming deadlines, no dreadful finances – I feel stressed.
A while back, it dawned on me that stress isn’t necessarily the result of any tangible, or even any external, factor. It can be self-made. It was the difference between my expectations and what I perceived to be reality. This difference between expectation and perceived reality might be even a good way to phrase the source of stress in general. What concerns me right now though is the self-made kind.
Of course, there could be a real gap that is reason for concern. But in many cases, it’s more due to unrealistically high expectations or misconceptions when it comes to reality. I’d like to give you an example for the latter: My day yesterday. First, an actual account of how I spent my day yesterday (‘the reality’), then, how I perceived it (‘the perceived reality’).
Here’s how the actual day went, based on my own work and time logs.
- 6:00 – Get up. It’s an early day since I have to travel outside of Bangkok, and I want to beat the traffic.
- 6:30 – Grab something to eat and drink during breakfast happy hour at a nearby eatery.
- 7:00 – Get in a taxi to Bang Kwang Prison in Nonthaburi to visit an inmate I occasionally care for.
- 7:45 – Arrive at the prison and find out regulations were changed. Relatives now need an embassy letter to visit prisoners.
- 8:15 – Go to a coffee shop and work on editing a podcast episode of Brewed in Bangkok.
- 10:15 – Meeting with an insurance start-up I considered working with.
- 12:00 – Lunch with the startup people.
- 13:00 – Continue editing the podcast episode.
- 14:30 – Head to a friend’s house to record another podcast episode.
- 18:30 – Head back home.
- 20:30 – Answer e-mails and other inquiries.
- 22:00 – Plop down in front of the PlayStation. End of workday.
By any standard, a very long and exhausting work day. Well, by any standard except for the one of my inner monologue. Here’s how I perceived that same day.
- 6:00 – Wake up. Shit. Didn’t go to bed early enough, played too many computer games. Going to be tired all day. Really need to get this under control.
- 6:15 – Wasting time on Facebook again. I don’t have time for ten minutes of meditation, but fifteen minutes of Facebook on the crapper is okay.
- 6:30 – On Reddit while eating breakfast. Why am I not reading a book or doing something else productive?
- 7:00 – In a taxi. The driver gets stuck on a traffic jam on Lad Prao road. I should have monitored his route on Google Maps and told him when he went wrong. Also could have left that restaurant ten minutes earlier. Would have also avoided this.
- 7:45 – Of course. I travel all this way and can’t visit the guy in prison anyway. Even if they hadn’t changed regulations, I couldn’t have visited him because I went on the wrong day. I suspected that yesterday, but I went anyway.
- 8:15 – Editing the podcast. I wonder if I’m wasting time by not editing and listening to it first. Or maybe I’m losing listeners because I don’t edit enough.
- 9:45 – Heading to a meeting with a startup. The people at the startup seem really nice. I end up hanging around with them much longer than I thought. Why do my meetings always turn into three hour events? This is why I can’t have more meetings.
- 13:00 – I should have stuck to a nearby coffee shop and edited the podcast there, instead of going to a mall after the meeting. Now I wasted time because it turns out I have to travel back to the same area I came from.
- 14:30 – Having a good talk with the podcast interviewee. He’s cool. I really like him. Though should I be more efficient in my interviews? Did I prepare too much?
- 18:30 – Heading home. Nodding off on the subway. Of course. Didn’t sleep enough.
- 20:30 – Be unstructured again about how I answer e-mails. Probably this included social media and other things that aren’t productive. I should make a schedule and stick to it rather than do busy work till late.
- 22:00 – Great. Finished work late again. I’ll be up too late and go to bed late again, repeating the same cycle.
Even as I’m typing this, I’m wondering if I shouldn’t be working on something else. If this is me having shiny ball syndrome again, chasing after some idea in my head instead of being focused on the task that’s actually on my schedule. How am I supposed to get anything done without ever properly focusing? It’s a waste of time. When should I post this on Facebook? I’ll probably be too impatient and post it right away, too close to other posts, and Facebook will bury it and no one will read it and I wasted all this time writing it.
I think I should add some actionable take away, so there it is: Write down reality. It helps with shaping your perception.