You might have a bit of initial resistance to this thought. I know I did.

“How can I not be stressed out? You want to see my to-do list? Do you know what will happen to me if I don’t get this job done, this bill paid, this problem solved? If you had my (fill in the blank: wife, boss, kid, bills, job) you’d be going crazy, too!”

And yet…

There is someone (actually, a lot of someones) on the other side of the globe who is not stressed out about this, wouldn’t even be stressed if he knew about it. I want to become him or at least have his calmness. Why? Because beyond a mild motivation level, stress is detrimental to performance. At its extreme, you get the deer in the headlights syndrome: total panic, 100% freeze.

Fascinating isn’t it? When something is totally important to us, we often choose to react in a way that makes it more difficult to achieve our desired result. Not very smart, is it?

So how can we use our minds to choose better? We can train ourselves to react in a more effective, constructive manner. We can start by toning down our language. Remember, your body hears every word you say. If you use stressful language, you are programming your mind and body to become stressed.

I used to say, “That is really irritating!” Now I say, “That is really interesting!” Both may be true. I find the latter strangely calming, useful in putting me in an effective problem-solving state. (See blog post on reframing.)

Michael Jordan was asked if he ever became stressed out about a crucial do-or-die playoff game, if he ever experienced performance anxiety at vitally significant moments. Jordan looked at the interviewer for a moment as if she were crazy, and then delivered a classic reply: “You don’t understand. I play the game for moments like that.”

What an incredibly powerful chosen reaction. Some people choose to interpret such do-or-die moments as stressful. Jordan chose to see them as thrilling, exciting, opportunities to show the world his incredible skill set.

We have many opportunities in our lives to choose powerful reframes about the situations we face. Remember, stress is not an event, it is a chosen reaction to an event.

This is a classic from the NSC Blog archive, originally posted March 24, 2008.