Among all the aspects of our lives that we constantly need to juggle, besides time management, learning how to deal with and even mitigate stress stands out as one of the most essential. Stress management is an important lifeline, especially for the workaholics who tend to let themselves drown in work because they’re under the impression that being busy equals success. Professor Pete Alexander is a recovering hard-driving leader with over 30 years of sales, marketing, and entrepreneurial experience. He sits down with Penny Zenker to talk about how we can implement stress management in our lives. With Pete and Penny’s help, you can reach a point where you’re empowered and constantly in control of what you’re going to do next.
Listen to the podcast here:
Learning To Manage Stress With Professor Pete Alexander
We are here to give you some perspective on how you can work smarter. Included in working smarter is reducing stress. That’s going to be the topic of this episode because if we’re stressed, we’re not showing up for our time in the best way. We have a perfect, international bestselling author and fantastic guest. Professor Peter Alexander is our guest this episode and he is a recovering hard-driving leader. With over 30 years of sales, marketing and entrepreneurial experience. Pete successfully battled the negative effects of stress head-on and developed a program that’s called LIGHTEN, that’s part of the title of his bestselling book. It’s LIGHTEN stress relief model that motivates his peers to take action in only a few minutes per day, because that’s all we’ve got. His friendly and humorous demeanor and customized approach will relate well to you, and also to his clients and really delivers incredible value. Without further ado, Peter, welcome to the show.
Penny, thank you for having me on and I appreciate the time of your readers.
This is such an important time to talk about stress. We’re in the midst of the pandemic. Some states are going to “open up” and some already technically have. Some people are really into it, staying at home, and others maybe a little bit less so, but there’s a lot of stress. No matter where people are, whether they’re sick, lost their job, they’re bored and they’ve got nothing to do because they’re waiting. Everybody’s feeling it in a different way. Before we get into a little bit about your background, what’s your take on the stress levels that people are experiencing?
It certainly depends on what the situation of the individual is, but overall, everybody’s stressed because even if our own individual particular situation is not stressed, we have family members, friends, coworkers, etc. who are also stressed. It’s hard not to let that affect us in some way. What I try and recommend to everybody out there, especially in this situation, is that we should not stress over what we can’t control. Quite frankly, this whole COVID-19 situation is something where the issue is worldwide. We can’t control the spread of the virus. What we can control is our reaction to it and how we deal with it.
The fact is we’re all control freaks. We try to control what we can control and we can’t stop focusing and putting resistance in areas that we can’t control. I want to reiterate what you’re saying and how important that is. That’s what creates stress. There are things in our circumstances that we can’t control and we’re trying to fight against it.
A great way to figure that out is to draw two circles. The first circle is what you can control. The second is what you can’t control. You list out everything in both circles. As best as you can, you only focus on what you can control. Because if you can control whatever that is in that circle, you will feel more empowered, and if you feel more empowered, you feel more in control. Stress goes way down. It doesn’t help us to split our mind share on what we can’t control because we can’t do anything about it anyway.
It’s wasted energy. I want to point out, and I’m sure you’d agree with this, isn’t there a third circle?
Is it what we would call the parking lot? Something that doesn’t apply to either two?
I would say, maybe what we can influence. Maybe you’d call that what we can control but there are things directly in our control, there are some things that we can influence and then those things that are completely outside. I point that out because some people get stuck in procrastination because they feel like, “There’s nothing that I can do to control.” It’s yes and no. There’s that gray area where you might have influence and where we could still take action and empower ourselves to move forward.
Those of us that are parents out there, if you think you can control your child, that’s beyond hope, but if you can influence them, absolutely. I tend to keep that in the controllable aspect because I can do something about it. If you can do something about it, that goes in the controllable circle. If it’s something to do with your company laying off people, that’s not something you have control over. Unless you are in the executives that are making those decisions. You have to be able to decide what you should be focusing your energy on and if you have no control over it or any influence on it. Put those aside as best as possible.
Let it go, compartmentalize it. I want to know what makes you the expert? You said recovering. Usually we become the expert because it’s an area that we have had some significant challenges.
I’ve always been a type-A personality. I’ve been driven even way back since I was a kid, but the effects of that started happening back in 2008. It was a perfect storm back then, where I had all these different responsibilities hitting me at the same time. I ended up getting diagnosed with stress-induced diabetes. The problem is I didn’t listen to my body about what stress was doing to me at that time. I kept on plowing through and burning the candle at both ends. Until ten years later, I ended up in the emergency room and then in the ICU for several days with a severe case of diabetic ketoacidosis. For those reading who don’t know what that is, my body was eating itself alive because of my stress. Here’s the crazy why I say I’m recovering, is because here I am in ICU for the first time of my life. I’ve been in the emergency room with sports-related injuries or the kids injuring themselves, but never an ICU stay. The second day I’m in the ICU, my boss at the time, sends me a text. My boss knew I was in the ER and the ICU.
He sends you a text like, “Get off your ass and get to work.”
Almost exactly. It was about 6:00 AM and you don’t get any rest in ICU because they’re always poking you. As a diabetic, they were poking me every 30 minutes to check my blood sugar. When I was admitted, I was an hour before becoming comatose, because my blood sugar had skyrocketed high and I was dehydrated. It’s because of a project that I was working on that I was pushing myself on. Finally, after two days, the numbers started coming back down where they could read my glucose numbers, and it was coming down to a nice angle. I get this text from my boss saying, “You have a webinar you need to run in two hours. What are you going to do about it?”
Surprisingly, I didn’t have my work laptop with me in the ICU, I just had my phone. I started pushing myself as much as possible to see how I could rearrange it and do something about it. At that time, the nurse who was on staff checked my blood, and it was a 90-degree angle. It started skyrocketing again. She says to me, “You realize that’s what put you in this bed in the first place?” It was finally the epiphany moment. It was like, “What am I doing to myself?” I realized that for the last, not just ten years, but I had been spending the last 30 years trading my mental and physical health for my career and other responsibilities.
I learned the hard way that if you don’t have your health, nothing else matters. For your readers who don’t believe me about that, I’ll suggest to them, think about the last time you were really sick. Whether it was the flu or something else happened to you. Did you feel like doing anything other than lying in bed? Probably not. Everything else in your life doesn’t matter, if you don’t have your health and it’s precious. We talked about health and time are our two greatest assets. With health, in some cases you can get it back, but in many cases, you can’t if you’ve gone too far.
Isn’t it true that when we’re under stress, there are a lot of people myself included, I’m not getting the same level of exercise and not in the same routine than I was? It’s because I’m sacrificing that time that I have to myself to work out to be more driven or use this time on what I think I need to do in order to make up for the business that’s lost and from the disruption. That’s a point to address because that’s what happened for you. You sacrificed your health and had this. What is a tip for people who are in that cycle of sacrificing their health so that they don’t have that wakeup call that you had?
If you feel more empowered, you also feel more in control of the situation. Click To Tweet In terms of the process, it’s first being mindful of it. If you’re telling yourself, “I should spend 30 minutes going for a walk,” or something like that. That’s the first step. A lot of people don’t even think about that. It doesn’t even matter to them. The next thing you know, they’re in the hospital or they go for a doctor’s appointment. It’s like, “What just happened?” Being mindful of that is first listening to your body and then secondarily, if it’s a matter of getting some exercise, even in a situation like this. You block time in your calendar. That’s what you do. As if it’s a regular appointment, you block it so that your peers, your boss, or whoever it happens to do not take that time. You make sure that you prioritize that.
If you don’t prioritize your health, nobody else is going to. You have to take care of yourself. A lot of us have a hard time saying, “I’m going to take care of myself. Whether it’s physically or mentally, I need to do something for myself,” but then you feel guilty because you think, “Am I being selfish?” You have to remember that if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t be there for your significant other, your job, or your kids. You have to take care of yourself first and it’s not a selfish thing to make sure that you have your health.
If you flip it and see that you’re doing it for other people. For people who don’t want to do for themselves, they can see you’re doing it for other people. As a parent, you’re going to be more patient and that’s going to make you a better parent. As a business owner or an employee, you’re going to be more creative, because you’re going to be more relaxed and have access to the space to connect different things. That is where innovation and creativity come from. We have to look at it like that. Maybe you have a tip or trick that works for you. Time blocking is key and we’re talking about take back time and being more organized and disciplined.
For me, I have to do it in the morning. It has to be my first thing and the reason is that I know myself. I know that if I don’t do it in the morning, then it won’t happen. There will be all sorts of excuses throughout the day. “I’ll do it over lunch,” and then at lunch, something else becomes more urgent or important and I’ll say, “I’ll do it at 4:00, right after work or I’ll do it after dinner.” It never happens. I know for me, I have to do it first thing when I get up and habit stack, so it’s part of my get up, brush my teeth, right after breakfast goes down and do that thing. I’ve gotten out of that habit because my kids are home and everything’s all messed up. I have to make that a routine. What is it for you? I’m sure you still struggle with that too, because you still have that inner drive.
The number one thing that I do is my morning routine, which is meditation. I know that if I don’t do my meditation, when I first get up, it’s likely that it’s going to get pushed off and if it gets pushed off, it’s not going to do me any benefit during the day. I make sure that I meditate before I look at my phone, any messages or anything like that, because as soon as you look at your phone, you’re in work mode.
Also, you’re in reactive mode. Definitely no email in the first thing and do that most important thing like you’re saying.
Being at home, another thing that is important is to think about detoxing from that technology at certain points during the day. If you’re constantly on your phone, what’s happening is that you’re not giving your mind nor your body any opportunity for a break. If you can put it aside, turn it off for an hour. Don’t be willing to not look at it. Think about what you would do if you had a long shower. You wouldn’t have your phone sitting there, unless if you have one of those waterproof holders.
Do you need that in the shower?
I know I don’t but I know a lot of people who are not able to put down their phone. In this society that we have that we’re always on, that creates all these different stressors. You need to take a break. It’s amazing. I challenge your readers that the next time they have a call with somebody that’s important to them or let’s say they’re going to go for a walk with somebody, to turn off all alerts, texts, emails, everything and not look at anything else other than the other individual as you’re talking. You’ll be amazed at how much more present you will be in that conversation.
I know I took you away from your story. Is there anything else that you wanted to come back to around your story before we go into some of the tips in your book?
What I did after I had that epiphany moment in the hospital, thanks to that nurse, I looked at my finances and I said, “I can do this.” I decided my health wasn’t worth it. I resigned from my job. I started applying the different stress relief tools and techniques that I started finding and people were recommending. I noticed that a lot of them were working. I started seeing not only that my stress was going down, my glucose numbers and weight as a diabetic was going down, and my energy was going way up. A couple of my friends told me, “You should write a book.” I thought, “I’ll do that.” I wrote the book and I didn’t realize how popular it was going to be because it fits a perfect niche. All the other books out there were saying, “Here’s a 300-page book on meditation or a 300-page book on deep breathing or yoga or whatever.” The reality is, most of us in our day, we only have a few minutes that we can try some technique to calm us down. That’s what the book is all about. Try something.
Most people don’t have time to meditate for three hours a day?
Not at all. If I can get even five minutes, it’s great, but that’s the thing, it’s five minutes or less. What I heard most was, “I’ve got to have this important conversation,” “I’m going into this important meeting,” or “I’ve got this important presentation. I’ve got five minutes. What can I do to calm myself down?” What’s great about it is you only invest five minutes or less in trying it. If it works, fantastic, keep doing it. If it doesn’t work, try something else until you find something that works for you. That’s the key. Not every technique will work for everybody. You find what works for you and you apply it.
You’ve written the book. You’ve got this model. Why don’t you tell us what each of the letters represents so that the readers can get an idea of what’s in your book, and then we can focus on a couple of tips?
It’s LIGHTEN. That’s an acronym. The L stands for Livelihood, or your career, which is if we’re workaholics, we’re going to spend more time on our careers than just about anything else. I stand for Imagination. That’s your conscious mind. It’s 5% of your brain. It’s where your inner critic lives. For all of us who have our inner critic, the control freak, that’s where it lives. It’s quite important to make sure to handle that. The G, I call your Genius. That’s your unconscious mind. Your unconscious mind is the other 95% of your brain. It’s where your memories are stored and your habits are formed.
It’s where real change happens because you have to change the unconscious mind. Your conscious mind will say, “I want to go in this direction.” If your unconscious mind is not on board, you’re going to go in the direction of wherever the unconscious is, so you need to make sure to be in touch with your unconscious mind. The H stands for Health, physical health. The T is like your podcast, it’s for Time, because we only have a limited amount of time. We better use it wisely because we don’t get it back. E stands for your Environment because your environment needs to be supportive of your stress relief efforts. The N stands for your Network of relationships whether that be your friends, family, coworkers, spouse, or other people that are important to you in your life.
Is each one of those playing an important role in our physical and mental health?
Make sure you leave time at the very top of your day for meditation. Click To Tweet Absolutely. In the book, what I did was I organized it so that the tips fall into those different categories. Although, certain tips can fit multiple categories, but wherever it felt most common, that’s where I put it in that chapter.
I’d love to be able to go into each of those areas, but let’s focus on what’s in the time aspect. We talked a little bit about health and some of the other aspects but what are some of the tips that you have under time?
I’ve got several of them. A couple that I wanted to bring up for this is, one is setting boundaries. Because when we want to feel like we’re a good employee, volunteer, family member, or a good friend, we say yes to everything. After that, we stress over how we don’t have enough time to do what we committed to. Unfortunately, this is especially true when it happens with the person we report to when we’re working at a company. It’s easy to blame our boss, employer or clients, let’s say if we run our own businesses, or our customers for our work-life balance getting out of whack, but it’s not their fault. The reality is no matter how demanding others are or how excessive their expectations may be, we are in charge of our own lives. We choose what to accept. If we’re overworked by our employer, it’s often because we allowed it to get to that point. We didn’t put proper boundaries up.
I hear this all the time from people, they say, “That’s my boss.” “I’ll get fired if I don’t respond back to that text message at 6:30 AM.” What do you say to that?
The simple solution is to say no to certain requests that are going to suck up your time. If you find it difficult, remind yourself that saying no, allows you to say yes to the things that you truly want or need to do. For example, if it is your boss, maybe you don’t say specifically no, but you can say, “If I have to do this, here are the other things that are on my plate. Help me choose which one is going to be knocked off my list because I can’t do it all.” When you bring it up to your supervisor and say, “You have to choose which one is the priority,” then they may rethink about it and say, “This isn’t as important as this other project that you’ve got cooking. I need you to have that done first.” You help them help you.
What I always say is that sometimes they don’t remember all the things that you’re working on. They’re going to keep coming and bring in stuff. It’s up to you to ask that question, “Which is more important, this or that?” Also, to have a dialogue. I don’t know why, but it seems like people are afraid to have that dialogue, so they’re avoiding asking a question. I say the same thing. It’s important to have that dialogue.
To address your question about why they are afraid to, it’s probably because they don’t have a comfortable relationship with their supervisor and I get that. I’ve had some micro-managers who were awful. It is difficult, but when you put it into business terms, as we talked about, they are going to respond to that and they will understand that you’re only human. You’re not going to be able to do everything. If you don’t get something else that’s more important done because they pushed yet another thing on your plate, it’s going to come back to them.
Also, we don’t have that dialogue because we want to please. We want to do the best job and add incredible value. Most people are coming from a positive place. We’re doing it to ourselves. We have to play that trade-off. When you said boundaries, I want to bring up one other thing. Saying yes and no is a boundary but a lot of people have difficulty stopping work especially in this pandemic. I hear more people saying that they’re not used to working from home and they’re working longer hours. They’re not able to stop at the end of the day because there’s so much to do. Back to that environment piece. If they’re in the office, it’s a different environment, and they can leave one to come to another. How do you suggest that people deal with that boundary?
It’s interesting, because I hear that a ton myself. The first thing that you have to realize, especially if you’re a workaholic by nature, is that work expands. It will never get all done. There’s no finish line. You can always find more work if you look for it. What this means is your decision to stop working can’t be tied to your completion of responsibilities. You have to understand that you have to learn the inevitable. There will always be something left that has to be done and you need to be okay with that. You have to realize that there’s no guilt about not getting 1,000 things done on a certain day. You’re only human and be comfortable with stepping away from it.
Do you know a tip or technique that can help with that?
There’s one that’s called the end of day anchor. I’ll give you an example of how my wife and I do it. She works at a local hospital. You can imagine how stressed she’s been. She works odd hours, so she gets home at about 10:00 at night. I adjust my schedule so that I can spend more time with her. My end of day anchor is when I hear the garage door opening and she’s pulling into the garage. That tells me that whatever I’m working on, let’s say I’m sending an email or I’m writing something, I need to finish that up. That’s my signal. For your readers, the end of day anchor could be something like turning the computer off or turning your work phone off, whatever it is. Something simple that you get into a habit and it could be a reminder that you put in your phone that says, “At a certain time, this is the time that I need to shut down.”
It’s got to be a trigger. What came into my mind is Fred Flintstone. At the end of the day, the bird or whatever would blow the whistle and he’d be in his yabba doo mode.
“Yabba doo,” and he jumps into his car.
That’s your garage door opening and so you have to have that trigger. Whether it’s the alarm or find something else. Maybe that’s the alarm that goes off, the yabba dabba doo signal. I’m sure you can download that from the internet. It’s going to be fun too. I have some other techniques that I use too and I wasn’t thinking about that in terms of the trigger like that. That’s great.
It works well, and for those readers who are going to be back in an office, it could be locking their office doors or leaving. It could be turning off the monitor on their computer. Whatever makes sense to them. It’s all about the trigger that you’re doing mentally for yourself that you know that you’ve transitioned from work mode now to your own time.
What other tips and techniques like that do you have that people could do around their time?
I would say that one that’s a big misnomer for a lot of people is the multitasking because they feel like that they’re so busy. I’m sure we’ve all asked a particular coworker, “How are you doing?” You’ll hear them say, “I’m busy.” They’re not going to say something like, “Work is easy, and I’m on top of everything.” They’re not going to say that they’re good.
Learning To Manage Stress With Professor Pete Alexander Click To Tweet It’s a busy competition. “You’re busy? You can’t even imagine how busy I am.”
They brag about pulling an all-nighter to finish a project because they have no time. They share that they don’t have five minutes to think during the course of their busy day. They have to eat their food at their desk because they don’t have the time to get up and have a proper meal. What it is, if you think about it, our success is not tied to how busy we are. It’s tied to how much control we have of our time, and how we choose to use it. Think about that.
I like that. That’s your definition of productivity. That’s the area that we do have control of, to go back to our control freaks. You have control of where and how we show up for our time.
Absolutely and it is your time. Remember, if you don’t use it wisely, what happens? You don’t get it back. Make sure you do. If you stop worrying about what other people are thinking about, the hours that you work and how much is on your plate, you can refocus your efforts on using the time as effectively as possible. If you do that, inevitably, this means more time for meaningful ventures and our stress will reduce as a result.
Is there a technique that helps me? I’m speaking as the audience in general and I’m conditioned to multitask, switch from task-to-task. Is there a technique that can break that pattern or stop me from doing that?
You have to teach yourself. One of the things that you can do that I find is best is let’s say you’re on a phone call and you’re checking email and stuff, especially if it’s on your cell from home, get up and start walking around. That will get you away from changing your mindset to, “I’ve got to be thinking about what’s on my computer screen, but I also have to be trying to pay attention to whatever call I’m on.” It’s a matter of saying, “I can’t do everything.” It looks good to be sitting there on the computer, especially if you’re on Zoom and you’re doing different things. It looks good because it looks like you’re busy, but the reality is you are splitting your mindshare up. Statistically this shows, there’s research that backs this up, that you are far more likely to make a mistake when you are multitasking than focusing 100% on one particular task.
What happens is when you put a whole bunch of different tasks and you’re juggling all these different things in the air, you’re more likely to make mistakes on each one of those. If you’re making mistakes, you’ve got to go back and fix those later. You might not look good to your supervisor or to your peers and you spend more time on those projects than you would if you were individually focusing your time on them. As best as you can, if it is something that needs mindshare, focus on it, get it done, and move on to the next item.
What I hear you saying is make it difficult for yourself to multitask. Put an obstacle in the way. If you get up and you’re not there on your computer, now you’re not in the environment and in a place to multitask. If you’re working on something on your computer, shut all other windows down, whatever you can do to best take away temptation.
What I used to do when I would be in physical conferences is I’d sit down at the conference table. We’d have X number of people around the table. I’d have my computer in case somebody asked me for something that I need to reference, but I close it. I would close it so it’s not there making any noise. The sound is off and it’s closed. I have to open it up and look for something consciously. That made me more focused. Don’t have your phone sitting there right on the table where you can see every text coming in. At least turn it over so that it’s not as distracting.
By the way, for everybody who’s reading, that’s the same in the car. As much that you want to do that while you’re sitting at your desk, you want to do it while you’re at the car. I did a test between my home and my kids’ school. I had this urge to pick up my phone eight times in this five-minute window. We have to make it difficult for ourselves and put it out of reach and make it so that we don’t have access to it.
That’s a huge safety one. The smartphones nowadays allow you to put it in driving mode, where if somebody texts you, it can automatically reply back that, “I’m driving right now, I’ll get back to you as soon as I’m not behind the wheel anymore.” For me, when I first started, I came close to texting and driving. It was an email I got from my boss and went, “I better respond to this.” I was in bumper-to-bumper traffic and you’re going slow. I came within probably 0.5 inches from rear-ending somebody because I was responding to an email that could have waited. That mode inside of me was saying, “I better respond right away.” It almost cost me huge damage to my car and to potentially hurting somebody else.
It has cost people their lives. That’s another wakeup call. Even hearing it happened to someone else. You don’t want that to be you. It’s not worth it. Let’s get people over to where they can find more about you, your book, and connect with you. Where can they go to find more about you?
The best place is to go to my website for a couple of reasons. It’s PeteAlexander.com. Not only is there information on the book and where you can buy it, but I also encourage your readers, if they like these couple minute tips. What I do is I take one of the over 100-plus tips that are in the book and each week on a Wednesday, I do a new quick video and write up on it. They can subscribe to that and get a free tip to try each week. I don’t spam people. It’s strictly for distributing those tips. I encourage them to go to my blog, and it doesn’t even ask for your name, just the email address.
That sounds great. These are super valuable what you’ve shared here. It’s simple, easy to put into practice, and at the same time, hugely impactful. Thank you for sharing them.
It’s my pleasure. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to help others because there have been too many cases where I’ve seen where people do not take their health seriously. You do not want to end up in a situation where you can’t get your health back.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for having me on, Penny. Thank you to your readers for reading this episode.
What I want you to leave here with is to think about some of the tips that we discussed here or any tips that you might already know but you’re not putting into practice. We talked about blocking your time for that time to move and take care of your health in the morning. We talked about making it difficult for yourself to do things like multitasking and things that you want to stay away from, how you can set up your environment and your things.
We also talked about setting boundaries and how to end the day when you need to with the trigger and also how to say no or how to handle over-commitment, de-committing or dealing with some of those issues. Pick one area that you feel is the most stressful for you and put in practice one of these tips or go to Pete’s blog, sign up for his newsletter and find another tip that is going to be supportive for you. You may say, “Stress, what does that have to do with take back time?” It has everything to do with taking back time. When you’re stressed, you’re wasting time and energy in places that you could be using elsewhere. Also, when you don’t have your health, then you’re also not focused on those other things that you want to do. That’s something that you have to make a priority. Make your health a priority. That was a long ending, but thank you for being here. We’ll see you in the next episode.
About Professor Pete Alexander
A recovering, hard-driving leader with over 30 years of Sales, Marketing and Entrepreneurial experience, Pete successfully battled the negative effects of stress head-on and developed the LIGHTEN™ stress relief model that motivates his peers to take action in only a few minutes per day. His friendly, humorous demeanor and customized approach relates well to his clients and guarantees full value is delivered. To experience immediate stress relief for yourself, please visit Pete’s video blog series at https://petealexander.com/blog/ or his internationally best-selling book on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07RTZJM76
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