For those who know me offline, you  know things have been crazy in our lives over the past year. This craziness has, at times, brought significant stress and a sense of disillusionment.

I know I am not alone in these feelings. It’s an epidemic plaguing our country. We Americans are a stressed out group. One study revealed 77% of people say they regularly experience physical problems cause by stress, and 33% feel they are living with extreme stress.

Those numbers are really high. Dangerously high, even.

A better way to live and work

A few days ago, I remembered something I heard last year. I went to a men’s breakfast and heard a keynote speaker from Chick-fil-A. This gentleman is a brilliant businessman, and he’s one of the top executives in the company.

He made a number of memorable comments that morning, but his closing illustration was probably the most helpful. He put 3 buckets on stage and wrote a word on each bucket: Control, Influence, Nothing.

Each bucket represented a question: What can I control? What can I influence? What can I do nothing about?

Everything in life fits into one of those three buckets. Doesn’t matter what it is. It will fit.

When you honestly assess your life with those buckets in mind, your perspective begins to change. You begin to gain clarity where you lost focus. Your stress slowly begins to leave, because your newfound clarity removes some significant burdens.

Reduce stress by asking questions

I think these 3 buckets are powerful tools to help you reduce stress and gain clarity. Don’t believe me? Grab a pen and paper, then spend 10 minutes working through the following three questions:

  1. What can I control? In other words, what things directly change based on my actions? This question gives significant clarity to your live, because it defines the things that can change based on what you do. These answers are what should be on your daily todo list. Your health, for example, is partially in your control. You don’t have control over sickness, but you do have control over what you eat and how often you exercise. You don’t have control over what someone else does at work, but you do have full control over your effort.
  2. What can I influence? What might change based on my actions? You have less control here than you did with Question 1, but you do have the opportunity to influence some level of change. I can’t control what my 2 year old son does, but I do have some level of influence in his life. My actions and words can indirectly impact the outcome. The challenge with this question is relationships. The ability to influence someone else happens only when you have a relationship built on trust. If you want to have greater influence, you have to build deeper relationships.
  3. What can I do nothing about? What will not change based on your actions, no matter what happens? You have zero control here. Nothing in your list for this question can be impacted by you. This question is perhaps the most frustrating, because it requires you to let go of whatever anxiety, anger, or frustration you may have about the situation. When you answer this question honestly, you get a sense of freedom. You realize it is ok to stop caring about certain things. You realize it is ok to not get stressed about what you cannot control.

When you feel stuck, unclear, or stressed, take some time to honestly answer these three questions. As you work through your answers, you will get a better sense of where to focus your attention and efforts. Your to-do list will be clearer, and your stress will go down.

Who doesn’t want that?

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