Every year I try to wrap up by sharing research and information relative to helping our readers learn something that might make their next year better. Well, after talking with a therapist friend at length this year, I believe I’ve developed a great theme for this year’s article.
 
Simply put, do you deal in absolutes or preferences? One will simply succeed in making you crazy, and the other will make your life much, much simpler and happier. With that kind of lead-in, I trust you will stay with me today for a few minutes. I promise, if you follow the advice I received, you will be happier!
 
To establish the credibility of this article, I will confess up front that everything I am sharing came from an outstanding therapist by the name of Curt Ammel. Curt has been an amazing help to me as I have walked through the journey of what will ultimately be a terminal illness (Don’t worry, my departure plans are not in the immediate future). Anyway, he’s a licensed professional counselor, and a founder/partner in one of the largest practices I know of around here.
 
Extra stress
 
I am aware of the absolute/preference conundrum for one simple reason. Like, I suspect, just about anyone reading this article, as a business owner we are all Type-A-driven people, or we won’t make it. Trouble is, that leads to us saying over and over “I HAVE to do this,” or often, “If THIS doesn’t happen, I/it will be a failure.” We are the champions of setting ourselves up for defeat.
 
“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” – Wayne Gretzky
 
Time to get moving along. By now you are wondering what this is all about. Well, assume you are preparing for a very important test. Think back and assume it’s your ASE exam. You and I would likely go through the door thinking to ourselves we HAVE to pass the test that day no matter what. Implicit in this approach is that anything less than passing is a personal failure. We may even think to ourselves that we not only have to pass but that we have to obtain a 100%. Talk about stress.
 
In this example, our demand for the absolute outcome being nothing less than our own definition of perfect may well lead to choking on the test, apprehension and huge amounts of stress. It is safe to say it seems that, by virtue of our career choice, dealing with customers and employees, paying the bills and all of the rest we already have enough stress in our life without the added stress of perfection. Consider the impact of stress on our body.
 
Common effects of stress on your body
• Headache
• Muscle tension or pain
• Chest pain
• Fatigue
• Stomach upset
• Sleep problems
• Common effects of stress on your mood
• Anxiety
• Restlessness
• Lack of motivation or focus
• Feeling overwhelmed
• Irritability or anger
• Sadness or depression
• Common effects of stress on your behavior
• Overeating or undereating
• Angry outbursts
• Drug or alcohol abuse
• Tobacco use
• Social withdrawal
• Exercising less often
 
Source: Mayo Clinic
P.S., I go there, it’s awesome!
 
Any of this sound familiar? They were almost all an issue for me at one time or another.
 
Keep in mind, the absence of stress is called death. Everyone lives with bad and good stress. The question I ask you, is it worth imposing stress that’s just not needed on top of the pile that already exists?
 
So, do remember, this article does not propose that you simply work to eliminate all stress. Not possible. Just manage what you’re able. The thought is not to simply accept less of yourself. Rather, it is to place things in proper perspective by deciding if something is an absolute or a preference.
 
Back to our example. What if, for a change, rather than making 100% passing score today, we thought something like “I have studied hard and I am ready? I prefer to get this done today and to ace this test. However, it isn’t life or death, and if needed, I can try again.” You have just unloaded a pile of stress you really don’t need over something that was a choice you made to pursue (and a worthy choice at that) and not a “have to.”
 
By the way, I have also learned to eliminate some absolute words from my speech. I am not 100% successful, but they too go a long way towards putting life into perspective. These include:
• Would have
• Should have
• Could have
• I wish
• I have to
 
The first three suggest you are not happy with a past decision or action. If we think a minute, short of apologizing to someone if needed, there is NOTHING we can do to change the past. Spilled milk and all of that. Lots of stress created, not a thing you can do now.
 
The words “I wish” are frustrating to anyone. Again, consider that this suggests you want something you may not be able to obtain or do because of time, physical or other issues already posing demands on your life. “I wish I could do XXX” leads to little more than depression, stress and unfulfilled dreams. Focus on what is possible and then move on those items.
 
Bucket list?
 
A personal note. Following the popularity of the movie “The Bucket List,” and all of the resulting discussion, I created my own list. I had great trips and travel, vehicles and experiences I just had to accomplish. As you know, the problem with folks like us is that a wish list quickly becomes an “I must do list.” Anything short of completion was failure. Well, along comes this illness. It’s a long term, chronic disease that eventually leads to death. But, along the way my ability to travel and do amazing things has dried up to zilch. Talk about bummed out! Every time I looked at that list I was sad and depressed over my own losses. After talking to Curt and others, may I humbly suggest you tear up that list and begin planning some fulfilling thing you can do now?
 
Just saying.
 
The last words, “I have to” (fill in the activity) at whatever time or day. Well, if you really have to do something, that’s OK. But after practicing for this article I quickly realized many of the “I have to” activities were really “if there’s time and I feel OK I will” activities. Stress begins to melt away quickly when you start to see the world in this way. Prioritize, separate the have to from the I will if I’m able activities on your to-do list for the day.
 
So, we’ve covered a lot of ground quickly, and I trust this is making sense. But, let’s have one last example that hits us all at home in our shops. The scenario is a crazy busy day when the schedule became much larger than the time and technicians available. Our staff and customers will put plenty of stress on us. At the same time, we’re swallowing the antacid, we are piling on more stress by thinking to ourselves that, in addition to managing this mayhem, we must also be somewhere at 6 p.m. or disaster will ensue. It becomes our absolute defining success or failure, maybe for the entire day.
 
The result of this approach is not only to increase our antacid consumption and sleep issues, to say nothing of going home as “the grump of the world” (been there too). The reality in our scenario may be that whether we are there at 6 p.m. sharp or 6:30 p.m. isn’t likely to affect the direction of the free world. But, if we insist on the 6 p.m. we begin to lose focus on the immediate issues of throughput and dealing with next crisis of the day. Our ability to creatively address the problems of the day also begins to go away. Lousy picture.
 
Instead, what if your thought was something like this: “It would be great and I prefer to get there at 6 p.m., but it really isn’t critical. If it was a bit later, everything still works.” Rather, “Instead, I will hope to leave in time, and what needs to be done now to make that happen?” Which approach ends up with less stress, more creativity and focus for the immediate issues at hand? One of those aggravating rhetorical questions.
“Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure.” – George Edward Woodberry
 
In a nutshell
 
Well, it is time to summarize all of this:
• Others will create all of the mayhem and stress we need for us if we let them. We’ll cover this in a later article when we talk about the monkey-on-your-back theory.
• Prioritize what really is an absolute and what is a preference first thing each day
• Forget the self-defeating would’a, could’a, should’a, I wish and I have to phrases. This will take work.
• Define success in life as absolute for the important things (God, family, health) and leave the rest for the preference pile.
• In my opinion, tear up the bucket list and get moving on something fun you’re able to do now with the resources you have.
 
An amazing secret
 
Finally, if you will allow me a small indulgence, I will share a secret Curt gave me when this journey of mine began. First, he said I had to limit any pity parties to 30 minutes a day or less. And, when it was over, if a real problem still existed, I should grab my Bible and head to a place where I go to think and pray all by myself. We live in Milwaukee, just a short drive to Lake Michigan. I have a spot on a bluff high above the lake where I can watch the sun rise, the water, birds and all of the rest. There all by myself. I always walk away feeling refreshed and ready for another day.
 
May I suggest that you find someplace near your home or on the way to the shop as your own spot? We’re not talking half a day here. Maybe only 15 minutes of peace and quiet to consider your blessings, spend a few minutes practicing your faith and then head for the shop. It’s an amazing secret.
 
Well, that’s the “Management Matters” article written to help you in your personal journey through this hectic world. Last secret. I keep the most recent issue of Undercar Digest on my desk. Every morning I pray for all of the readers. For strength, health and direction in all of our days. I may not know everyone personally, but it is important to me to always remember each of you. We’ve really all been in each other’s shoes. We are a fraternity, a community. No one understands us like another business owner.
 
God Bless you all, hang in there and make 2017 our best year yet!
 
Thomas M. Langer Jr. has a career spanning a lifetime in the industry and is combining his experience with new information to provide readers of Undercar Digest with information you need to build a better business.