Anxiety, Stress, and the Analogy of the Shoes

I read somewhere that people who regularly run marathons take very seriously the weight of their shoes. Whatever way that they could reduce every ounce of material without losing the integrity and support of the shoe, they would do it. 

But why? What does an ounce matter to the powerful muscles in a runner’s legs? If I can’t tell the difference between an 11oz shoe and a 10oz shoe when I hold them side-by-side, then how will it matter to my legs?

It’s pretty simple, really. You lift the shoe once, it’s nothing. But what about a thousand times?  In an average marathon, a runner takes about 46,000 steps.

The reason behind it actually makes perfect sense and is a great example of how the smallest things can make the biggest differences. 

It makes sense if you think about it, too. 

At the beginning, you may not notice a difference in your stamina. Every step is the same to you, as you run yet another marathon. However, by the end of the race, you find yourself lagging behind. Every step is a little bit harder until you are so depleted that, with all of your might, that once simple step is impossible.

The Shoes of Anxiety

Anxiety is like a runner’s shoe. In order to run a marathon, our feet need proper support. Similarly, to dig in and meet a tight deadline, or perfect a project, we need some anxiety to support and motivate us. Anxiety, in healthy moderation, is one of the reasons we are able to accomplish as much as do. Without anxiety, without a sense of urgency, nothing would get done!

However, there is a difference between anxiety and stress. In our analogy of the runner’s shoe, the weight of the shoe represents stress. Every individual stressor in our lives acts as an additional ounce built into the shoes of anxiety. 

For certain exercises, extra weight is necessary to ground us. But in a marathon – in a career – the least amount of unnecessary stressors we have, the farther and longer we can run. 

Dropping The Weight

How do we remove unnecessary stressors from our daily lives? Where do we even start?

There are many books worth of information in those questions, so I will just touch on the basics. Just know that it is possible to live a life of reduced stress and a healthy level of anxiety.

1. Break It Down

First and foremost, you want to take a look at your daily tasks. You will have a mixture of one-offs (tasks that need attention once and then are complete) and routine (tasks that need to be repeated or maintained on a regular basis) tasks. Separate your tasks into these two categories.

Next, take those separated tasks and separate them into two more categories Urgent and Non-urgent. Usually, urgent tasks are needing to be accomplished that day or within the week. It depends on the responsibilities of your job. Non-urgent tasks are due in a week or beyond. 

By breaking your tasks down and separating them, you will be able to prioritize your time much more effectively. , practice identifying future tasks as they come up so that 

Keep a cheat-sheet for the first months as you put this practice into effect. Practice identifying future tasks as they come up so that you are able to quickly identify the priority of the task and file it accordingly. Less clutter in your to-do list means less clutter in your mind!

2. Stay On Task

I can’t count how many time’s I’m in the office working on a project due that week when I get an e-mail with a question from another client. I know that the question can wait a day, but still, I stop what I’m doing and spend 15 minutes answering the question. By the time I’m done with the client, I’ve lost both my place in my project and the momentum I built up. 

By the time I’m done with the client, I’ve lost both my place in my project and the momentum I built up. Not good.

Instead, keep yourself moving however you can. If you need to turn off your E-mails for an hour to hammer out a presentation for tomorrow, then do it. They can wait an hour to get your answer.

*Side note, I have also found it helpful to put in my voicemail, when possible, the expected “up to” wait for a return call from me. If your job allows up to 48-hours before clients should expect a callback, then put that in your voicemail! It will act as support for you to give yourself time and give your clients a timeframe for when they can expect to hear from you. 

3. Delegate

I can’t count how many times I hear stories of people overwhelmed by their jobs, only to find that they are doing things that are other people’s responsibility. 

It’s easy to slip into this practice. In fact, most of us do it without even knowing. We are working on a job when a client calls with a question. You know the task is better done by someone else who works with the client, but you know how to get the job done, too. So, instead of directing the client to the right person, you just take care of it. 

Was that nice of you? Sure! But how long did that task take? 15 minutes? That time could have been spent getting your actual responsibilities done. That’s 15 minutes of stress you needlessly added to your day. 

“But, I showed initiative by doing the job! I helped that other guy, whose actual responsibility it was, out!”

Sure, I get that. But take a second and ask yourself this question:

If you were looking for an electrician, would you want carpenter who knows a little bit about wiring to rewire your house? Of course not.  

In the same way, if you go outside of your wheelhouse on a task that can and should be done by someone who holds that responsibility, you are actually doing a disservice to the client by not giving them the best product they could get. 

So, if just “I don’t want added stress” isn’t enough of a reason not to do unnecessary work, check to see if someone else is better equipped to get the job done. Then, tell the client to call them. 

4. Review Your Happiness

Finally, and a more introspective note, you need to take a hard look at your happiness at your job. 

A massive stressor in our careers is a fundamental lack of fulfillment in the nature of what we do. If you are fighting upriver to do a job you hate, then you’ll be drowning in stress in no time. This is why it’s important to evaluate how much pleasure you get from your career. A lack of fulfillment in your work is an indication that a shift might need to happen.

It can be scary asking yourself if you’re truly happy with your career. It’s hard to broach that subject. However, if you take anything from this article, this is the most important. Make sure you love what you do.

Make sure you find purpose in your efforts. Otherwise, what is the point in working at all? 

Money? You can make that doing anything. 

You need purpose. You need fulfillment. 

Take care of yourself during this marathon. Take the unnecessary weight out of your shoes and push on. Always be mindful of your happiness, and don’t do anything unnecessarily that should be done by someone else.

Only you can set your own boundaries. And you only need your own permission to make others respect them. 

 

If you have any thoughts, suggestions, or questions, then please leave them in the comments section below!

 

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