Why sabre-toothed tigers are less stressful than moving house

I was going to write about something else this morning, but then an email landed in my inbox from James Clear.  

Black and white cat close-up looking scared

We all worry about things but we can control the way we deal with it. Make lists, measure your actions, feel less anxious.

(James Clear, by the way, is brilliant. His are among the few emails I actively sit down and READ. Then I save them and reread them, and sometimes they inspire me to write my own emails. Like today.)

The subject line hit home for me today — The evolution of anxiety: why we worry and what to do about it.

And suddenly everything made so much sense. See, we evolved on the African savannah (among other places) and we evolved in an a world of immediate returns. Hungry? Find food, eat it, stress gone.

Spot a sabre-toothed tiger? Run, hide, safe, stress gone.

Storm coming? Find shelter, wait it out in the warm and dry, stress gone.

But these days, we live in a world of delayed returns. We save for retirements that are so far off they seem like a different world.

We look after our health just in case, in some mythical future, we develop a terrible disease.

We work hard this week for this client, so that we can invoice the rest of the fee in a couple of weeks’ time.

That’s a breeding ground for anxiety, because much of this stuff is so far out of our control — and we humans like control.

But even the immediate problems — James Clear cited turbulence in an aeroplane — are stressful because there’s nothing we can do about it. Just sit and wait it out, or worry about it. We’re not in control of that aeroplane.

For me, the immediate problems over the past few weeks have been to do with mortgage companies and waiting for other people to do things. It’s incredibly stressful. I’m fully aware that I don’t help myself, either; but even if I had tried harder to be more chilled out, it’s an undeniably stressful process.

So here’s what I did — and this is what I encourage those who read my book to do, too: I measure my actions.

I’ve been doing this for quite a long time now, but why I did it didn’t really make sense until I read James Clear’s email today.

We can’t control the results of our actions, not really. They happen because of stuff we’ve done. We have no direct control over them, as my two mentors say often. But we can control the actions we take to move us towards the results we want.

And by measuring the actions we take, we not only get more done, but we feel more in control. It alleviates our stress and anxiety.

If you think about it, this is true: making lists is cathartic because it gives us a sense of control. That’s what I’ve been doing over the past few weeks: making lists of things we need to do, by when, and then doing them. It helps. I truly believe I’d have gone round the bend if I hadn’t organised stuff in this way.

And today, it culminated in the ultimate tick on the to-do list: we’ve bought some feathery new friends for The Dingle. It’s something I’ve wanted forever, and now I am finally a chicken mum.

Shit just got real, yo!

May I make a suggestion?

Measure your actions. Don’t fret about your results.

This is one of the very first things I get people to do in my book, and it’s a great help. Why not get yourself a copy and start measuring.

Then think about outsourcing some of the stuff you don’t want to do yourself — stuff that you’d be better getting someone else to do so you can concentrate on your core business.



Vicky Fraser is a copywriter, author, and entrepreneur. She really did run away with the circus… but when she’s not swinging from a trapeze, she’s showing other copywriters and small business owners how to work with better clients, make more money, and stop missing bathtimes, first words, and dinners with angry partners. In fact, she wrote the book on it. Get your copy here.

PS Remember: although we’re not wired to cope well with delayed returns, that doesn’t mean we’re a slave to stress and anxiety. There is stuff we can do to mitigate it. Take charge!

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