Dealing with the Stress of Striving

The Stress of Striving - The Man in the Red ShirtHalfway up the mountain I saw him: The man in the red shirt. He rode a black bicycle. He was about 150 meters ahead of me.

I intended to catch him.

Little did I know what would happen when I did.

I was pedaling my bicycle, climbing King’s Mountain Road. It’s one of my favorite bike rides in the Bay Area. It’s a five-mile, two-lane road that winds through redwood forest as it steadily climbs toward the top.

This ride challenges me. It pushes me. It can be long, grueling and exhausting.

Today it was more challenging than usual.

There were several cyclists who passed me. They’d say hello as they rode past me. Their form, streamlined. Their technique, flawless. Their clothes, really bright.

I admit I felt a little envious. Not of the bright clothes, but of their ability to pass me.

And perhaps that’s why I got so fixated on the man in the red shirt.

I first saw him when I came around a bend into a small clearing. He was about 150 meters in front of me—and I was gaining on him. Slowly.

He disappeared around a turn and I pedaled hard, hoping to gain ground.

When he came back into view, I could see that I was closer, but not as close as I wanted to be.

This went on for several minutes. He would go around a turn and when he would come back into my view, he would be just a little closer.

I was really pushing hard. My legs were burning. My knees ached. Sweat stung my eyes.

I was in pain. But I persevered, struggling to catch him.

As I got closer, I could see he was struggling too.

Finally, I reached him. I rode up on his left.

“Hey,” I said, struggling for breath.

His face was red and sweaty. He was working hard. It was clear that he was also struggling physically.

He smiled and looked at me. Then he said four words that completely changed my day:

“What a beautiful day!”

I was caught off guard.

I looked up. The sky was a magnificent blue. A few small white clouds were strolling through the sky. Magnificent redwood trees towered majestically all around me. Even birds were singing.

He was right. It was a beautiful day.

Only I hadn’t noticed it.

I’d been so stressed about catching up to him, that I hadn’t realized just how spectacular this moment was!

Continuing to ride, I felt the sunshine on my arms. I felt a slight breeze on my face. I felt how good it felt to be alive, to be using my body, and to be engaged in climbing this mountain.

I still felt the pain in my legs, but it felt different.

This man’s simple phrase changed my day.

He helped me realize how often I get caught up in the struggle to reach a certain goal. I’d fallen into the trap of feeling like I’d only be satisfied when I caught up with the man in the red shirt.

But each moment of the climb provides an opportunity to be happy and to find satisfaction in what is present right now.

The Stress of Striving

It’s easy to get stressed out when you’re striving toward something. With deadlines to meet and demands at home and at work, it’s easy to get so focused on accomplishing what needs to be done that you can forget about the simple act of being.

This results driven mentality adds stress. This is the stress of striving. It’s something that happens to all of us.

The stress of striving keeps us from noticing just how enjoyable life can be.

The next time you’re working toward a deadline or feeling the pressure to perform, try these little things and see how you feel.

  • Breathe—When you’re stressed, your breath becomes quicker and tighter. Notice your breathing. Feel what it feels like to breathe and see if it slows down a little on its own.

  • Let Go of Perfection—What could you do if you weren’t striving toward perfection? How much mental energy would it free up if you could let go of the fear of not attaining your ideal? To be honest, the results of your striving are beyond your control. Put your energy on what your intention is and let the results worry about themselves.

  • Embrace this Moment—Pause. Look around. Take a moment to embrace this moment. Here you are! Wow. You’ve never been right here before. You’ve never experienced this moment before, and you never will again.

  • Create Space for Gratitude—Notice what is good about this moment. Gratitude is a powerful stress-stopper. What little things do you have to be grateful for right now? How is the challenge helping you grow? What unique gifts are you able to use?

  • Focus on Physical Sensations—It’s so easy to let the mind carry you away on a long journey into a cycle of stress and striving. By focusing on physical sensations, you can simplify this moment.
    You only feel physical sensations right now. You’re not feeling them in the past. You’re not feeling them in the future. You’re feeling them right now. This can help to reduce the mental struggle associated with stress.

What red shirt are you chasing? What goals are you striving toward?

The next time you’re feeling the stress of striving, try applying these little things one at a time. They can each make a big difference.

Notice how they make you feel. I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

If you’d like a free guided meditation to help you deal with stress, click here.