Reduce Stress by Pursuing Four-Way Wins

The pendulum is finally swinging back from the apogee of complete immersion in work as the business ideal. A great hue and cry now strains to contain our out-of-control culture of overwork. We know it reduces productivity, destroys civic engagement, and produces all manner of stress-related health problems.

The good news is that you can do something about it, for yourself and for your employees. You can be less stressed and more productive by spending less time on and less attention to work — while being more engaged with your family, your community, and the things you do for just you. You can take conscious, deliberate action to pursue four-ways wins: practical steps toward making things demonstrably better in all parts of your life — at work, at home, in your community, and in your private life.

For decades, I’ve been refining what is now a proven method for producing four-way wins that works because it’s customized for each person who takes up the challenge. But there is still a heaping helping of skepticism that greets me wherever in the world I go to talk about it. I can tell you that, while it’s not easy, it is possible, for I’ve seen success in just about every kind of setting, from retail to manufacturing to human services, and everything in between. If you’re like most harried business professionals, it’s more possible than you now think it might be. Ready to give it a try?

Diagnose. Start by taking a minute to explore your personal four-way view — what’s important to you, where you focus your attention (your most precious asset as a leader), and how things are going in each of the four domains of your life. (You can use this free assessment tool and guide for help in doing so.) Then begin generating ideas for experiments you can try to better align what matters to you with what you actually do. It’s likely that this will mean attending to a non-work aspect of your life you’ve been neglecting.

This might be initiating an exercise program for yourself, carving out protected evening time for your family, or devoting attention to a project for your community, to name a few simple examples. Most importantly, there must be a real benefit, even if indirect, for your work and career, too. An essential aspect of this approach is realizing that an experiment in one part of life affects the others. For instance, you might choose to diet to lose weight (for your own better health); then this has ripple effects in your home and community domains because you’re less grumpy and have more energy for your family and friends. And you increase your performance at work as a result of greater focus and stamina. Similarly, an experiment conducted with the aim of creating greater satisfaction with your family by turning off your smartphone in the evening has beneficial business impact; in taking a hiatus from work in the evening, you return refreshed and are more productive.

Dialogue. Talk to a few of the most important people in the different parts of your life about what you really need from each other. These conversations serve to build trust and strengthen your future together, while you refine and expand your initial ideas about experiments to make things better in all four parts of your life.

Discover. Design an experiment in which you are deliberately aiming to improve your performance and results in each of the four domains — not to trade them off or to balance one against the other, but to enhance all of them. If you’re stuck, think a bit harder: I have coached and taught thousands of people to do this, and I’ve never met anyone who couldn’t come up with one such experiment about which they were very excited.

Get Help. Share your idea with someone, not only to get their advice, but also to build in accountability pressure. Ask them to help you stay on track with your experiment by checking in with you for five minutes each week for the next month. Ideally this would be a person who believes they are going to benefit from this new action you’re going to take. Why, for instance, would your boss benefit from your exercising more?

Get Moving. When you take intentional action to do what matters for people who matter, then your stress goes down. You feel a greater sense of control, and you learn that you have more freedom than you thought you had. You see that you can exercise choice.

To overcome the guilt that often accompanies the desire for change, it’s crucial that your experiments are not selfish. They’re not about you — they’re about you and your most important stakeholders. You are producing benefits for others at home, at work, and in your community. So, if one of your experiments is to arrive at work a half-hour later or leave earlier to go to the gym, spend time with your children, or serve on a community project, and this experiment does not result in improved performance at work, then you adjust it so that it does produce some benefit for your work, too.

In decades of experience, I’ve seen all kinds of experiments not only sustain themselves but grow contagiously precisely because others are invested in what you’re doing and they want to see you succeed. There’s something in it for them. And, inspired by your example, they then initiate their own experiments designed to create four-way wins.

The worst that can happen is that you don’t achieve the result you’d hoped for. But, if you reflect on what did or did not work with your experiment in the laboratory of your life, you will gain what is even more valuable than the immediate result; that is, useful insight on what it takes to produce change that is truly sustainable — change that lasts because it’s good not just for you, but for your world.

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