don kerr

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Are we willingly killing ourselves?

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite Or

Hello again. It's us! This is the second edition of FSW out loud. The response to our first missive proved popular and we're hopeful you'll find this entertaining, illuminating and worth the few minutes you may devote to reading what we think and then sharing your response by commenting. That's what this is all about - promoting thoughtful, considered conversation. You may find the tone of this piece slightly different in that we found ourselves in the odd situation of being, generally, in agreement and so we were less fractious. Be assured this will not always be the case as we move forward. 
Don Kerr

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite OrDON: Witnessing the phenomena that have been Brexit, the American presidential race, the demise of the Harper regime in Canada, the plight of Syrian refugees, and the growing tone of rancor that exists on social media, I was given to think about the level of stress that we seem to willingly accept. Indeed, not only accept but pursue and embrace.

Why do we do this?

Stress has become the plague of our time; a global epidemic that is spreading. The World Health Organization raised the alarm 20 years ago and reported that stress had become the biggest health issue of the 21st century.

Stress leads to increased conflict, decreased morale and puts a strain on families and working relationships. It decreases performance and productivity and most of the time we are unaware of the degree to which stress is taxing our resources. In fact, much of our lifestyle is undermining our health, exhausting us physically and mentally without our being consciously aware of it.

Some scientists believe many of us tend to spend more time ruminating about negative stuff as opposed to celebrating the small positive stuff. Rick Hansen, a well-known neuropsychologist says it's because:


Interestingly, he connects this tendency back to our earliest ancestors...

Hansen writes, some of our earliest mammal ancestors, over time developed nervous tendencies in order to notice potential threats and remember painful experiences (part of the survival mode) and then passed those genes on to us...that same circuitry is active in our brains today.

In complete contrast.... according to Hansen and Mendius (Buddha’s Brain: The new neuroscience and the path of awakening. Fall 2007) much of our day-to-day positive experiences are processed through standard memory systems and actually need to be held in our awareness for between 10-20 seconds for them to sink in.

As I pointed out in our most recent joint posting ( ) given that our attention spans are now about 8 seconds, how can we linger on what is good for us?

So the argument goes, this kind of hard-wiring has a negative impact on many of our experiences and increases our stress.

Curious about your perspectives and possible explanations/remedies.

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite OrKEVIN: This is indeed a timely season for this topic Don given the upcoming election in the US, and the beginning of the retail season we call Christmas (it is no longer a religious holiday for most) where we buy things with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like, which becomes a major stressor for many people.

We seem to have jettisoned the very things that would relieve us of stress in the pursuit of goals and aspirations that have been forced upon us by society (I won’t go so far to say media and marketing since there is a high percentage of my esteemed colleagues who have been in the business).

“Work hard!”, “Play hard!”, “Buy more!”, “Move up the ladder!” The messaging from society and media is that we should never be satisfied with what we have, and where we are in life. As such, we spend our time and energy in this unachievable pursuit.

I’m talking about the concept of rest (not sloth), restoration and relationships (3-Rs). When I was a kid, every business in town was shut up tighter than a drum skin on Sundays – essentially creating space for family activities. Today, in most families Sunday is busier than ever – filled with shopping, kid’s sports, and preparing for the upcoming week.

You might disagree with me, but I believe that we ourselves are a major cause of our own stress by willfully filling our calendars with activities. My wife (who is significantly smarter than I) has always said “If you want to know what’s important in someone’s life, check out where they choose to spend their free time”.

We sometimes shoehorn quiet time in the gaps between activities, but even that time is now gone, replaced by time on our ‘smart’ phones.

In my experience, the people who seem to handle stress well have figured out how to build in the times for the 3-Rs, so they can better deal with the external stress-inducing factors that bombard us every day.

Getting off the crazy train is not easy, and it takes time to learn to prioritize rest and restoration so that we can handle the rest of the wild ride we call life.

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite OrPHIL: I think you guys have it backwards — or upside down, or sideways — whatever. Because you have the issue framed in terms of what we do or don’t do. Whereas, to my mind, it has much more to do with how we approach life. (Wow, that sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?)

These days we’re inundated with bad news, not because the news is much worse than it was three or four decades ago, but because we hear about it from the time we get up in the morning to the time we fall asleep in the evening. Over and over again. On our TVs. On our iPads or other tablets. On our laptops. Our car radios. And on our smart phones. On news and documentary programs. On “realistic” dramas. On talk shows. On social media.

Not only what’s wrong in the world, that is, in every nook and cranny of it. But also what will be wrong with it. Tomorrow. Next week. Next month. Next year. Next decade. Next century.

And we do it to ourselves. By never leaving any byte of information on the plate uneaten.

Consider that, when I was in primary through high school, my parents thought about my grades twice a school year — at the end of each semester, when I brought home my report card.

If the report was good, it was looked at, then cast aside without muss or fuss. Doing well in school was simply assumed, and not worthy of much mention.

These days, my wife checks my daughter’s grades online daily. If my daughter has a bad quiz day and drops 0.2 points in a couple of courses, all hell breaks loose at my house. Because getting into a decent — decent, not first tier — college these days depends primarily on one’s GPA, and that bad quiz day just lowered my daughter’s GPA by .01 points. And if that doesn’t seem so bad, consider that my daughter is in her first freshman semester at high school. High School.

Somewhat more than a decade ago, I was the chief executive of a 600-employee company, and for several years, faced a million-dollar payroll every month. A hundred important emails a day. Big sales negotiations to lead. Multi-million dollar deals to close. And contracts to review and sign. Talk about stress up the wazoo. Nearly killed me.

Although what doesn’t kill you may not make you stronger, it does teach you to manage stress. Here are a few things that I learned:

1) Creative procrastination — do not seek to deal immediately with every issue or problem that comes up. When resolution does not need to be immediate, put it on a list for future action. Often, by the time you get around to doing something, the matter has already resolved itself.

2) Background processing — think about a potential solution or alternative solutions, then put the issue out of your conscious mind, and allow background processing (the bulk of your brain’s activity) to do its job. Often, a solution will come to mind seemingly out of the blue.

3) Selective concern — in my experience, at least 50% of all identified potential problems never actually come to pass. Jim will say 80%, based on his 80/20 general rule of everything. But even if we take the dimmer view that only 50% of all anticipated potential problems will not actually develop. If we worry about everything that might happen, we will end up worrying 50% of the time about nothing. If you train yourself to only worry about real, not potential problems, you will achieve an immediate and huge reduction in your stress levels.

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite OrJIM: I have developed a certain amount of knowledge about stress. Mainly for my own self-preservation. Back in the 80s, I was diagnosed with a condition known as Tic Syndrome. It’s a nervous disorder that is actually a mild form of Tourette’s Syndrome, which is a pretty nasty thing to have.

I asked the neurologist who diagnosed me how I can best control it. He told me that I could use Lorazepam when I got stressed. But he told me that the best controls of all were exercise and avoiding as much stress as possible.

I was already exercising but had no idea how to avoid the stress. My life at that time way pretty much wall to wall stress. I was trying to become a writer which was a 24 hours-a-day occupation because I was still a few years shy of my ten-year overnight sensation status.

I worked in a bullshit ridden ad agency during the day, where everything you did had substantial financial implications for somebody or some company. And was writing screenplays and lyrics at night as well as doing freelance work for extra money so my wife could stay home and be a full-time mom to our kids.

So one of the first things I did was sit down and have a long hard think about the nature of stress and how to reduce it in my life.

One of the conclusions I came to, despite still being young and stupid, was that a lot of stress that people feel in their lives is over stuff that they cannot control. You cannot control how other people feel about you. You cannot control a sadistic or vindictive boss. You cannot control the inhumanity you see all around you. You cannot control the forces of nature or the way the world works.

This lines up perfectly with one of Phil’s tips above because it’s a true thing.

All you can control is the path you are on. And when you look around, a lot of what you see is people who have no idea of even how to control that.

I was lucky because I actually could control that with my intellect. During this period I came to realize that I could eliminate a lot of stress in my life, simply by applying my intellect to developing my skills as a writer. As I did this, and it did take a while, and I went through some shit, I was able to, by focusing my concentration, eliminate or at least park on a back burner a lot of the unnecessary stress.

The net result was that this sharpened my mind. I got better at all the different kinds of writing I loved to do (even advertising), and slowly the goals I had for myself came into clearer focus.

I didn’t stop caring about all the stuff I used to stress over; I just approached it in a different way. I examined these things, came to conclusions about them and either filed them away or dealt with them as necessity dictated.

Teaching myself to compartmentalize these things, and focus mainly on the stuff I thought was important probably actually saved my life because while it did not actually eliminate the stress, which I don’t think is possible anyway, it kind of replaced it with other things.

I guess you could call it passion. That’s what I call it. And when I started thinking about the work I do both for other people and for myself, I realized that all stress really was, in my life at least, burning energy in a negative way, as opposed to a positive one.

I have lived this way ever since. I learned to sidestep agency politics for the last ten years of my agency career by only working with friends. For the past 20 odd years, I have managed to develop relationships with people I genuinely like and who like me. And I have been quick to eliminate the people who carried around sacks of bullshit with them.

I’m not saying that this will work for everyone, because everyone has their own intellectual and psychological baggage. But this approach worked for me, and at the end of the day, that’s really kind of the best you can hope for.

Are we willingly killing ourselves?BW
A Literate & Lively Exchange of is je] Er rs with Definite OrDON: Stanford neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky comments, "Primates are super smart and organized just enough to devote their free time to being miserable to each other and stressing each other out. But if you get chronically, psychosocially stressed, you're going to compromise your health. So, essentially, we've evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick."

What we can all learn from this conversation is there is no single answer to achieving lower levels of stress. Each individual creates their own stress levels - albeit with external influence - and then determines how they choose to manage its impact.

What is universal however is this: we can choose to be reactive to stress, or we can learn to respond to stress.

As Phil so accurately and succinctly points out, “If you train yourself only to worry about real, not potential problems, you will achieve an immediate and huge reduction in your stress levels.”

The problem most of us have today is figuring what is a real problem vs. a fantasy.

I will end with this piece of advice I received a long time ago from Dr. Peter Rechnitzer who was the camp doctor at Camp Mazinaw.

“When you encounter a potentially stressful situation stop first before reacting. Ask yourself, ‘is anyone going to die?’ If the answer is no - chill. If the answer is yes - act appropriately.’

Afterword from FSW: This is a pretty long piece, and we thank you for sticking with it.

One of our objectives here has been to show how authentic engagement on social media is more than honey-coated expressions of mutual admiration — that it can involve respect for others and trust in their underlying goodwill, without shying away from divergent viewpoints and conflicting opinion.

You are sincerely invited to join the conversation. Try it, you’ll like it. — Phil Friedman, Jim Murray, Kevin Pashuk, Don Kerr

© 2016 Don Kerr, Phil Friedman, Kevin Pashuk, Jim Murray. All rights reserved.

If you'd be interested in learning more about Don Kerr you are most welcome to visit either of the following sites.

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Phil Friedman

5 years ago #31

Don, If a zebra could change its stripes, And a leopard could change its spots, Then perhaps all us hyper-worrying types Could ease back and enjoy our life's lot.

Paul Walters

5 years ago #30

Don Kerr Good stuff guys

don kerr

5 years ago #29

Good point. I'll have to ask a Zebra next time I see one;)

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #28

I can't really speak for zebras, but I doubt that they wake up worrying about whether or not they will find grass or become some lion's dinner. It is our intelligence that causes us to question our strength and capabilities. Humans spend an inordinate amount of time worrying about things that will not happen. Why worry about someone killing you? If the moment comes it won't last long.

Harvey Lloyd

5 years ago #27

I would state that the common thread with the post and comments is....................(Simulated drum roll) Stress is an outcome of choice. With stuff-mart anxiety or seeking all the wrong ingredients for happiness, it boils down to choice. If we could see our choices lined up like a map of the highway system we might begin to understand why we are so stressed. Could we say that success is a result of happiness? Again i don't deal in absolutes but it would seem true success emanates from happiness and expands the cycle.

don kerr

5 years ago #26

Thanks for commenting Harvey Lloyd. I attended a presentation this morning by Shirzad Chamine, author of Positive Intelligence. He spoke about Saboteurs and Sages and how we have each living within us. One of my many takeaways (it was a great presentation) was his astute observation that we often confuse success with happiness. Success does not equal happiness but happiness can increase success. The same principle applies, I believe, to our acquisitory nature. If I get that stuff I will be happy. I place stress on myself to acquire the stuff then feel more stressed out with the realization that the stuff didn't make me any happier.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #25

Thanks for contributing to the discussion Harvey.

Harvey Lloyd

5 years ago #24

I am seeing the basis of a new series of Seinfeld forming here, at least screenplay support. I listened to Roger Dawson a negotiator that became a speaker. He made a statement that everything is owned or controlled by someone else. I fundamentally agree, but don't buy into absolutes. Stress has become a major issue over the fundamental understanding of this concept. If Wal-Mart has it and i want it then i have to perform to get it. There two places of stress within that statement. I want it and i have to perform to get it. Applying this to larger issues we can see that stress is actually a process of us deciding we want something and accounting for the performance required to earn it and maintain it. Be careful what you wish for, applies here. The questions before engagement, is do you really want it based on the performance/maintenance requirements. This would cause you to do an accounting of the actual cost of your want. This process lends itself to reducing stress by reducing unmet wants due to performance anxiety. Lot of it around here. Great post and truly discussed well.

don kerr

5 years ago #23

Thank you Juan Imaz

don kerr

5 years ago #22

Well, on one level you are right. But, if you're a zebra being chased by a lion that is real stress. If you live you can relax again. We do occasionally get truly life-threatening stresses.

don kerr

5 years ago #21

Thanks for stopping by and commenting Praveen Raj Gullepalli and for reinforcing the notion of responding vs. reacting. Just this morning on a drive into Toronto I was cut off on a six lane highway. Once again, I chose not to flip the ignoramus the bird but just back off and enjoy the fact that I wasn't in a fender bender.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #20

That's the whole thing, though, isn't it, Franci Eugenia Hoffman. We just have to keep on trying to move ahead.

Well said, Renee. I agree 100%. I have always been one to take it one step at a time. Plus, I try not to fret over things which I have no control. I can't say I am 100% successful at this but I try.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #18

Haha! You make me laugh Kevin Pashuk!

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #17

Those boys are at it again! Check out this post.

Renée 🐝 Cormier

5 years ago #16

The funny thing about stress is that it actually isn't real. It is the result of an imagined outcome to a situation that hasn't happened. My approach to life and stress is very simple: if you don't like the imagined outcome, then imagine one you do like. Much of what we become in this life is the result of the story we tell ourselves. Know that all the tools you need to deal with life's bull shit are available to you. Slay one dragon at a time. If you don't have a sword, then don't worry. Whatever you need will appear at the right moment. This I know for sure!

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #15

Ganja induced mellowness? You may have forgotten who our Prime Minister is and what he promised in that regard. We may soon be able to pick up a dime bag (if we were so inclined) when we head down to the store to pick up a six-pack or bottle of wine. As for me, a cigar and dram of single malt have been known to mellow me right out. I'll leave the ganga to those who can actually grow hair and braid it into dreads.

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #14

Yep, Kevin, I love Bob Marley too --- and Ziggy. But some of that optimism of resignation was induced by Ganja. Which,of course, doesn't mean the music is not a delight to the soul. Cheers!

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #13

Gert, thanks for reading and commenting. Here's a corollary: Once you understand that if you a "busy" person with a full life, there will always be items on your Still-To-Do list. And as soon as you cross some items off, more will pop up that you need to attend to --- eventually. So do not stress over what remains to do, for something will always remain to do. And it will get done eventually --- or not. Cheers!

Jim Murray

5 years ago #12

Sharing everywhere. Looks good. Brilliant writing of course. But also so real live ways to deal with stress. I'm just going into the selling/buying of houses phase. It's wall to wall stress there. And it really helps to have a good agent.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #11

And don't forget the great Bob Marley... "Don't worry... about a thing... 'cause every little thing... gonna be alright..."

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #10

Thanks Gert. I grew up surrounded by nature... I still find ways to get to a lakeside or forest during a lunchtime walk to drain out the stress.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #9

Thanks Praveen. The 4SW group has had a number of discussions around what we feel is the difference between 'group think' and 'affinity'. Stay tuned for a future post.

Javier 🐝 CR

5 years ago #8

CC an example Juan Imaz ;-)

Gert Scholtz

5 years ago #7

Don Kerr Four Strong Winds showing a clear and experienced outlook on how to handle stress in life. One thing I am learning more and more is the truth in what Phil says: half of what you worry about never happens, and then that gets filled with events you never imagined in the first place. The best you can do is to take it and handle it as it comes when it comes. My view is one of the largest stressors is that humans are progressively more isolated from the natural environment around us and we are forever becoming more and more stationary. To wit: go on a three day hiking trip and try your best to be stressed after that! Another remark; humans are not designed or evolved to the point where they can comfortably handle the amount of information they are bombarded with per day. I am not only referring to taking in written or oral information but also filtering out noise and unnecessary information. My 2c then. Thanks for the post!

Pascal Derrien

5 years ago #6

the immediacy aspect of the discussion brought by Phil Friedman is a big factor in my opinion, everything is urgent nothing is urgent personally I don't answer phone calls or attend dog and pony show meetings that in turn have cut by at least 30% the unnecessary noise in my professional life...... :-)

Phil Friedman

5 years ago #5

In Florida, where a two hour course gets you a concealed weapons carry permit, it is best not to even flip the bird to a driver who honks unnecessarily or cuts you off. Road rage down here can be fatal.

don kerr

5 years ago #4


don kerr

5 years ago #3

The Rat's Ass approach can be most effective. I am often reminded of the 1972 Canada/Russia hockey series. We didn't know much about the 'Russkies' at that time but they infuriated our players by responding to taunts and physical affronts by smiling and laughing. Freaking near made our players totally mental. I have since adopted their approach when dealing with dumbass drivers!

Randy Keho

5 years ago #2

Wouldn't it have been amazing if we'd stumbled upon these various ways to reduce stress when we were "young and stupid?" Of course, we weren't as stressed. Stress can build over time. Thank God, I learned them before I got "old and stupid." Now, I don't give a rat's ass about much, anymore. That's a great stress reliever, too.

Kevin Pashuk

5 years ago #1

Latest instalment of 4SW... Thanks for taking the lead on this issue Don.

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