At some point or another, we’ve all complained about how stressed out we are.

No doubt you’ve shaken an angry fist at your high pressure deadlines, your boss’ Type A personality, or the way circumstances never quite seem to go your way no matter how diligently you try to manage them. For a lot of singles, daily stresses like these are a constant nemesis. With so many projects to finish, problems to watch out for, and relationships to hold together, we can begin to feel like a firefighter trying to put out a city full of blazes with only a single bucket of water.

Without realizing it, the stress of daily living begins to take over God’s role in our lives. Instead of following God’s Spirit, we begin to do whatever the stress demands of us each day in a vain attempt to get back to a place we distantly recall as “normal” or “peaceful.” But we never quite get there (there’s always a new fire to put out, after all), and before long our hearts begin to go numb. Eventually, we hardly even notice that we no longer have any joy in our lives.

The daily stresses of life — the bills, the bosses, the deadlines and disruptions — naturally tend to draw our attention. That’s normal, and to be expected. But that natural reaction turns sinister when we start serving the sources of our stress to the exclusion of other things in our lives that actually matter more — both to us and to God. Author Charles E. Hummel labeled this effect as “the tyranny of the urgent,” and I believe this habitual knee-jerk reaction to the daily stress of life is one of the core reasons why so many of us never experience the rich, full life God intended for us and calls us to live.

Thankfully, nobody has to live under the tyranny of the urgent. With a little forethought and strategic planning, you can effectively redesign the way you deal with everyday stress … so that you live from the heart, follow God’s Spirit, and no longer feel compelled to sacrifice things in your life that really matter for the sake of the “urgent.” Here’s how:

1. Make a list of the values, habits and relationships that you consider vitally important to your sense of identity and purpose in life. For example, you might list “daily exercise,” “time alone with God,” “laughing with friends” or “dinner with my family” as essential to the health and growth of your true identity and purpose. Don’t make this into a “wish list” — instead, focus on those values, habits and relationships you genuinely must have in your life in order for your heart to be healthy and grow and for God to keep you moving toward your highest purpose in Him.

2. Make your Must Have list nonnegotiable. In other words, make a commitment to yourself and to God to not abandon the life-giving practices and relationships on your Must Have list no matter how strongly the daily stresses of life and work press you to do so. Now, make no mistake: A commitment like this is a radical act. It goes against the culture of our times (particularly corporate culture) and it will require both faith and courage to carry out. It will mean learning to say no more often — not just to negative things, but also to some good things, in order to hold on to what’s best for your heart and your relationship with God.

3. Create a fresh new vision for responding to stress. Based on what you discovered in Steps 1 and 2, prayerfully design a new vision for how you will respond the next time the pressure and stress of daily life begin to build. Write out your vision as a story in which you are the main character. Start with “I see myself …” and then describe exactly what you will do and say in response to the stress. Read the story every morning for the next few weeks, and let it serve as the script for how you will respond the next time stress rears its ugly head.

4. Finally, remember that when it comes dealing with stress, you are always in a place of choice. You can’t always control the circumstances that arise in your life, but you can always choose how you want to respond to them. If you find yourself getting pulled into serving the tyranny of the urgent, stop, notice what’s happening, and remember that you have the power to choose exactly how you want to respond to stress in any given moment. Then, consciously make your choice.

 

Michael D. Warden is a Professional Co-Active Coach, nationally trained through the  Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, CA, and a member of the  International Coach Federation. Michael’s clients’ one common trait is their passion to live a bigger life — to discover what they're here for, and boldly go after that vision with confidence and authenticity. Find more on his life and work at www.michaelwarden.com.