Pre-Stress: The Dream Killer, And What To Do About It


The Intro

I am writing this email as I stare out the window of my flight from Detroit to New York City. I had the privilege to travel to Michigan on a Press Trip as a representative for theNomading Film Festival to cover WISSA (think kite surfing on snow) for Pure MichiganMichigan’s Travel and Tourism Board. We were charged with filming the weekend of snow shoeing, snowmobiling and the WISSA event in order to capture the joy that is Michigan in the winter.

On the flight out to Michigan my mind was racing about the shots I had to get, what shots I might get, how I would get them. Instead of trusting my talents and going with the flow, I was worrying about something completely out of my control and quite frankly, something imaginary. I was falling victim to pre-stress.

The Problem

Pre-Stress (n): Freaking out about something that doesn’t exist yet.

We all do it. We get so caught up in what might happen if a bunch of things that haven’t happened yet, do in fact, happen. It would be as if we stressed about having to take our clothes to the dry cleaner tomorrow because we were thinking about having some wine tonight.

Do stress because you’re about to give a presentation.
stress because you just made a grave error and you need to scramble to fix it.
stress because you were just caught in a lie and you insulted someone you hold dear.


Do not stress about what will happen if your company goes big and you have to select a stronger accounting software.
Do not
stress about how you will respond to customer feedback for your side business while you are at work all day, when you haven’t even gotten one customer.
Do not
stress about what schools you will get into before you’ve even applied to any of them.

Evolution’s Byproduct

We humans like to look down the road. We like to anticipate. In fact, our ability to predict, prepare and plan is what makes us the dominant species on the planet, so it goes without saying, we’re awfully good at it.

However, when our ancestors left the quadruped life for that of bipedal motion, they didn’t use their new-found brain power and hand-held tools to anticipate the movement of animals next week (Steps Q, R, S), they focused on what was literally right in front of them (Steps A, B, C) at that very moment.

Their lives depended on it.

Moving On

But as we continued to evolve, the life of the hunter-gatherer led way to that of a more sedentary life, and we had more time to think, plan, and prepare. This was good because it allowed us to anticipate steps B and C (preparing for the cold winter ahead, conserving water during a drought, planning for plumbing and waste disposal, etc.) without losing focus of Step A.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and most of us don’t have to spend any time at all wondering where our next meal is coming from, let alone figuring out how to get rid of waste, so instead we use that ability to prepare and combine it with the powerful computing and informational tools at our fingertips and we can suddenly anticipate financial trends, market desires and think about what we are going to do for retirement.

However, this anticipatory ability also fosters the debilitation of forward progress as we so often render ourselves useless, prognosticating about an imaginary step R before we even get past step A.

But Why?

Why do we do this to ourselves? We don’t like surprises, for one. We like to think that we can predict every door that will open along the path we want to go down so we want to decide, this very second, how we should and how we will react to that moment.

Ok, I’m going to reach out to my designer today to start this blog about my photos but I wonder if when I have these photos up in a gallery someday if I should have my signature on the bottom of the photo or not. What happens if someone buys one and it’s damaged during shipping? Do I auto-refund? They say that customer service is king these days. Maybe I should hire a call center or maybe just get a virtual assistant to handle the calls at first. Yeah, maybe I’ll do that.

Whoa there, tiger. Let’s pump the brakes.

You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know

When it comes to any endeavor, we have to break down that task into its most minuscule form and focus on Step A while starting to prepare for B and C. Beyond that, you might as well go have someone read Tarot cards for how your company, business, goal, dream is going to play out. There are too many variables beyond the immediate steps in front of you that if you start focusing on any letter of the alphabet past F, you will end up stressing about things that will never exist.

That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have a vision for where you want to go or to research trends, but understand that you won’t know what you don’t know until it hits you in the face. So you can think you know exactly what step R is but I can assure you that step R will look different than you had dreamed it up.

Bumper Bowling

Plans, preparation and goals are the bumpers that keep your bowling ball rolling in a general direction.

In keeping with the bowling analogy, don’t try to wax and buffer a specific spot right in front first pin when your ball is heading directly towards the gutter, five feet from the start. Get the ball moving, keep it in the field of play. Adapt and reassess. Baby steps.

The pins will come but you have to get there first. Control what you can control.

Anyone else the victim of pre-stress? You have a whole extra day today to refocus. Use the leap year to your advantage, and figure out your next steps for March 1.

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