How to Cock Block Your Own Stress

Probably the most personally satisfying discovery I’ve made this year is the Stop Loss technique, courtesy of Dale Carnegie’s book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. A “Stop Loss” order is an investing mechanism that allows a person to sell her stocks if their value drops to a specific price established beforehand, thereby preventing further soul-crushing losses.

The example in the book is an investor putting a -5% Stop Loss order on every stock he purchases. So if the stock drops by 5%, it’s sold immediately. This automatically guards the investor against total devastation, and is something I should have done years ago when I purchased $1000 of Zynga stocks, like an asshole, on a whim.

At the time, Zynga was making some really addictive smartphone games, so I was hopeful for the company’s future. I bought at $14/share and within a few weeks the stocks were valued at $3/share. Steve Jobs basically said “We’re not supporting Flash technology anymore” and Zynga was fucked. Their whole company was Flash based. So when I eventually sold my Zynga stocks I had lost $800. A Stop Loss order could have automatically ditched my stocks as soon as they dropped to $13.30/share and limited my losses to $50.

Now, if I buy stocks, I set a -5% stop loss order immediately. Then, if the stock goes up, I change the stop loss to 0% + $20 (the cost of the buy and sell transactions). This way I never lose more than 5%, and if I’m patient (and a little lucky) I can also set up a position where I can’t lose any money at all.

Stop Loss is sexy for investing, but it’s MUCH more valuable in cock blocking day-to-day stress.

Here’s how that works:

As soon as a problem presents itself, I decide beforehand how much of my own personal happiness I’m willing to lose while trying to sort it out. The shocking thing is: if I decide ahead of time how much stress something is worth, I realize NOTHING is really worth very much stress. It’s much harder to get full-blown-scream-cry-into-a-pillow stressed when I’ve already decided how emotionally invested I’m willing to get.

Here’s a real life example where I didn’t do a very good job of it:

My email recently stopped working. Client emails weren’t coming through, and my hosting provider (eHost) fucked me around for a full WEEK without fixing anything. I spent hours on the phone to outsourced fuck-parrots in India who just kept repeating, “Well sir, it seems there is no email here.” Yes, I got really fucking stressed out. This is probably what triggered the search for a way to stop feeling like a tightly wound ball of shit.

I found peace by making a decision: “I’m going to switch hosts. Any emails I missed, people will either follow up again or think I’m a dick and take their business elsewhere.”

The stop loss comes in with consciously deciding not to care anymore about the lost emails, the damage to my reputation, or anything else even vaguely related to the problem. The stop loss order sounded like this in my head, “I’ve already stressed out too much about this, so I’m done. Anything else that happens relating to this will either sort itself out or not, and I don’t care either way. I’m not willing to feel any worse about this than I already do.”

It felt good. I started to feel better and better, and eventually I felt awesome again. God damn eHost was out of my life, and the problem, though I was still dealing with it (because it takes a while for a new email with a new provider to take effect), no longer bothered me.

A trigger had switched in my brain.

This type of thinking comes up in a podcast between Tim Ferriss and Tony Robbins on Achievement Versus Fulfillment. Tony says he uses a “90 second rule” to deal with problems as they come up. It’s simple – he faces the problem, feels it fully for 90 seconds (stress, anger, sadness, whatever), then decides on a solution on the spot. The decision represents the end of worrying. It’s done. Time to move on.

Problems often feel like they’re important and should be worried about. It feels like the right thing to do. But I would argue that the right thing to do is to strategically set a mental “Stop Giving a Fuck” point which, once reached, triggers a solid and satisfying “I don’t give a flying fuck” response.

What is your take on this? Comments are open… now.

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