Why do some people always seem so calm and zen-like while the rest of us seem to be constantly frantic, stressed, and overwhelmed?
Of course, everything from your current life stressors to your genetics probably plays some role in how calm or crazy you feel on a regular basis. But here’s the thing a lot of people don’t realize:
You can create a calmer mind by building better habits.
Whether through deliberate planning or dumb luck, consistently calm people have cultivated habits that help to keep them feeling calm even when things get stressful and chaotic.
If you want to become a calmer person, try to cultivate these 6 habits.
1. They keep their expectations in check
Expectations are often subtle defense mechanisms against the fear of uncertainty and helplessness.
When you can’t actually control an external situation—or are too afraid to try—retreating into your own mind and telling yourself stories about how things should be gives the illusion of control.
- Suppose you have a boss who isn’t very supportive of you, especially during team meetings. You’ve asked him several times to be more supportive but nothing changes.
- So you’ve gotten in the habit of telling yourself stories about how he should be supportive—and how that’s what good bosses do. And you do this because it temporarily gives you something to do that feels productive—like you can control things.
- Of course, in the long run, these expectations are unrealistic and will continue to get violated, leading to a steady stream of disappointment, frustration, and decidedly non-calm moods and mindsets.
Expectations give us the illusion of control in the short term. But in the long term, all they do is stress us out.
People who keep a calm mind know that the long-term stress of high expectations isn’t worth the short term-relief they bring.
So if you want to foster more inner calm and peace of mind, train yourself to be skeptical of your own expectations and stories of how things should be and stay focused on how things really are.
“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”
― Bruce Lee
2. They take responsibility for their actions, not outcomes
There are very few things in life where you have total control over the outcome:
- No matter how good a parent you are, your kid may still struggle or screw up sometimes.
- No matter how hard you study, there may be questions you couldn’t anticipate and get wrong.
- No matter how carefully you craft your pitch, you can’t fully control how potential clients will react to it.
Unfortunately, facing up to this reality means feeling helpless. And some people simply can’t stand feeling helpless—like they can’t fully control things.
As a result, they tell themselves they should be able to control how things turn out and then inevitably get frustrated, stressed out, and disappointed when things don’t go exactly to plan.
If you hold yourself responsible for things you can’t control, you’re setting yourself up for stress and disappointment.
Remarkably calm people avoid taking full responsibility for outcomes because they know that the only thing they have anything close to full control over is their actions:
- You’re responsible for doing your best by your children, not for how they turn out as human beings.
- You’re responsible for how well you study, not for whether you got a B+ or an A-.
- You’re responsible for the effort you put into creating a great pitch, no for other people’s reactions to it.
Now, I know this all might sound a little radical at first, but I’d encourage you to reflect on it a little more deeply.
Your sense of responsibility should not exceed your capacity for control.
Get in the habit of taking responsibility for your actions and let the outcomes be what they will.
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
― Roy T. Bennett
3. They embrace JOMO: The Joy of Missing Out
You’ve probably heard of FOMO, the Fear of Missing Out…
- Even though you’re exhausted and have a big day tomorrow, you say yes to your friend’s invitation to go out drinking because you’re afraid you might miss out on a really fun evening.
- Even though you committed to cooking all your own meals this week and working on your diet, you agree to go out to dinner with your sister because it’s the grand opening of a super cool new restaurant and could be AMAZING!
The problem with FOMO—the fear of missing out—is that because you’re afraid to miss out on immediate experiences, you end up sacrificing long-term commitments like getting good sleep and performing well at work or sticking to a healthy diet.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you should never accept spontaneous invitations! But it’s very easy to get in the habit of always indulging FOMO. And when you do, your long-term values, commitments, health, and peace of mind usually suffer.
Remarkably calm people deal with FOMO head on by embracing JOMO, the Joy of Missing Out.
Embracing the joy of missing out simply means that you remind yourself that even though you might well be missing out on something enjoyable or exciting now, you’re gaining something far greater: The long-term joy that comes from keeping promises to yourself, taking care of your health and wellbeing, and being free to make decisions based on your values rather than passing whims or fears.
Truly calm people are in the habit of making decisions based on their long-term values and wellbeing, not passing impulses and insecurities.
Embrace the joy of missing out and you’ll enjoy the benefits of long-term satisfaction and peace of mind.
“I realise there’s something incredibly honest about trees in winter, how they’re experts at letting things go.”
― Jeffrey McDaniel
4. They set healthy boundaries
People who are constantly stressed out and worried often have very poor boundaries:
- They feel uncomfortable saying no to people and end up taking on way too much work and responsibility.
- They get insecure about disappointing their friends, so they say yes to everything—even if it’s stuff they don’t really want to do.
- Their primary source of self-esteem comes from external validation, so they’re afraid to stick up for what they want for fear of losing that validation from others.
Having no boundaries means taking on everyone else’s problems and stresses as your own—so of course you never feel calm!
The trick is to build up your tolerance to your fear of disappointing others.
Because if you do start saying no and setting better boundaries, people will get upset and disappointed (although probably not to the degree you’re fearing). And it will be uncomfortable… temporarily.
But the long-term benefits to your wellbeing and peace of mind will be profound:
Imagine how much calmer your life would be if you only had to worry about your issues instead of everyone else’s too?
Remarkably calm people understand that you can’t really be helpful to others if you don’t take care of yourself first. And more often than not, that means setting (and enforcing!) healthy boundaries.
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
— Howard Thurman
5. They control their thoughts, not their feelings
Trying to control your feelings is a recipe for chronic stress and frustration because fundamentally, you can’t.
You don’t have direct control over any of your emotions:
- You can’t just crank up the happiness dial any time you feel sad.
- You can’t adjust the anxiety knob a little lower at then magically feel more confident.
- You can’t pull the anger emergency brake and instantly feel tranquil and calm.
But it’s worse… Not only is it not possible to directly control how you feel, but trying to control your feelings usually leads to feeling worse:
- Trying to make yourself feel happy (and failing) leads to more disappointment and unhappiness.
- Trying to make yourself feel less anxious often leads to dealing anxious about feeling anxious.
- Trying to will your way out of feeling angry (and failing) usually just leads to more frustration and self-directed anger.
Trying to control the uncontrollable—including your emotions—will always lead to a more stressful mind, not a calmer one.
If you want to change how you feel emotionally, you can only do it indirectly by changing how you think:
- When you’re feeling sad, you can validate your sadness by reminding yourself that everybody feels sad sometimes. And that just because it feels bad to be sad doesn’t mean it is bad to be sad.
- When you’re feeling anxious, you can shift your attention out of worrying more about the future and redirect your thoughts to something productive.
- When you’re feeling angry, you can tell yourself that it’s okay to feel angry so long as you control how you respond to that anger.
If you want a calmer mind, you need a better relationship with your emotions.
And a major part of cultivating a healthy relationship with your emotions is not trying to control them directly. The best you can do is manage your thoughts and behaviors and allow your feelings to be what they are however uncomfortable.
“Crying does not indicate that you are weak. Since birth, it has always been a sign that you are alive.”
― Charlotte Brontë
6. They surround themselves with supportive people
It’s a cliche, but a true one: human beings are social creatures.
And one of the implications of this is that no matter how much self-work you do on your own “stuff,” other people will always influence your mental state:
- You can do mindfulness exercises all day long, but a micromanaging supervisor at work is still going to cause a lot of stress and mental chaos.
- You can work incredibly hard to change your negative self-talk, but if you live with a partner who’s cruel, demeaning, or abusive, peace of mind is going to be tough to come by.
The point is simply this:
The people you spend time with on a regular basis will have a profound effect on how calm you feel.
Which means that ultimately, to find more peace of mind, you may need to make some serious changes to your social life and relationships.
And while it’s often quite challenging, consistently calm people have often done the hard work to limit their exposure to stress-inducing people. But more than that, they proactively cultivate relationships that are supportive.
Because when you surround yourself with people who genuinely care about you, that you genuinely enjoy spending time with, and who willingly support you when times are tough, peace of mind is something that grows naturally, not something you have to constantly fight for.
Of course, all this is way easier said than done!
But you have to at least acknowledge how important your relationships are for your mental peace and wellbeing if you stand any chance of cultivating it.
“We are like islands in the sea, separate on the surface but connected in the deep.”
― William James
All You Need to Know
If you want a constantly calmer mind, work to build these habits:
- Keep your expectations in check
- Take responsibility for your actions, not outcomes
- Embrace the joy of missing out
- Set (and enforce) healthy boundaries
- Control your thoughts, not your feelings
- Surround yourself with supportive people
41 CommentsAdd Yours
Great article, but there are two typos and one incorrect word.
Thanks, Julie—I’ll re-read it and trying and catch those little buggers 🙂
Thanks Nick really helpful article, nicely done.
You bet, Noori!
I’m always amazed how pertinent your articles are to my current state of mind. We can not always avoid having negativity in our relationships with people. The jet as you say is to recognise the impact it has on you. Not to submit to it but certainly not to buy into it. I ask my self are they right? Usually there a few things I can improve on but also a lot they have got wrong too. The calm comes from stepping back. It hurts when you believe it.
Excellent – thanks NW!
You’re very welcome, Michael 🙂
Hi Nick, a great article! I love how your advice provides me direct actionable things to try. Especially doing less control of emotions and more directed thoughts and actions.
Thank you, Matt! Yeah I try to be direct without being too directive 🙂
Hi Nick, a great article! I love how your advice provides me direct actionable things to try.
Hi Nick, a great article! I love how your advice provides me direct actionable things to try. Especially doing less control of emotions and more directed thoughts.
So very helpful, per usual. Thank you Nick! Great piece!
You bet—thanks Tam!
Once again, that was exactly what I needed. Thanks so much, this post is so helpful.
Good work, R.W. !
And now, to get down to mine.
Thank you for the roadmap.
I need it.
Thank you, Nick. I always find your articles so helpful – They really hit the spot. I have been feeling the benefits of putting some of the things you suggest into practice, and it is exciting to find that we can change old patterns and habits. In the past I have found writings of people that I have responded to, but you offer ways of putting these kinds of things into practice. Thanks for you generosity in sharing your insights through your newsletter.
Thanks, Nic. I’m going through chemotherapy right now, so I need calmness more than ever. With that and the recent surge in the Covid 19 epidemic, I have to miss a lot of things I would normally enjoy doing. The concept of JOMO really spoke to me!
Sending you best wishes and thoughts, Kathleen, and wishing you the best silver lining experiences and true joys of FOMO!
Thank you for this great article. I have always to find ways to remain calm in stressful situations.
This is so helpful.
Thank you for this great article. I have always wanted to find ways to remain calm in stressful situations.
This is so helpful.
Thanks Nick, yet another insightful post!
You’ve chosen some particularly great quotes, BTW. Overall, super-useful article. Thanks for doing what you do 🙂
I found your article thought provoking and practical. I like your directness, it makes both reading it, and the thought of applying it, feel straight forward and manageable.
Just what i needed today. You’re a true gem Nick
Great article with super incites! Thank you!
Very good article with practical points and anecdotes. Thanks
Hey Nick ! Another insightful piece from you .. I pride myself on being calm and level headed and I can get better if I follow the six tips you have shared . Many areas I do struggle especially in crunch situations. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Super helpful article as usual 🙏 Thank you. It’s funny, I’ve been feeling incredibly anxious lately and I was just rushing from one moment to the next, trying to build Rome in a day. But today, even before reading your article, I decided to change it. To just live slow(er). Thank you for these reminders.
Amazing. I’m living this right now and trying my hardest to be supportive with an emotionally wrought partner going through a difficult time- it’s so important to see this in print to help validate both our experiences
I found it helpful, I will try to practice the techniques to become healthy & calm in this stressful life .
Nick amazing and apt article,ur the master of tackling self esteem….the lucid language connects all the right cords…always search ur articles for elevating myself and improving self worth…thanks
Wow did I need to read this today!!! Thank you!
Thank you so much Nick for sharing your wonderful knowledge in a way that really resonates, you have an absolute gift for enabling us to understand so easily the workings of thoughts and emotions and how they affect us.
So helpful and enjoyable to read.
Best Wishes to you
I am so glad that I keep this email flagged and got to read this article today. I am going to pass this onto so many people that I believe could benefit from the simple words and profound wisdom. It’s amazing that such insightful advice comes from such young person (and I am 58), just goes to show that we can always learn something from others. Thanks so much, Nick! Please keep them coming !
Many YEARSS I’ve been suffering from constipation, reading your incredible article just give me the answer to this problem.
Thank you so much!
Thank you for the great article. A book I’m currently reading is all about becoming calmer and reaching a more pleasant existence in our hectic world. I’m talking about The Art of Being by Erich Fromm. A really deep and thought-provoking book.
Hi! Loved this last article Nick! I wouldn’t attempt to micromanage u by pointing out an incorrect spelling. I love your straight from the heart sincerity. I wouldn’t want anything to blunt that, especially not perfect spelling/grammar comments. One person’s take…
Nicely made article!