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On Becoming More Stress Free

If I told you that spending 15 minutes a day doing something would change your life for the better - would you be interested?

The Back Story

In 1979, when I was 34 years old, I had a chance meeting with the writer, James Michener, that changed my life forever. We had just finished wrapping the movie, Honeysuckle Rose, starring Willie Nelson in Austin, Texas. I had been in a few of the scenes in the movie and thus was able to attend the wrap party, where Willie was giving a concert for those that had contributed to the movie and a few close friends. I was sitting in the front row next to Darrell Royal, the University of Texas football coach. About 45 minutes before the concert started, Darrell asked me if I would like to meet Mr. Michener, who was his guest at the concert and sitting on the opposite side of him. Of course, I welcome the invite and Darrell made the introduction and we exchanged seats.

For the next 45 minutes Michener bombarded me with open ended questions about where my life was going and where I wanted it to end up. Michener listened intently as I explained that at age 34, I was still not where I wanted to be in my life. Michener was 72 years old at the time and explained that he too had made a lot of mistakes early in his life and he wanted to give me some advice so that I might be able to end up with a better lifestyle than if I continued on the same path I had been on.

For those who do not know who Michener. He was born in 1907, and put up for adoption. He never knew his parents, his birth name or even where he was born. He was raised by his adoptive mother, Mabel Michener, in Doylestown, Bucks County, Pennsylvania. After attending university, he taught both high school and university English for while, then worked as social studies education editor for a publishing firm. When World War II broke out, Michener served as a lieutenant in the Navy in the South Pacific as a navel historian.

He later turned his notes and impressions into Tales of the South Pacific, his first book, published when he was 40 in 1947. It won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1948, and Rodgers and Hammerstein adapted it as the hit Broadway musical South Pacific, which premiered on Broadway in 1949.

Michener explained to me the benefits of becoming a writer, of which there were many. For the past 32 years he had lived one of the most stress free lifestyles one could live. He was self-employed and never had to be concerned about meeting his readers. He only had to write what they wanted to read and in the end, he made a very good living. And the best part was the residuals from his writing allowed him to retire early with any financial worries as the royalties from his 40 books was far more than his cost of living.

So, yes, as you can guess, thanks to Michener's mentoring, I became a writer or what I like to think of as communicating my knowledge.

How This May Relate to You

I am going to explain how you can eliminate or at least help you not only deal with the stress, but how spending 15 minutes a week doing just one thing could change your life for the better.

That one thing is to spend just 15 minutes a day writing. That's right just 15 minutes each work day, or just over an hour a week can relieve any stress that attempts to overtake you. And, it will also improve your health, while improving your creative thinking process.

Dr. James W. Pennebaker, currently chair of the psychology department at the University of Texas, Austin, conducted research on the health benefits of expressive writing. In one early study, Dr. Pennebaker split 46 healthy college students into two groups and asked them to write about either personally traumatic life events or trivial topics for 15 minutes on four consecutive days. For six months following the experiment, students who wrote about traumatic events visited the campus health center less often, and used a pain reliever less frequently, than those who wrote about inconsequential matters. Not only were they not becoming ill as often, but their stress levels were far less than the other group.

You might say that Dr. Pennebaker built a bridge in which you can cross over you more stressful moments and continue on to a more healthy lifestyle. How fitting it was when they were building the Highway 360 and need a bridge over the Colorado River it was named the Pennebaker Bridge, which coincidentally was just a walk away from where we filmed one of the scenes for Honeysuckle Rose.

Pennebaker Bridge

Yes, writing can lower your stress level. And, other studies have shown that writers that are not necessarily any more intelligent, have an increased ability to think.

I really believe that communication is that powerful. I have had no stress in my life during the past 38 years. I am in great health, despite the fact that I am 71 years old. And, yes, I have experienced things in my life almost daily that should be stressful or even traumatic, just like you. But stress, real stress, is alien to me.

You see, writing is a meditative endeavor and it is also an exercise for the mind — like taking a brisk walk or going for a run each morning. The process of writing enables the ability to learn to better regulate emotions. Writing fosters an intellectual process — the act of constructing a story — that allows the author to break free of the endless mental cycling more typical of brooding or rumination. The act of thinking about an experience helps people to organize thoughts

Now, if spending that 15 minutes seems much like all those other resolutions that you never get around to each New Years, I will give you another incentive. The time you spend writing also has the ability to increase your income. Everyone has stories to tell.

One woman, did not have particularly happy life before she started writing. She came from a difficult family. Her mother's 10-year battle with multiple sclerosis took a toll on her and the family. When she was 25-years old, her mother died on New Year's day. After her mother's death, she sought a fresh start and taught English as a foreign language.

She started dating and immediately became pregnant, and the couple moved into a small two-bedroom apartment with his mother. The couple miscarried, but they married, and a year later she delivered her first child.

The rocky marriage lasted only 13 months, and she and her daughter moved into a cramped apartment, jobless and penniless. She fell into a deep depression and admits she even considered suicide. She was forced to rely on state benefits and spent much of her time writing in small cafes with her daughter sleeping next to her.

An exceptionally short-lived marriage had imploded, she was jobless, a lone parent, and as poor as it is possible to be, without being homeless ... By every usual standard, she admitted she was the biggest failure she knew. Still, she kept writing.

With her first book finished, she spent 5 years sending it to publishing houses. She received "loads" of rejections from book publishers until finally one publishing house decided to take a chance on the unknown author with a children's book.

For her, writing was a way to get rid of the the stress in her life. And, it paid off handsomely. She has sold more than 450 million books, which have been made into movies, she has won innumerable awards, and writing has transformed her life. She had an estimated net worth of over $1 billion dollars until she decided to begin contributing some of her wealth to charities. Today, J. K. Rowling remains one of the most powerful celebrities and the world's top-earning authors.

The Process

If you write one quality article of at least 500 words every week, and post it on a website, you will start getting noticed online. As the average typing speed is 40 words a minute, it will take you 12.5 minutes to write those 500 words. All you have to do is allocate 15 minutes a week into your schedule and when the time arrives - write your article.

If you think that you are not a writer, you are on the wrong path. The goal should be to communicate what you know. This is much the same as what you do every day - communicating your thoughts to others. The words that you put down on paper are exactly what you would say to someone who asked you a question about something that you already know.

As an example, think back over the last week. How many times did you explain something to one of your friend, and as did you thought, "I wish I had a nickel for every time I that story to someone!" and begin to get stressed? What you communicated to that person, and all those that came before them, is an article in the making. Make a note of the subject that you explained for the umpteenth time, and during your communication time that you have set aside for the week, start working on writing down how you would explain this to the next person who asks you the same question.

As you write, think about the type of person who would ask that question. Imagine them setting across from your desk and instead of speaking to them, type the words into your article. Write in such a way that they can understand perfectly what you are writing, i.e. on their comprehension level.

Also, consider that the imaginary person sitting across your desk has pains that they want you to resolve for them. Explain what benefits will resolve that pain — much the same as I am doing with this article.

Do not write articles to attract people to you, as the work will end up being nothing more than self-promotional and turn people off. Put yourself on the other side of the desk, alongside your imaginary person and tell them what they want to hear. Write about their concerns and you will be surprised at how quickly your health will grow.

James Michener lived a stress free life for many years before he succumbed to kidney disease at the age of 90 on October 16, 1997. He might have lived much longer, rather than continuing the daily dialysis treatment that had kept him alive for four years, he decided to cease the treatments. He said he had accomplished what he wanted and did not want further physical complications.

I am now 71 years old, and working to stay stress free every day with my writing in hope that I too will live to be 90, or even older. Time will tell. In the meanwhile - happy writing!



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