Step 4 - Apply The 4A Method (45 min)


> 4A method is an effective way to lower stress to a manageable level
> 4A method is made up of four actions: Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept
> You can change the stressor (avoid/alter) or change how you respond to it (adapt/accept)

The 4A method is a widely referenced strategy for managing stress. It’s not surprising because it works really well to reduce stress.

The goal of the 4A method is to eliminate or minimize all possible excess stress, which will then leave you with a more manageable stress level. It's the first part of the stress management equation.

This will help to balance the amount of stress with your available personal capabilities and resources. And when that happens, it will improve the chances of getting into the eustress zone.

The 4A method focuses on doing two main things:

1. Change the stressor - Avoid or Alter
2. Change your response to the stressor - Adapt or Accept

Those are the four A’s - Avoid, Alter, Adapt and Accept

Change The Stressor

Why put yourself in stressful situations? Avoid them.

Stay away from or limit your exposure to people, places or things that just get you riled up. When you can, take control and make decisions to prevent stress from even entering your space.

For the times that the stressor can’t be avoided, you can try altering or changing it so that it has less of an impact or chance of showing up again in the future.

To get your brain heading in the right direction, here are some examples of how you can avoid or alter your stressors. There are other ways too. Think it through and find tactics that fit your personality. 

AVOID the stressor

Say ‘No’ - Kids have this skill down pat. You’ve got to do likewise in the office. If there’s a project that your being asked to do and it’s not part of your direct responsibilities, say ‘no’ to the request. Explain that taking on outside projects that are not part of your roles will negatively impact your current projects.

Stay away from coworkers that stress you out - sometimes, it’s unavoidable and you’ll have to work with some real assholes or bitches. So, limit your time with them as much as possible. Interact with them via email only to the minimal amount possible. If things start to get out of control, reach out to your manager and/or HR to explain things and move it up the chain fast.

Take control of your surroundings - The dress shoes you wear to work that have cactus insoles? Ditch them and get some soft comfy casual dress shoes instead. The endless negative news on the radio and TV? Stop listening or watching them and switch it up to your favorite streaming series, music or a podcast. Take control where you can and only let the good stuff in.

Simplify and prioritize your life - Review all of your weekly activities or tasks for yourself and your family. Get their feedback and decide what’s truly important and critical to keep. What can you eliminate or outsource? It’s all about making more room in your week.

ALTER the stressor

Ask for advice - find someone who has handled the stressor before and ask for feedback and advice on how to manage it. Remember talking with your best friend to get over your first breakup? They’ve been through three. This is your first time. Their advice and support really helped, didn’t it?

Find a compromise - Be open to some flexibility. If that new project is really part of your responsibilities and it’s urgent, negotiate with your manager to show what other projects will be pushed back as a result. Your flexibility will help to lighten the load.

Get in the driver’s seat - Be more direct, open and honest with others. Don’t be a wus about dealing with issues that will cause you stress or prevent you from completing your tasks. If a co-worker never gets their shit completed on time and it screws up your work, explain your situation to them. If there’s no improvement on their part, escalate it to your and their manager.

Time management - There are only 24 hours in the day. Use them efficiently. Prioritize your projects and tasks so that the most important things get done first. Leave yourself a little buffer time to provide some additional room. Stay out of meetings and calls where you don’t have direct impact or contribution.

Change Your Response

If the stressor can’t be changed, switch up your thinking and view about the stressor. Looking through a different pair of lenses can really help bring other things into focus. Try adapting your perspective and look for the good in it.

However, there are some things life that we just can’t control. It's like getting angry at yourself for aging. It isn’t going to do anything except make it worse. Learn to accept the things that you can’t influence or control.

Here are some examples on adapting and accepting stressors in life. These are meant to get your thoughts rolling. Think it through and come up with other mentalities that will mesh with your style.

ADAPT to the stressor

Think positive - The long commute to/from work doesn’t have to be an angst filled session. It’s probably the only uninterrupted time you have to yourself. Loosen the death grip on the steering wheel. Relax with your favorite audiobook, tunes or podcast, laugh your ass off with some comedy or use the time as a learning session with fun educational stuff. Man, we can’t wait for self-driving cars.

Life is bigger - Do your college grades have any impact on your life right now? Nope. Will your annual performance review mean anything 10 years from now? Hell no. Your life has much more meaning, depth and importance than any project, task or review at work. Don’t sweat this bullshit. It’s just a tiny speck in the grand journey of life.

See it another way - Yeah, corporate reorganizations/layoffs suck. However, sometimes you know your job isn’t right for you, but a reorg or layoff is your wake-up call for you to do something you enjoy. Otherwise, you might end up staying in that shitty job because you never looked around. Who knows, it could uncover that hidden opportunity of a better job and office culture elsewhere or even kick start your mini entrepreneurial idea.

Change your expectations - Are the images on the Powerpoint not lining up perfectly on the horizontal and vertical pixel? Will this really make a meaningful difference in the final output? Probably not. Striving to OCD levels of perfection will bring lots of stress to you and others. Lighten up a bit. It’s not going to be the end of the world.

ACCEPT the stressor

Don’t try to control it - Can you win an argument with earth not to spin? Nope. You can’t control uncontrollables. The same thing applies to people. Since you don’t have mind control over others, it’s best to stop trying to change the personality of others. It’s pointless.

Learn from it - Turn the tables on the stressor and use it as a way to improve yourself or build up a new strength. The first child is not only a major stressor but also a great teacher. By the second and definitely third kid, you’re no longer a novice and a crying baby doesn’t faze you like it did with the first.

Talk it out - Don’t keep stressed emotions stewing inside you. Get it out by talking with your work BFF, manager, HR or whoever is causing the stress. If you don’t, it’ll get worse and that much harder to fix.

Let it go - We’re all human and we all make mistakes. If you cling on to anger and continually hold grudges, it’s only going to grow within you because you’ve allowed the permanent space for it. Vent it all out and dump all that negative energy. Then, hit the reset button and move on.

In summary, you can manage your stress by changing the stressors or changing your response to them. By filtering your stressors through the 4A method, you can minimize the total amount of stressors in your life to a more manageable level.

Try The 4A Method Now

Okay, let’s apply the 4A method to two low-level job stressors from your list.

Print out two copies of this 4A worksheet. Each worksheet is designed for a single stressor.

Choose the first stressor and try changing it:
Write down how you can specifically ‘AVOID’ this stressor.
Additionally, write down how you can ‘ALTER’ the stressor.

If the stressor can’t be changed, change your response to it.
Write down how you can specifically ‘ADAPT’ your response to the stressor.
Additionally, think about how you can ‘ACCEPT’ the stressor.
Be specific and write it down.

Repeat this process for the second low-level job stressor.

Sometimes, the low-level job stressor can be solved by avoiding or altering it. So, there’s no need to find ways to adapt or accept it. If this happens, you can choose another low-level stressor or a mid-level stressor instead and work your way through all four A’s.

Think creatively about your possible solutions. Your initial idea is only the beginning. There are always a few more hidden in your head. Keep digging for at least two other answers and you’ll uncover some gems.

Okay - go ahead and do this part of the exercise before moving on.

Now, Get It Done!

After writing down your specific solutions, do it immediately...within the day if possible. If it can’t be done within the day, get it done within a week. Then, bask in the glory of crossing it off your stress list.

Low level stressors are usually quicker to solve and provide fast relief. Mid and high level stressors take longer to solve and require more steps, resources and involvement. So, build up your skills by addressing your low level stressors in small chunks then, work your way up.

Here are a few low level stressors that we addressed:

Stressor: The six back-to-back meetings on Mondays that prevent real work from getting done
4A method: AVOID and decline two of the meetings that are pointless for us

Stressor: Having to constantly flip USB connectors multiple times to plug it in
4A method: ALTER the USB plug by marking the side that connects with a silver permanent marker

Stressor: Not getting a parking spot close to the office building entrance
4A method: ADAPT the mindset and see the long walk as a way to get more active steps in the day

Stressor: An older and slower computer that takes forever to complete certain tasks
4A method: ACCEPT the company's budget constraints this year then ask for an upgrade next year

With each time you go through the 4A method, you’ll get better at deflecting and managing your current and future stressors, both large and small.

Keep practicing and applying the method. You'll start seeing the gains.