Two red socks on a wooden chair.

Red Socks and Tattoos: 2 New Ways to Think About Stress

By Andrea Jacques
In November 27, 2015

This past month, I’ve encountered two powerful metaphors that have helped me think about the choices I make in life and at work: red socks and tattoos.

Let’s start with the socks. Red socks (or really any red item) in your laundry can stain all of your light clothes pink. It doesn’t matter if you have a dozen offending items or just one, the outcome is the same – pink laundry. Just like red socks, there are certain people, situations, and activities which have the ability to “stain” my whole day (or my whole week or my whole life), no matter how small my interactions with them.

I realize that I have “red socks” in my life. I can think of certain friends and family members with whom any amount of time spent leaves me feeling frustrated, agitated or worse. Depending on the interaction, the effect can last for a few hours to a few days.

I also realize that there are certain activities that can drain my whole day, no matter how little time I spend on them. These would have to include such joys as bookkeeping, computer maintenance and arguing with my husband. Any day I spend any time on these activities is worse than a day that I don’t!

Who are those people in your life that can ruin your whole weekend in a two minute phone call? What are those tasks that you spend hours dreading — even if they only take a short time to do?

We often think of red socks as tasks we have to bear, and while some of them are (I don’t think I can hire someone to argue with my husband for me, for instance) many of them are not as necessary as we might believe. A common “red sock” is doing taxes. We stress for months about the forms and paperwork when, for a few hundred dollars, an accountant take it off their hands (and probably do a better job at it as well).

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What about the tattoos? Tattoos are basically permanent (there’s that laser surgery you can get, but it’s expensive and leaves scars). Since they’re hard to take back, it’s a good idea to think pretty hard before you get one. Some decisions in life are “tattoos” — having a child or donating a kidney come to mind — but most of our decisions are not.

The majority of choices we make in life are temporary. This brings to mind a central tenet of Buddhism: the transitory nature of the human experience. Nothing lasts forever, but, looking at the amount of anxiety brought on by the most basic choices in life, you would think that every decision is a tattoo (or a baby). Whether you’re asking someone out for a date, applying to do a Master’s degree, moving to a new country (or moving back to an old one), starting a blog or changing the copy on your website, none of these choices are permanent. You can always change your mind, with relatively little consequence in the grand scheme of things. Yes, it might cost a bit of time and money, but these are often not worth the anxiety and lost opportunity of never trying.

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Thinking about red socks and tattoos, I have given myself permission to be bolder, to make more mistakes, and to take more risks with the understanding that I can always change my mind later. The result? I have gotten more done in less time and had more fun doing it than I have in ages. My creativity has blossomed. New ideas are pouring in at breakneck speed. Eliminating people, situations and activities that drain me has left me with more time, energy and enthusiasm to go for it and take risks in areas that really matter.

Both concepts work together to cast my problems, fears and inhibitions in a new light. Why don’t you give it a try? To experience the benefits of red-sock-and-tattoo thinking in your own life this month I encourage you to contemplate the following questions.

1) What (or who) is draining my energy? Can I eliminate it (him/her) from my life completely?

2) Where do I need to stop worrying so much about the consequences and just jump in, try it out, or take a risk?

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