How Your Defining Moments Can Help You Reduce Stress


The battle to hold stress at bay is often reduced to two teams: the positives and the negatives. As in, avoid negative thoughts and seek out positive ones. While we’re wired to scan for trouble, an overemphasis on the negative will take its toll. But managing stress isn’t simply a tug-o-war between good and bad. The key to coping is rising above it, seeing your life, your work, your relationships, in the context of something bigger. And if you want to keep yourself from being yanked around by stress, you need to be rooted to something: your core values.

Stress is part of everyday life—but it’s a thousand times worse if what’s expected of you is in direct opposition to what you believe, such as a working for a company that manufacturers toxic chemicals when you’re passionate about the environment, or working long hours when nothing matters to you more than family.

In order to live in accordance with your values, you have to know what they are, and be aware of where your life bumps up against them. When you can do that, your efforts become more about purpose than just productivity. That’s what builds resilience, and helps you flex and bend under the pressures of stress.

Lindsey LaManna, in a post on Business 2 Community, says, “When you hold true to your core values and make decisions based on them, you are better able to handle difficult situations and the stress of work…This is where the heart of work-life balance lies.”

Why Your Defining Moments Matter

So how do you do this? One way is to identify your defining moments—the times in your life that made such an impression on you that they underscored and helped define what it is you care about most.

Ryan Niemiec, Psy.D., in his post on PsychCentral, writes,

“Bringing a careful attention – or mindfulness – to the important moments in our lives can help us not only better understand ourselves, but help us realize we can take an active role and impact our life for the better.”

Maybe it was a kind word from the CEO telling you your efforts were appreciated. Or the first time you had to apologize to your child. Your defining moments don’t have to be huge, like the time you won some big award—they can be quiet ones that only in looking back now you realize were key. Niemiec recalls the end of a so-so date when, instead of ending it, he asked his date to join him for coffee, just to give it another shot, and she said yes. She later became his wife.

Niemec says they don’t have to be positive moments—and you don’t even have to have been an active participant. Maybe it was watching an old man give up his subway seat to a pregnant woman. Or perhaps you observed an upsetting fight that taught you how never to speak to someone you love.


Niemiec’s exercise can be extremely insightful and give you a leg up on your values so that you can start living in accordance with them.

Name one moment in time that had a positive effect on you. Preferably, choose a moment in which you took action in some way. This moment doesn’t have to be dramatic, simply any moment that has had a meaningful impact on you.

List the character strengths you used (or observed) in that situation. Which character strengths did you bring forth? Be able to provide evidence for how they were expressed.

Explore how this moment has shaped who you are. How has this moment contributed to your identity? No matter how small, how has it affected your view of yourself?

Reflect on your use of courage to mobilize your strengths in that moment. Many individuals rally their bravery strength in order to take action in their defining moment. Niemiec says that this one is key because the power of bravery can mobilize other strengths.

(Source: PsychCentral, “New Positive Psychology Exercise”)

(Learn 4 other ways to reduce stress at work.)