The Stress Pie

Kyeli and I just had a conversation about cats. She’s feeling stressed out and overwhelmed from dealing with our cats being high maintenance, and we were talking over our options.

This is going to look like a complete tangent, but I promise it’s related.

200% ROI, 0% risk

Say a friend you trust 100% says, “If you let me borrow ten bucks today, I promise I’ll give you twenty bucks two weeks from today.” Sounds like a no-brainer, right? You’re doubling your money with no risk; what have you got to lose?

But what if ten friends make you the same offer? A hundred? A thousand? At some point, as tempting as it seems, if you take them up on the offer, you won’t be able to pay your rent.

The Challenge Budget and the Stress Pie

The point of this story is that if something is both more challenging and more rewarding, and the reward is greater than the challenge, it might initially seem like an obvious win. But that doesn’t take into account the fact that everyone has a Challenge Budget. Or, if you like, a Stress Pie.

As you add responsibilities and challenges to your life, your pie fills up and gets bigger. When it’s a medium size, you’re totally cool. When it starts getting big, the challenge turns into stress. If it gets huge, the stress turns into overwhelm, and after that, panic and freakout.

Think about the five things in your life that are currently stressing you out the most.

Here are mine:

When I look at this pie, it seems like there are some little things I could do to make my whole pie smaller. I could get my inbox back under 20 emails, which would probably only take me 3 hours, and I could do some SXSW planning with Kyeli when she gets home. Then my pie would look more like this:

Ahh. Now my pie is only medium-sized, and I’m not feeling overwhelmed or overstressed anymore. I’m still feeling anxious or uncomfortable about a few things, and I’ll work on them, but it’s no longer at the level where it’s distracting me, making me unhappy, and knocking me off-balance.

In Kyeli’s case, it might be that the other slices of her Stress Pie are so big that the cat slice is the one she’s focusing on. Sure, we can figure out ways to make the cat slice smaller, but if our goal is a happy and de-stressed Kyeli, let’s not forget those other slices. Figuring out ways to make the other slices smaller will make the whole pie smaller, and maybe the cat slice would be a manageable size if it weren’t for all those other slices making her pie huge.

Kidney Stone Stub Your Toe

This is related to what we call, unfortunately, the “kidney stone stub your toe” effect. A few years ago, Kyeli had chronic abdominal pain for what was it, Kye, 13 months? One day she stubbed her toe and totally flipped out from the pain. She wouldn’t have flipped out if she weren’t in so much mysterious abdominal pain. It wasn’t the size of her stubbed-toe slice that caused her to flip out, it was the size of her entire Pain Pie.

(Eventually we figured out that it was a kidney stone and got it fixed, but that’s another story.)

Okay, but how is this going to make me awesomer?

Whenever you’re feeling overstressed or overwhelmed, follow this recipe.

1. Make a Stress Pie. It will help you see all the things that are stressing you out, not just the one you’re currently focusing on.

2. Look for things that cause a lot of stress but would take a small amount of effort to make better. Low-hanging fruits, if you will.

3. Eat the low-hanging fruits from the pie.

4. It’s delicious!

Feel clear and confident about your direction in life!


Do you wish you could follow your heart, but it seems impossible? I can help you find the clarity and courage you need.

In other words, I can help you find your path.