3 Steps to Stop Being a Drama Queen

Updated to Habits, Productivity on December 30, 2022.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

I used to be a drama queen – thriving on a perverse rush that comes from being stupid-busy.

Of course, I’d tell anyone willing to listen I hated feeling busy. But, truth be told, I loved it.

Mysteriously, my days dissolved into a frenzy of unplanned activities: prepping for a keynote, last-minute changes to a proposal (of course due that day), returning phone calls, squeezing in a workout, and then storming through the grocery aisles before dashing home to cook up something for whoever was home that night, only to remember they all had other plans.

In my diluted mind I was a task-master hero.

In reality, I was an idiot.

Attracting drama into your life is always easier than planning and working on one task at a time until done. The drama appears, put out the fire, get a dopamine rush then head off to do it again.

Sound familiar?

For survival, I’ve learned a few remedies that might help you as well as they’ve helped me.

And it starts with looking at rewards.

1 – Change your reward

All behaviour has a reward, including being a drama queen.

A necessary step to changing any habit is to not only change your routine (like single-tasking or taking 15 minutes on Friday to clear the clutter), but to also change the reward you’re seeking.

Before I made a habit of writing every morning, I would write in coffee shops – inspired by authors who swore they did their best work in public spaces. I tried to shut out the noise and get my work done. But, it wasn’t working.


Despite my best efforts (and a lot of London Fogs), I was distracted and found the combination of noise and waning afternoon focus was killing my productivity. So I changed my reward.

That’s when I switched from a reward of working in a cool setting to productivity – the more I produced the happier I was.

And that’s when I switched to dedicating every morning to 2 hours of writing and I haven’t looked back.

What’s the reward you get from abandoning your plans, letting email drive your day or saying “Yes” to everyone? Once you start working toward the rewards you really want it’s time to know what ‘done’ looks like.

2 – Know what ‘done’ looks like

Before you start to reprogram yourself to be more productive and effective, you need to know what ‘done’ looks like. Sounds simple, I know, but do you know what a day well spent looks like?

Is it 3 outbound phone calls? Two successful coaching meetings? Getting 70% of tasks crossed off your list? Or writing 1,000 words?

Knowing what ‘done’ looks like has to start with what a good week looks like (see my post on creating your Flight Plan) and what a great day looks like (see my post about creating your Day Plan).

The worse thing is to just show up. Good luck with that – you’ll be a victim of distractions and while you might have a warm fuzzy feeling from running hard all day you won’t have any damn idea where the day went and little results to show for it.

Next, you have to work hard and then…stop.

3 – Work hard then stop

One of my last running marathons was in my hometown of Kelowna. I hadn’t run a marathon for a few years and didn’t know that the runners wearing pink bunny ears with numbers like “3:15”, “3:30”, “3:45” written on them were pace runners (the numbers indicated their planned finish times). All the runners in their group had been training to run 10 minutes on, 1 minute off.

Not only was this run/walk strategy all the rage, it became embarrassingly apparent it was working better than my head-down, plough-ahead strategy (which, truth be told, wasn’t a strategy at all).

At work you can use the same work hard, then stop, strategy.

Whether you use a pomodoro technique of 20 minutes work, followed by a break, or break between tasks, your productivity will increase with frequent breaks.

I sometimes find working one task at a time and avoiding my past drama queen style feels prescribed – even slow. The reality is, I’m more productive, carry less stress and, when I get home, it’s not just my dog who comes to greet me.

I like that result.