Outsmarting Your Most Stressful Thoughts
Tony Robbins often asks audiences the question:
“What’s your most stressful thought?”
Most people have the same set of answers:
Kids/spouse/parents are going to die
Business is going to go bankrupt
Never going to be good enough
Mission is going to fail
Going to go broke
Going to get fired
Going to die
He uses this to show that we all have the same stressors, and that they are universal, not individual. They are based on the ways that we’ve been programmed—biologically, psychologically, and socially.
Yet, even though we know that they are universal, and that thinking these thoughts won’t actually help us to avoid the fearful situations, we can’t help but indulge them anyways. What is this? Self-flagellation? Self-punishment? Masochism? Better question - how the heck do we stop this negativity from ruling our lives?
That gray matter inside our heads is programmed for survival. We all know this. The amygdala (the fight, flight, freeze mechanism) is running shit it shouldn’t be.
To be happy, we have to step out of ‘survival mode.’ This starts at a base level with awareness. You need to be completely honest with yourself about how often your mind floats off into the Land of Pessimism, and start recognizing the signs that you’re on your way.
We are never going to completely eradicate stress, fear, anxiety, and worry, but we can certainly try. For me, the first few steps in doing this have not been to try and fight off negative thoughts. That just creates tightening in my chest and fogginess in my head. Instead, I just breathe. I find that awareness and attempt to transform the thought. [This seems to lower the bar for what it takes to flick on the happiness switch in my brain.]
If this is something you struggle with (hint: we all do), I suggest trying the same. The transformation of thoughts is a lot easier than eradicating them altogether because as Tony points out—they are (and likely will always be) a universal part of the human experience.
Here are two ways to start transforming those stressful thoughts into something that might actually help you:
Think about your stresses and fears intentionally. In other words, don’t be used by these thoughts, use them instead. There is benefit in meditating on the worst-case scenarios, if you do it right. This exercise can guide you to prepare better, and therefore, mitigate some of the background anxiety. If you imagine the projector failing, for example, you’ll bring a backup (or two). The problem is not having these negative thoughts. The problem is when your brain gets hijacked by them and you do nothing other than worry as a result.
Focus on the inverse. If your time on this planet with the people you love is limited - what can be done today to make that time joyful? If you’re business is trending in the wrong direction - what positive step could you take today? In every negative, there is a hidden positive, a hidden opportunity. Find that. For as Rumi says, “the answer to the pain is in the pain.”