Stress Management: The Right Mindset

A great way to deal with stress is to prevent it from arising in the first place.

My process for doing this has evolved as a result of learning how to use my Mindset to deal with stress.

Your Mindset is the environment in which your stress will either grow or die.

The real trick here is knowing the difference between a Mindset of Relaxation and a Mindset of Stress.

I’d like to share this with you now.

 

MINDING YOUR MINDSET

If you were to pay full attention to your thoughts and feelings on any given day, you might notice that just before you experience a different feeling, there is a different thought that precedes it.

Your thoughts come before your feelings.

How you feel about a situation is the result of how you think about it.

How you think about it reveals your ‘Mindset’.

Have you ever felt really stressed?

Have you ever felt really relaxed?

Each of these states-of-being have their own Mindset.

 

Here’s an example….

 

A STORY OF TWO MINDSETS

Imagine that John and Jack work for the same company. Their boss, Mr. Smith, calls both of them into his office one at a time. Mr. Smith mentions that each man is being considered for a promotion and that, if he wants the promotion, he must earn it. All he need do is complete a huge project before the end of the week – in addition to his current tasks.

Both men accept the challenge.

John is very relaxed about the whole process and works diligently to complete everything in time.

Jack however, is stressed out. He’s losing sleep, making mistakes, and becoming short tempered with the people around him. Needless to say, nobody wants to be around Jack Crankypants.

What’s going on here? Both men received the exact same project, they have both been given the exact same time frame, and they both have access to the exact same resources.

So why is John so calm and Jack so stressed?

Shouldn’t they both be calm …or both be stressed?

Let’s compare their Mindsets.

 

MAPPING THE MINDSET OF STRESS

The first thing you need to know about stress is that it is based in fear.

When you feel stressed, it is because you are desperately trying to avoid something you are afraid will happen.

If you firmly believe something is going to happen, you come to expect it.

Expectation grows out of belief.

A belief is a feeling of certainty.

A feeling of certainty arises from a story that you repeatedly tell yourself about what something ‘means’.

When Jack was offered the opportunity to win a promotion by completing a huge project over and above his current daily duties, he knew it would “mean” a lot of late nights at the office, very little sleep, and the distinct possibility that he still might not finish in time. He believed he’d have to work 18-20 hours per day for the rest of the week and created that image in his mind. This became his expectation.

The human brain is an amazing tool. It does whatever you tell it to do and conforms to operate in harmony with your deepest beliefs and expectations. It organizes information in a way that produces a result that matches the belief-image you hold in your mind.

Jack had an image in his mind of working late with little sleep and still possibly not finishing in time. Even though Jack felt certain that this mental image was accurate and true, he thought he ought to give it his best shot anyway. After all, he also had some other images in his mind about what life might be like if he actually won the promotion. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a strong feeling of certainty attached to these images.

Jack’s strongest mental image became the “goal” that his brain used as a target. His brain would subconsciously compare what was actually happening in real life with the image he felt most certain about and then steer his attention, thoughts, and actions towards that which would produce an outcome matching the image – i.e. long nights and not quite finishing in time.

Jack was doomed from the start and didn’t know it. No matter how hard Jack tried, he would only be able to produce a result that matched the ‘image-target’ he felt certain about.

Jack’s stress indicated the presence of an ‘unreasonable expectation’. 

By consciously expecting himself to win a promotion that he felt certain was impossible for him, Jack was unreasonably expecting to succeed. Inside, he knew this to be true but he didn’t want to believe it.

If you want to cook up some stress for yourself, this is the recipe.

 

SUMMARY

The Mindset of Stress is rooted in doubt and fear.

Doubt is the feeling of certainty about something unwanted.

Fear arises from the expectation that something unwanted will happen.

When you continuously repeat a story to yourself of what you don’t want to have happen, you are feeding your brain information that forms into a mental image fused with the feeling of certainty.

It’s the job of your brain to organize and co-ordinate all the functions of the body so that it works as a single coherent unit.

Your feeling of certainty indicates the direction your brain is organizing all the functions of your body towards.

It is unreasonable to consciously expect yourself to achieve something that goes against this feeling of certainty because you are working against your body.

Working against yourself creates stress.

 

THE RELAXED MINDSET

John accepted the same challenge as Jack except he framed it differently in his mind. He asked himself different questions about what might be possible: How much could he outsource? What were the essential components that absolutely needed to be complete? In what ways could he do this project in only 4-5 hours per day?

John committed to working as smart as possible for only 5 hours per day on the new project and not a minute more, not unless he was in the mood and really enjoying himself. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen? He would miss out on the promotion. That means his life would be the same as it is now. That would be okay.

Could he get fired? Possibly, but unlikely. The truth is, he could get also hit by a car, his building could burn down, or he could be unexpectedly laid-off any day of the week, right? Right. Each scenario is just as possible. And if any of those things happened, John knows he’d have no choice but to deal with it in the moment it happened. Somehow or another, he’d find a way through. 

John wasn’t afraid of something bad happening and his mind was free. He was excitedly curious about what he would create over the next 5 days. What solutions might he come up with? How will it all look once it’s finished? John had a good idea of what he was shooting for but was still curious about how the details would reveal themselves. He had no vested interest in the outcome. If he didn’t get the promotion, no problem. He was willing to accept whatever happened after putting in his best effort.

 

SUMMARY

The Relaxed Mindset is a feeling of certainty about what is possible. It is excitedly curious about how the positive outcome will unfold. It maintains a state of flexibility to allow for unknown variables and remains actively focused upon what it can control within the present moment.

 

THE MAIN DIFFERENCES

The Relaxed Mindset is free of Fear. The Stressed Mindset is built upon Fear.

The Relaxed Mindset operates in the Present Moment. The Stressed Mindset operates in an imagined Future.

The Relaxed Mindset has no vested interest in a particular outcome, it knows there are always unseen variables and remains flexible to allow things to turn out as they do.

The Stressed Mindset has the NEED for things to turn out in a specific way and is therefore inflexible.

The Relaxed Mindset has reasonable expectations that are congruent with feelings of certainty.

The Stressed Mindset has Unreasonable Expectations that are incongruent with feelings of certainty.

 

PRACTICAL STEPS

When you are stressed and want to relax here’s what you can do:

Step 1 – Take a 10 second break. Close your eyes. Gently breathe through your nose. Breathe deep and slow into your belly and simply observe with your mind’s eye the air going in and out through your nose. Notice your muscles feeling heavier and unwinding as you exhale. Do it again. (This breathing technique activates your parasympathetic nervous system and begins a process that Dr. Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School calls the ‘Relaxation Response’.)

Step 2 – Remind yourself that your stress comes from acting against your feeling of certainty about what you imagine will happen. Your goal is to release the fear and create uncertainty about the imagined negative outcome by asking new questions.

Step 3 – To release the fear ask yourself, “What is the worst that can happen?” Once you answer that, ask yourself, “If it happened to me right now, I would have to deal with it, wouldn’t I? …Yes. Could I handle it? (yes/no) Okay, what would happen then? (answer)…okay and then what?” Face your fear in your imagination as though you had to deal with the event right now. Keep playing out the scenario in your mind until you feel the fear release. It will release when you come to a place of acceptance. If you imagine the worst case scenario as you dying, realize that you WILL have to face death at some point down the road anyway whether you like it or not – it’s going to happen and you’ll have to deal with it. We can never know when our day comes. The moment you accept that “if this is the end…so be it”, your fear will release. We “hang on” when we’re afraid. We “let go” when we are not. Whatever comes your way, you will have to deal with it the moment it arrives – not a moment before. It will come …and it will go…and there will be a story to tell. Also, keep in mind, that the situations you actually deal with are never as bad as you imagined they would be.

(I had to do this one time during what felt like an anxiety attack. I was scared of my imagined outcome, felt a real tightness in my chest, and was having trouble breathing. I played out the above questions and answers in my mind and, in my imagination, I ended up dying alone in an open field. Okay, and then what…? That’s when the fear released. I became curious. I faced my death in my mind as though it were happening in that moment and my fear disappeared. It never came back.)  

Step 4 – To create uncertainty around the unwanted outcome you’ve imagined, ask yourself, “Is this true? Is the story I’m telling myself absolutely true or could other possibilities exist? What else might be possible? Could there be variables at play that I can’t see? Do things always turn out exactly as I imagine? What would I like to have happen in this situation? In what ways might that be possible?

Step 5 – Always keep in mind that you will have to face what’s coming to you at some point whether you like it or not – including death. What’s interesting is, when you are in the midst of facing an actual crisis, you only focus on what’s happening right there in the moment and there’s no time for you to be afraid because Fear needs your attention to be on the future.

Step 6 – Focus on the present moment. Deal with what is happening in the here and now. Pour your heart into what you can do in this moment and keep your mind out of the future. Focus only on what you are able to do – what is in your control. Let go of those things you cannot control.

The Relaxed Mindset is one that is ultimately free of fear. It is flexible and open to receive whatever outcome may arise. It is something you must build and cultivate into your life. It takes time and practice but well worth it.

I continuously practice cultivating my Relaxed Mindset and it has helped me immensely.

I hope it helps you too.

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