On September 30th I will be leading an interactive Attorney Wellness Webinar: Stress-Busting, Energy-Boosting Desk Moves. In the first post leading up to the webinar, Science of Stress, we covered the prevalence of stress, why we have it, and what it does to the body. I provided a 21-Day Stress Identification Challenge to encourage readers to become clear on the frequency, intensity, origins, and symptoms of the their stress.
In today’s post, Master Your Mind, we’ll look at the mind’s role in stress and present thought management techniques to use to reduce stress in your work life.
Negative Thinking Disrupts the Brain
68,000! That’s the estimated number of thoughts the average person has per day and the kicker is the majority of those thoughts are negative. One major problem with repetitive negative and limiting thoughts is that they literally engrain into the brain. Imagine walking through a fresh field of high green grass. The first time you walk through the field you can’t see where you stepped when you look back, but when you walk through the same spot in the field over and over again you ultimately create a visible path. The same thing happens in your brain with thoughts. The Law of Facilitation states that every time we have the same thought we strengthen the neural connection and network between brain cells for that particular thought. The deeper these thoughts are carved into the brain the more frequently and longer we will have the thought (short and long-term potentiation)!
Thoughts, Emotions, and Stress
Humans have a stress response encoded into our DNA to protect us against threats to our survival. When we perceive the circumstances, events, situations and interactions of our lives as threatening, our brain and body prepare to fight or flee! Unfortunately our perceived threats don’t have to be real, present or even life threatening to stress us out. Two people can have very different reactions to public speaking, traffic, a first date or plane turbulence – one positive/peaceful and the other absolutely petrified. Stress only comes when we deem something stressful through our judgments, labels, and false stories about that the happenings of our life. Stress is also something that is experienced in the present, but often dreamt up when thinking of the future. We spend a lot of time fretting about the future, which creates anxiety about something that may never exist or come true. The real key to unlocking long-term stress management is through consistent practice at shaping our unique perception.
So where does perception come from? Here’s an important connection to remember…
Thoughts trigger emotions. When thoughts are negative, self-limiting or self-deprecating matching emotions usual follow: fear, anger, jealousy, disappointment, etc. Negative emotions color one’s perception like looking through sunglasses with red, yellow or blue lens and lead to actions or non-action that directly create the reality experienced.
Negative thoughts and emotions also activate the stress response, which completely change our hormonal levels to prepare us to fight or flight. We know that hormones can influence someone’s actions and reactions, right? When humans are under stress, we become left-brain dominant keeping us stuck doing what we’ve always done and preventing us from connecting to the more creative, intuitive, and holistic-solution-seeking right-brain.
Chronic stress from negative thinking, inverted breathing patterns, sleep-deprivation, dehydration, processed foods and other common unbalanced lifestyle factors that I will discuss in Part 3, Balancing Physiology, fries the brain’s hippocampus. The hippocampus is our learning and memory center When this brain matter disintegrates we can’t remember that we’ve overcome these ‘threats’ in the past, that it’s not the end of the world, and that there is another way to look at the circumstances in our lives. As you can see this is a very vicious cycle and it’s well beyond time to get out!
Managing Your Thoughts
The Lifeguard Perspective – It’s important to know that you are not your thoughts – and you can control them. Prove that to yourself right now by thinking of a puppy, now an ice cream cone and finally a school bus. A critical step in thought management is to look at thoughts, not from thoughts. Pretend you are a lifeguard sitting on the tower surveying the beach and ocean. Your thoughts are the vacationers playing in the sand and water. Your job is only to notice the different thoughts that pass through your mind, but to not get entangled with them. Don’t jump out into the water with a thought, look at them from a safe distance from your tower and use your megaphone and whistle to direct them to safety.
The Bouncer – Now that we are looking at thoughts rather than from them, we want to be highly selective of which thoughts we want into our head. We don’t have to accept them all. This time I want you to picture yourself as the bouncer behind the velvet rope to the best party in the world – your mind! When a new thought pops into your mind determine if it’s worthy of accepting. If the thought has a fake ID, seems intoxicated and isn’t dressed appropriately don’t let it in! This would be the same as a negative or limiting thought. As the bouncer you want to only let in thoughts that are positive and goal-affirmative. This is the foundation of thought management. Make your mind very exclusive and only let in thoughts that help you, not hurt you.
Master Your Mind
So what do you do if a negative thought appears? I have six techniques that I present in my workshop, Master Your Mind and I will share one of them with you today. Before I share the method for beginning to master your mind I want you to recall your most common three repeating negative thoughts and scenarios. As you read the technique I explain below, pick out any that resonate the most for you and your particular thought and scenario.
Powerful Questions – When experiencing negative thinking and emotions, ask yourself a question that causes you to pause, gives you some distance and promotes you to look for a different perspective for a new perception.
- What is the worst/best thing in the world that could happen?
- Will this matter 1 hour, 1 day, 1 week, 1 year from now?
- How can I put myself in the other person’s shoes?
- How can I respect myself in this situation?
- What can I learn from this situation?
- Do I know this to be 100% fact?
- Is there any other possible outcome to this situation?
21-Day Stress Challenge
Your 21-Day Stress Challenge is to create your own powerful question for each of your three repeating negative thoughts and use them whenever they appear. I chose 21 days because 7 to 21 days of a consecutive activity or behavior is the habit formation period or entrainment.
Negative, stress-inducing thought – I am going to miss my flight!
Powerful question: Do I know this to be 100% fact?
New perspective/perception: No, the security line at this airport always moves fast and I have a half-hour before they even begin boarding.
I wish you an outstanding month ahead and a liberating 21-Day Challenge! I’d also like to invite you all to think of me as your personal Executive Wellness Coach and to share your experiences and questions with me at: @lancebreger, firstname.lastname@example.org
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lance Breger is an Executive Wellness Coach and the Founder of Infinity Wellness Partners, a comprehensive corporate wellness company that prepares legal professionals for the most productive and healthy work-life through online/on-site training in four areas critical to wellness: fitness, nutrition, mind/body and ergonomics.