Feel Happier Improve Your Life By Mark Tong Stress is an ignorant state. It believes that everything is an emergency. – Natalie Goldberg Have you ever seen a 9-year-old boy throwing knives at his baby sister? No? Strangely, I have. Now, once you’ve had a justifiable rant about ‘kids shouldn’t throw knives’, especially at cute little girls, sister or not, here’s what I noticed… The little girl wasn’t stressed at all. Why? Because she wasn’t brought up to be stressed by her older brother throwing knives at her. All her family throw knives. They are a traveling knife-throwing act and have been for generations. When we encounter a situation, our brains decide in a micro-second how to react to that situation. And as any good psychologist will tell you when first confronted with an unknown situation, the brain actually has no real idea how to react, (Obviously, actual life-threatening situations aside). So it does what it’s always done – if it has no record of how to react, it looks to other people’s reactions. It’s called social proof. If you were to spot a grouchy Raptor escaping from your local Jurassic Park and everyone running away screaming, then your brain might reckon that’s probably a pretty sensible response and do the same. And most of the time, it’s right. Certainly if we’re talking about situations involving an escaped giant prehistoric lizard with a bad attitude, big pointy teeth and a penchant for human flesh. But if you saw people stand still and ignore the Raptor, maybe a few even go up to it and pat it, so long as those people didn’t lose a limb (and a lot of blood), you’d probably think… ‘Um, no reason to be stressed here I guess’. Just as the little girl saw no reason to be stressed when her older brother threw knives at her. So here’s the bottom line… What’s stressful is your response to the situation. And in most cases, the stress response isn’t genetically hard-wired into your brain either, it’s learned. And you can un-learn it. Here’s how… 12 Ways To Stay Blissfully Calm 1. Stop Breathing Seriously. Stop. Breathing. Whatever you are stressing about (unless you are actually suffocating), if you just stop everything and hold your breath, you’ll find two things will happen: 1. All your stressed thoughts will be interrupted… 2. …and one overriding thought will replace them… ‘If I don’t start breathing soon, I’m going to pass out.’ So you have replaced your ‘I’m so stressed, everything is out of my control’ line of thinking, with one of your own making that you can control. Now… Just. Start. Breathing. And then when you’ve returned to a normal color, ask yourself this question: ‘Whatever I’m stressing about, is it really as big a stress as running out of air? Can I cope with it better than running out of air? Sure, I can!’ Once you’ve given yourself something to really get stressed about, it’s a lot easier to stay blissfully calm and stop sweating the small stuff. 2. Stop Agreeing It’s an observable fact that you are not your thoughts. Try this simple experiment now… 1. Wait for a thought to pop into your head (you really can’t stop your subconscious coming up with them) and then… 2. …think about that thought. You see, there is more than one ‘you’. How many is a matter of debate among psychiatrists, but for our purposes, let’s keep it simple and stick to the two we’re interested in here which we’ll label the ‘subconscious you’ and the ‘conscious you‘. For instance, you may be in a bar and the thought might pop into your head… ‘Let’s go punch that guy on the nose!’ Now, that thought originated from your subconscious. If you were to consciously think about it, you might come to the conclusion… ‘That’s a really mad idea! I hate violence and anyway, he’s built like a gorilla on steroids. I’m not doing that!’ Now, which one are you going to put in charge? The ‘subconscious you‘ who out of the blue comes up with these stress-inducing ideas or the ‘conscious you‘ who has to live with the consequences? So next time a thought pops into your head and says… ‘Hey, you should be getting stressed about this’. Stop and don’t react. Instead, say to yourself… ‘Actually, I hate stress, that’s a mad idea, I’m not doing that!’ Stay blissfully calm and be guided by the right voice in your head. 3. Stop Caring Be honest. When an unexpected situation arises, you stress about whether to help out or not. Maybe it involves a family member you never really got on with or strangers who are obviously, well, strangers. I used to be the same until I worked for an international aid charity and I learned an important truth… ‘It doesn’t matter whether you care or not, can you help?’ Next time you hear of some disaster in a far off place you can’t place on a map or even pronounce, don’t feel stressed-out caring or not caring – the reality is the people caught up in the disaster don’t care themselves whether or not you care. All they care about is, can you help? And the same is true if the aunt or work colleague you never really got on with needs help. Don’t stress yourself out over whether you care about them or not, charitable means helping out those in need, whether you care or not. So instead of fretting, stay blissfully calm and reach for your wallet, email or phone and act. And of course, a sympathetic ear and even more sympathetic shoulder are often all the help needed. 4. Stop Remembering Every year thousands of memory-training programs are bought by people eager to improve their recall. However, I think you should be training your mind not to recall…but to forget. The problem is, most people use their memory to recall stressful events from the past. Instead, train your mind to forget about… The time your date stood you up. The time you froze on stage. The business deal you failed to clinch. The promise you made but could never keep. The time you were turned down for that promotion. Dismiss these memories from your mind, they don’t serve you. If your mind starts trying to remember past disappointments, ask yourself… ‘If I spend this present moment getting stressed over a past disappointment when I look back in another moment at this present moment, will I remember just another stressed moment? ‘ Blissfully calm comes to those who use their memory wisely. 5. Stop Doing We are taught to always be doing something. Doing nothing is considered laziness, which is practically a crime. Amazingly, 42% of Americans are stressed because they feel guilty relaxing on vacation. So next time the world imposes on your thoughts and you feel yourself getting stressed and guilty, tell yourself: ‘Apparently, even God rested after creating the world. And I’ve never seen anyone complaining about his productivity on those other six days. ‘ Staying blissfully calm and having some downtime is one of the best productivity aids available. After all, if you can’t relax on your holidays, when can you? 6. Stop Pleasing We are taught to be people-pleasers from an early age – everything we see reinforces the message ‘it’s stressful to displease people, bad things will happen to you.’ In reality, people don’t like you because you agree with them and run around after them. Think about it: the people you truly admire, are they the kind of people who tell you as it is, who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions, to say no? And those people feel exactly the same. So next time the world tells you to say ‘yes’, ask yourself: ‘Do I like people who flatter and fawn? Or do I admire strong people who aren’t afraid to voice their opinions?’ Stay blissfully calm in the knowledge that if you want to be liked and loved, stand up for yourself and the world will love you for it. 7. Stop Being Right In this skewed world, we’re rewarded for getting things right, not wrong. So the mere possibility of making a mistake can bring on a panic attack. But the actual thing we get wrong normally has very few repercussions itself. It’s what we fear people will think of us for messing up that stresses us out. The irony is, if you ask anyone, they will tell you it is almost impossible being around someone who is always right. In fact they are usually infuriating. People respond to people they can relate to – real people, human beings who are vulnerable and mess up. So next time you make or fear making a mistake, ask yourself: ‘Who likes or loves someone who is always right?’ and go ahead and mess up, blissfully calm in the knowledge that you are actually making yourself more likable and lovable. So long as you own up to your mistake, of course. 8. Stop Listening You are always being told to listen more and sometimes it’s good advice. However, too often the world wants you to listen to its worries and fears, its latest doom and gloom mongering stories. And if you do, you’ll soon be one of them. So stop listening – turn off the news, walk away from that negative conversation. If you just can’t, then ask yourself this question: ‘Do I need to take part in this global soap opera? What good is one more stressed and depressed individual going to do in the world?’ And then find a way to walk away and stay blissfully calm. 9. Stop Forgiving Forgiving reduces stress for sure. The issue is, that to get to the point that you need to forgive someone, you’ve probably already let them stress you out, let them anger you. For instance, if someone cuts you up in traffic, how often do they wind down the window and shout… ‘Hey [insert your name here] – I hate you! I’m in no particular hurry, I just wanted to make sure I ruined your day.’ ? If the answer is ‘only yesterday’, maybe you should consider moving to a better neighborhood. For the rest of us, the reality is, it’s rarely personal. But even if it is personal, there’s still no logical reason to let it stress you out. Instead, when you feel yourself reacting in these situations, ask yourself: ‘What’s eating him/her up inside?’ Everyone is struggling with something in life and that’s usually what it’s all about – them and their issues, not you. With practice you can stay blissfully calm and feel sympathy instead of anger. And never get to the point you need to forgive – well, most of the time. 10. Stop Trying We all try too hard. Enthusiasm and doing your best are commendable qualities, but the prevalent culture of ‘I’ll do this even if it kills me‘ is just made for stress. The reality is, if you are constantly stressed, worried and overwhelmed, either the thing you are trying to do is wrong or you’re doing it wrong. Learn how to stop participating in this culture. Whenever you feel pressurized into striking a heroic pose and shouting… ‘I’ll do this even if it kills me!’ Ask yourself this instead: ‘How can I do this and make it fun?’ Staying blissfully calm only works when you realize you’re supposed to enjoy the journey, not hate every minute of it. Stop Stressing And Start Living Life doesn’t have to be exhausting. You may live in a stressed-out world, but you don’t have to conform. Be a rebel. Reclaim your sense of calm. Step-down from a leading role in this world’s daily soap opera. Start the process right now. Next time you feel stress tugging at your stomach, tell yourself… “’Actually, I hate stress, that’s a mad idea, I’m not doing that!’ And use the tips above to stay blissfully calm. Even in the presence of knife throwing 9 year-olds and grouchy Raptors. What are your thoughts about this? Please share them in the comments. About the Author: One of the best ways to stay blissfully calm is to avoid overwhelm by learning to say ‘no’. Grab Laura’s free cheat sheet: 5 Simple Guilt-Free Ways To Say No Without Offending Anyone (Even If You Hate Conflict).