I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.Mark Twain
As a naturally pragmatic person, I typically adopt Edward de Bono’s Black Thinking Hat, immediately spotting and highlighting the difficulties to be overcome. It can be seen as negative, it is not intended to be.
When confronted with challenging situations which are my responsibility, but where I’m dependent on others, I spend days with variations of the same thoughts tumbling around in my head like clothes in a washing machine.
When I came across The Practical Benefits of Outrageous Optimism by Mr Money Mustache (MMM), I knew I needed to reframe my thinking. When I got to the end of the article, I was convinced that I needed to more intentionally adopt an optimistic viewpoint, which is subtly different from a positive viewpoint. The blog post did leave me with the hanging questions of – What are the practical steps? – How can I adopt an Optimistic Mindset?
I contemplated and reflected on this and realised the practical steps were more reachable than I originally thought. Going to the source, I know the body doesn’t know the difference between current reality and conceived future potential reality. Both are filtered and constructed in our minds. We live so much in our heads.
We emerged from a state of survival, also scanning for danger. We need to recognise and compensate for this. With stress causing us to live in emergency response mode all the time and this is triggered easily. Humans can do this with thought alone. We like the predictability of the adverse. Rehearsing the response. Over and over again.
The reality is different from where we spend our lives. We spend the majority of time in our heads and just because we have a thought, it doesn’t mean it’s true or perhaps more appropriately, valid.
It is one of the reasons why Mindfulness meditation is so important. To keep present in reality. (I’m enjoying the Waking Up introductory meditation course at the moment, as I restart my neglected practice).
Quickfire and Short Term Mental Model
Whenever I found myself anticipating an un-enjoyable/awkward situation, I would spend hours and days in an anxious and stressed state. I now find it powerful to re-frame my thinking and the language used. Shifting from the it won’t be that bad or the sarcastic it’s going to be great to the optimistic it will be awesome.
There is no downside. If it is indeed awkward, it will be awkward anyway and I’ve saved myself days, perhaps even weeks of anxiety.
It may even help to visualise it going well.
Longer Term Fix
It is worth spending time in reflecting back on other similar situations, most came out great or at least, not nearly as bad as anticipated.
We also need to educate ourselves in meta-cognition – that is thinking about our thoughts and becoming aware of subconscious thoughts. Awareness breaks the cycle. One of the most powerful tools I’ve found is developing the skill of meditation, which leads to mindfulness.
In all of this, we are striving for better, not perfect.
What other tools and mental models do you use to manage stress and anxiety?