The car is slowing down, the steering wheel wobbles. The driver knows there is something wrong with it. He keeps on driving. Other drivers pass him and attempt to flag him to a halt. The car tire is getting shredded. The driver continues.
This is stress. The unwillingness to fix a problem that can be solved.
When we look around, we see millions of examples of people
Living life in almost identical situations. Some are stressed and others are not. The difference? Some have not created a stress problem. Others have. Some, when a problem arises, choose to stop and solve it. Others, for various reasons, choose to ignore that which is causing them stress, and then do not address the problem.
Why do we not address stress as a problem, and how come some people do not have stress?
Stress starts off in subtle ways, a minor irritation with life, an accommodation to please another person, a strong desire that we feel we must have, a long list of things we want to get done, over expectations of ourselves, others and life.This slow build-up develops within us a habit of over expecting and then getting stressed when our over expectations are not met.
We create these over expectations with our mind and they can drive us crazy.
The good news is that this same mind has also the potential to see the forest for the trees, see the reality and the over expectation, see the driver with the flat tire still driving, and do something about it.
The problem is the habit
How many of us have been inspired to start a new meditation program? We are excited about it and ready to get started. So far so good. We schedule in around our busy day. But the day does not go as we planned. Work takes longer. We end up rushing, stressed to our meditation group! We sit there trying to relax but it is not working. In walks someone who is even later than us. They give us a relaxed smile and sit down in peace.
The difference between us and the relaxed person is that we have the habit of over expecting, of stressing, and they do not.
What is the solution to this habit?
The first step is to recognize that stress is a habit and that it can be dropped at will.
Just as the driver of the car with the flat tire was focused on ignoring the problem, so we also have to shift focus from ignoring the problem to recognizing the habit and choosing to drop it.
We can take this step at different levels of clarity and intensity. Let’s use the analogy of an alcoholic who realizes they have a problem.
1. Shrug it off and get on with drinking
2. Decide to casually quit, and finds themselves drinking again in a day or so.
3. Decide that the rewards of quitting are so great that they are going to use every effort and resource available to them to kick the habit. They set themselves up to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. They create a support group. They remove all temptations.
Obviously, option 3 gets the results and the other options result in falling back into the pattern again. Now let’s apply this to stress.
How to increase clarity and intensity in dropping stress? The same way the alcoholic did, by developing intense desire to change and get the reward.
Here is one way:
Every morning take 5 minutes to take the following actions:
1. Declare to yourself and the world your intention to live a life free of stress and full of enjoyment.
2. Visualize yourself going through the day in a relaxed manner.
3. Plan concrete/ specific actions for the day, that keep the mind focused on the reduction of stress.
Just as the alcoholic discovered that joining a support group was critically important, we can ask for the assistance of friends. A great way to do this is to tell all our friends that we have a habit of creating stress and we are choosing to drop the habit. We explain that we are not necessarily going to do different things, we are just going to approach them differently.
Every time you do this you remember that you are choosing to be different. Make a declaration such as: “I am choosing to be stress free while performing all day-to-day tasks” Declarations are super powerful ways to wake yourself up, to break the habitual pattern and to remind yourself that you can in fact be free of stress.
The results of declaring regularly, and visualizing yourself living in joy can be startling. When you do this, what is taking place inside you is a shift in how you engage with life. The stress that creeps up unconsciously into your life is revealed more clearly as actually your choice. With this understanding, you start to choose conscious thoughts and actions that permanently kick the habit. Pretty soon you find yourself saying to friends “That used to stress me out, but now it does not. I have kicked stress out of my life!’
There is a great video on this topic by Paramahamsa Nithyananda, the enlightened master from South India. In this video he speaks about techniques for a stress-free life.