Many years ago I read an article titled The Mind of the Dragon and the Power of Non-Self by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, head of the Shambhala Buddhist lineage and Shambhala International. He begins with a story when he and a friend were running across a hilly field and suddenly see a large dog. Fearful that the dog would attack them, they began strategizing their escape. Being that they were in a valley with no place to hide, they had no choice but to come face-to-face with the dog. As they drew nearer, they discovered the dog was only a large stone. All of the stress and anxiety they suffered was the result of their mind assuming the worst case scenario!
Rinpoche shares an excellent lesson in how easily our minds create a sense of false threat. It takes seeing things “as they really are” to vanquish the fear we’ve unnecessarily created for ourselves.
How many times have you “imagined” a worst case scenario and felt your heart pound or your belly tighten? Emotional responses to fear are real, even when the threat is only imagined.
So the question is, how do you avoid these bouts of unnecessary stress and anxiety?
You learn to reprogram your response.
Reprogram Your Response
It’s easy to jump to fear-based conclusions since, as humans, we retain the instinctual programming of fight or flight. It’s practically a given that we will analyze every situation looking for the biggest threat.
Moreover, what we focus on expands — especially when it’s rooted in fear. Think about when you hear an unusual sound in the night. You listen intently, and suddenly all you hear are frightening thumps and bumps in the night.
In reality, though, most of us live in a gentler, more civilized world where we needn’t fear that every encounter may potentially end our life. But the reflex remains just that — a reflex.
When I find myself jumping to worst case scenarios, I step back and apply a couple of tried and true tricks to shift myself into a more empowered mindset. Once you try them for yourself, I’m confident you will experience a lessening of stress and anxiety.
Flip the Assumption
If your first instinct is to look for the worst case scenario, flip it around. Instead, imagine the best case scenario. Assume positive intent. Not only that, but supersize the best case so that it is better than you first imagined. Sit with it. Now doesn’t that feel better?
Seven Reasons Why
Lots of times we jump to negative conclusions when we don’t understand someone’s words or behavior — or lack thereof. This exercise requires you to come up with seven reasons why the person’s reaction is what it is. While it’s typically easy to come up with three or four reasons why, by the time you get to seven you often have to be really creative, if not outright silly.
Reset and Relax
The most important change you can make in your life to reduce unnecessary stress and anxiety is to recognize ways you are creating it. When you catch yourself in the act of assuming the worst, step back, reset, and relax!
What do you most want right now? What conclusions have you drawn that keep you stuck where you are? How can you shift your thinking in a way that will open you up to positive change?
Need more encouragement? Take a look at this post, Five Steps to Move Through Fear.