In Parts I and II of this article, I emphasized that stress is a self-imposed mental state. In today’s Part III, I’m going to suggest some healthy thoughts that I believe can help you overcome a stressful mind-set.
Shake the habit of fretting and stewing about non-existent problems.
It’s amazing how many people live in a “what if” world, and projecting medical problems is an all-too-common example of this. My doctor once told me that medical students are notorious for imagining that they’ve contracted some terrible disease.
The reason, of course, is that they study diseases on a daily basis. Because they are trained to be constantly on the lookout for the life-threatening symptoms they are learning about, it’s understandable that they would sometimes imagine they have some of those same symptoms.
Can there be a better definition of joy than the feeling you have when the results of your prostate exam, colonoscopy, pap smear, or mammogram come back negative? Until you get that thumbs-up feedback from your doctor or lab, it’s very easy for your mind to play tricks on you and stress you to the limit. It’s a classic example of being stressed over a problem that doesn’t exist. The problem becomes real only if, and when, the results come back positive.
This is precisely what happened to me many years ago when I was told that my PSA reading was slightly on the high side. I had recently watched a couple of shows on television about prostate cancer, and a 20/20 segment by Hugh Downs put me over the top.
To make a long story short, I began sweating heavily at night, my left leg was tingling, and I lost my appetite. I found myself lying in bed thinking about what a prostate operation would be like, how much pain would be involved, how much recuperation time would be required, and if I would even survive.
Guess what? It turned out that my symptoms were 100 percent self-induced. When I visited a second urologist, everything checked out perfectly — including a PSA reading on the low side.
On reflection, however, I’m glad I had that experience, because it showed me how easy it is to induce stress — and even medical symptoms — through the power of the mind. If you excessively dwell on bad things that might happen in your life — medical or otherwise — you only succeed in increasing the chances of their actually happening.
In the words of Thomas Carlyle, “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.” In other words, focus on today’s problems, because, in most cases, that’s a full-time job.
Recognize that for every negative, there’s an offsetting positive.
In Million Dollar Habits, I discuss a principle that I refer to as the Natural Law of Balance. In pointing out that the universe is in balance, I use such examples as electrons and protons, night and day, male and female, hot and cold, and life and death. The reality is that for every positive, there’s an offsetting negative, and for every negative, there’s an offsetting positive. Balance is the natural order of the universe.
The nice thing about it is that when you understand and believe in universal balance, it gives you the mind-set to look quickly and automatically for the offsetting positive in every negative situation. Put another way, think of every negative occurrence as nothing more than an illusion hiding something of value to you. As Richard Bach so eloquently put it in his book Illusion, “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the Master calls a butterfly.”
Accept the inevitable.
Notwithstanding the Natural Law of Balance, there are some things that are inevitable and over which you have no control. However, it’s important to be able to discern the difference between inevitable and difficult. For example, success can be difficult, but regardless of one’s circumstances, failure is not inevitable. Accepting the inevitable is not being negative, it’s actually being positive. What’s negative is not being able to ignore the inevitable and move on with your life.
As Charles Swindoll put it, “We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. … I am convinced that life is 10 percent what happens to me and 90 percent how I react to it.”
Accepting the inevitable and focusing on opportunities in your life is virtually guaranteed to lower your level of stress.
Refuse to react to the lies and negative remarks disseminated by others.
There is no person on this planet who cannot relate to this issue, especially those who have high public profiles. Can you imagine enduring the hatred, slander, and defamation that someone like a Rush Limbaugh has had to put up with over the years? I am convinced that what keeps someone like this going is a powerful capacity to ignore most of the vile remarks made about him.
In my early years as an author, I admit that I allowed the media to get to me. It seemed as though every other sentence written about me was a total fabrication. When I complained to my attorney, he explained three things to me that had a dramatic impact on how I handled the media fiction machines from that point on.
First, he told me to forget about filing lawsuits. He said that after spending an enormous amount of time and money, I’d still lose — even if I won the case. Why? Because in libel suits, you have to prove damages, which is a near-impossible task.
Second, the more you complain about being defamed or slandered, the more attention you draw to the defamatory or slanderous remarks. When we read or hear something negative about ourselves, we tend to blow it way out of proportion.
On more than one occasion when I mentioned a negative article about myself to someone, that person would respond with something like, “Gee, I read that article, and I thought it was pretty good.” In other words, what I was reading into the article was very different from the interpretation of others who had read the same article.
Third, it makes you appear to be above the fray when you ignore the mudslinging, step back, and let your supporters defend you. I’ve been doing this for years, and it’s always a great feeling when a reader sends me a copy of a letter he sent to a publication, blasting it for something it printed about me that was untrue.
In most cases, those who admire and respect you — especially if they know you well — will defend you when you’re attacked. Just don’t make the naive mistake of expecting everyone to love you, because they won’t. Remember, even Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated.
Intellectualize the reality that life isn’t perfect.
I say intellectualize, because just about everyone claims to understand this reality, but I don’t believe most people take the trouble to analyze what it really means. In The Road Less Traveled, Dr. M. Scott Peck pointed out that one of the most traumatic moments of a child’s life is when he discovers that his parents aren’t perfect.
Likewise, I believe that one of the most traumatic moments of a parent’s life is when he/she discovers that their child isn’t perfect. You can reduce your stress many times over by accepting the reality that there is no perfect child, parent, spouse, home, city, or job.
Learn to take life one wave at a time. And if you get in the habit of focusing on the Natural Law of Balance, it will bring an abundance of peace and tranquility into your life.
In the fourth and final installment of this article, I’ll be covering two other components that I consider to be essential to achieving peace of mind: (1) resisting the temptation to try to make the world bend to your will, and (2) maintaining control of your anger and resentment.