Stressed out from wanting things to be a certain way?

As we grow up, we absorb and create a worldview based upon the various cultural and environmental influences to which we are exposed. This worldview evolves as we develop, as we are exposed to new information and particularly as we have emotionally charged experiences. This worldview then becomes part of our perception of how the world is and how it should be. And, that is one of the main times when we start to experience stress.

Each day, we look at the world through the filter of our worldview, and when it does not conform to that worldview, a certain amount of discomfort arises in us. For example, if we expect that people will be polite to us when we buy something, and the person who serves us a coffee is curt and seems uninterested in us, we can think that there is something wrong with them. We may start to feel upset, disrespected, indignant, etc. All of these feelings arise as a response to the conflict between our expectations and what we encounter. It is the rare person who realizes that one’s expectations may be totally different from the “normal” behaviour of the other people we interact with.

This default response of feeling discomfort when we encounter a discontinuity between our expectations and the outside world is often due to the sense of insecurity which can be triggered – we come to a shocking conclusion: the world is not what we expect and feel safe with; it has become an uncertain place.

People can invest an enormous amount of time, energy and resources in creating a level of perceived security. We build houses with strong doors, security systems and live in gated communities. We establish routines for commuting and working to follow each day. We put on good luck charms, talismans and clothing which we associate with safe prior experiences. We eat the same fast food at home and when we travel to other countries. All of these actions and more are designed to help us feel safer, and that seems to be a fairly normal human desire. Stress is generated when this sense of security is disturbed by some element of the outside world. Our indignation about the “rudeness” of the coffee server is actually a maladaptive attempt to restore “order” to the world. We attribute the responsibility for our feelings to the outside world when we really are just reacting because of our internal emotional triggers. We think “if only the people around us lived up to our expectations, then we would feel safer, as all would be as we expect and in fact need it to be.” The reality of our daily experiences is that change is constant and the world does not live up to our expectations. And yet, we hang onto our expectations for dear life.

Why do we hang onto these unrealistic expectations?

Given the constant exposure we have to new experiences and information, it would be reasonable to expect that our worldview should evolve constantly, and as a result we would have little if any stress from unmet expectations. That does not seem to be the case. We form the various pieces of our worldview early on and seem to cling to it desperately, with an ever increasing amount of stress being generated as we struggle to reconcile what we expect and what we encounter. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, we keep expecting the world to work the way we want it to and resisting that it does not.

Brain research has shown that we actually will override what we are seeing with what we want to see. And, I’m sure you’ve had an experience of someone telling you (probably in other words) “Don’t confuse me with the facts – I’ve made up my mind!”

There are two main reasons why we hold onto our worldviews:

The first is our need for security mentioned above. Humans are designed to seek out homeostasis and therefore resist change. Our systems are always trying to return to a state of comfort. We can try very hard to overcome this, but basically we tend to evolve from one state of stability to another, and we want the transition to be as quick and painless as possible. People do experience major changes in perspective, particularly after very intense events and near death experiences. If we were to examine their systems, we would find that almost all have moved from state X to state Y, both of which seem safe to them. The transition process itself may have been very dramatic, but we humans usually end up in a new state of perceived safety and well-being which may be radically different from the prior state. We could be living as a fiercely free spirited individualist one day and be settled into a long term committed relationship the next week.

The second reason we cling to our worldview regardless of the evidence to the contrary is the emotional glue that holds our expectations in place. Much of our belief system and opinion collection is based upon a series of experiences during which we form beliefs and ideas/opinions. These experiences will have emotional content for us and this is what glues the memories and beliefs and worldview together.

Here’s a simple test – think of 5 important events in your life, any 5. You may want to write them down to make it easier to track. For each one, imagine yourself back in that event, as if you were having the experience now. Notice what you were seeing, what you were hearing and what you were feeling. Do this for each event in turn. It is extremely probable that for each important event you will have had at least one strong emotional response. Perhaps for one you felt really happy and for another very sad. The exact emotion is not that critical – for each one that you easily recalled and were able to imagine, there was a strong emotional component. This is what I call the emotional glue that holds those memories in place. You probably can recall a lot of details of each event and even feel the corresponding emotions as you revisit them.

You can test the opposite of this – take yourself back exactly 3 weeks to one of the meals you ate. If you can’t remember much about that meal, it was most likely that it had nothing very emotional happen during it. It was more than likely just like so many other benign events of your life – ones that came and left without any real impact on you.

This emotional glue is a double-edged sword. It holds in place all those memories of positive events from our past, but it also holds in place all those negative ones as well. All of these events, the feelings that arose in them, the thoughts that were formed and the resulting beliefs and opinions all helped to create and to shape your worldview. And, after a while, each new experience tends to reinforce your worldview. Every time that worldview and its component expectations are not in alignment with your current experiences, you will tend to become stressed as you go through the process of reconciling the two.

Sometimes, we can become aware of parts of our worldview which do not really serve us anymore. We may have a vague sensation about the futility of our constant negative reaction to people who do not do what we expect. We may want to be more tolerant. The challenge then is to move from where we are to where we want to be without triggering all of our self-preservation mechanisms, To make this move, we need to let go of the emotional glue which holds the old and unresourceful expectations in place.

Fortunately, it is fairly easy to release the emotional glue which no longer serves us. Humans are fully capable of releasing any emotional glue and the attached beliefs and opinions and reactions, even though it may seem like something a bit out of the ordinary to do the first time or two. The heightened speed of change in the modern world, as well as the bombardment of negative news stories has created a more intense than normal climate of fear, and in a fearful environment, we tend to hang onto everything, including that which no longer serves us. The process of releasing is greatly enhanced by a facilitation process such as AER.

The process of letting go of the emotional glue that holds in place an unresourceful expectation is actually quite straightforward. First, one notices any time when one is feeling frustrated, for example, with a low-intensity life event such as standing in a line-up at the grocery store. One pays attention to the feelings which come up with the frustration, and then when the time is convenient, one lets go of those feelings, one by one, using AER to facilitate the release process. There is neither censoring nor judgment of the feelings which arise – they are noticed, accepted and released. Any analysis of why one might feel anger and sadness mixed with the frustration, for example, is left until after the feelings are released and one can think clearly.

As one releases the accumulated emotional glue, an amazing thing happens – expectations become softer and more in tune with what is actually there. No effort is needed, as there is no resistance to the world nor any struggle to reconcile an expectation with what is happening. Are you ready to let go of some of your old emotional glue, unresourceful beliefs and ideas?

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved

Stressed out from working too hard?

Did you ever wake up one day and realize that you’ve been working way too hard at something? That there is a much better way to accomplish the exact same thing, with much less effort and struggle?

This waking up happened when I was listening to a recording of a relationship therapist talking about how he gets people back on track. He mentioned that they have to “do the work” and how it took a lot of commitment, and one had to be in this “for the long haul”. I was not exactly thrilled by this labour-intensive approach, to say the least.

Overall, his approach was one which contained a lot of concepts that I hear commonly promoted:

– success is the result of persistence and much hard work,
– having a better life takes a lot of effort,
– changing your behaviours requires serious, long term work, and
– the process of personal change takes place over a long time.

My well-considered, totally scientific, and peer-reviewed reply to these concepts is “phooey”. Now, before you think I’ve jumped ship into the camp of “all you need is to think positive thoughts, say some affirmations and invoke the all-powerful Law of Attraction” crowd, relax. Having created a couple of rather successful companies in my former life as an entrepreneur, I know from personal experience (and a fair amount of related research) that neither the “work long and hard for many years” nor the “magic wishing bean” formula is what is really happening when people get more of what they want in their lives.

In a nutshell, what I have observed is that when people are able to achieve personal and business success, it is a result of several factors, including:

– doing the right things in the right order at the right time
– making appropriate mid-course corrections when needed
– having a vision of where they want to go, and some solid plans on how to get there
– being mainly free of any internal blocks to success.

This last factor is a key one, as anyone who has self destructive bad habits and/or beliefs will not be able to succeed, no matter how much effort they invest. They will continually find ways to stop themselves from obtaining that success, often at the last minute. More information on this can be found here.

The importance of altering the influence of self-sabotaging habits, thoughts and beliefs is not new – people have been talking about this for many years. In fact, one of the most famous books of the past century was Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich, a work with much influence on many of the modern approaches to self improvement and success. While it certainly contains many useful and empowering concepts, this book, and much of the self-improvement industry, concentrates mainly on cerebral changes without giving much consideration for the rest of our being. It is sort of like trying to improve a car’s ride by properly inflating one of the four tires, and neglecting the other three. It is possible that the car will drive a little better with that one properly inflated tire, but the goal of a better ride is unlikely to be achieved if the other tires are under or over inflated. The same thing happens when we only focus on improving our minds, and neglect to take care of our bodies and our hearts.

The other potential problem that arises when one focuses exclusively on improving one’s thought processes in order to institute personal or professional change is that the likelihood of disappointment is higher – all the eggs are in one basket. If those efforts to improve thought processes are not successful, then one could feel more like a failure than a success.

Must… Work… Harder…

There is a phenomenon in which people often re-double their efforts when what they are doing does not produce the results they want. They see no other option than to “try harder”.  I was in that place at times during my life, so I know what frustration can arise when one tries and tries and still doesn’t reach a goal.

The paradigm guiding these sorts of approaches can be expressed as

Awareness + Effort = Success

We become aware of something such as a bad habit that we have, and we then expend a lot of effort trying to either suppress it or convert that habit into something useful. Maybe we put up notes around the house or office, reminding ourselves to not do “X” or to always do “Y”. Maybe we create some home-brew aversion therapy, punishing ourselves each time we catch ourselves doing something we decided not to do any more. Or maybe we tell ourselves what we want to be, trying to visualize it and repeating these affirmations day after day. And, to add to our self-inflicted labours, we analyze and study relentlessly our habits, beliefs and thoughts, trying to figure our why we do “X”. No matter what particular approach we adopt under this paradigm, the underlying principle is the same: change takes much effort and time and is a struggle.

For many years, I laboured under that illusion, like so many others. I “worked’ at change. I used many techniques and “tools of the personal development trade” to try to shape my thoughts, to attempt to convert them, to instill what I wanted in place of what was there. It was a lot of work. It was often a struggle, and it generated disappointment any time I was not able to advance as fast or as fully as I wanted.

The funny thing is that I was following the script that so many personal growth systems claim is the answer: work at altering your thought patterns to match those of the successful people and you will become successful. What is rarely, if ever, mentioned is that this sort of struggle against our existing beliefs and patterns not only wears on us, it is expensive in terms of emotional and physic energy. It is almost like having a tug-of-war between your two arms – how can that result in a real victory?

Fortunately, all this “work” taught me something very valuable – success was not obtained through the sole application of awareness and effort and that struggling with myself was actually counter-productive.   I discovered that rather than trying to use force and willpower to get myself somewhere, I could get there doing something rather different – I could relax.

Let go and flourish

After trying so many of the effort-based approaches, I came across a path that is so simple and yet so effective. This paradigm can be expressed as:

Awareness Deepened + Intentional Release = Possibility = Success

In this paradigm, when we become aware of something about ourselves that we want to be different, such as a habit or belief that does not serve us, we deepen into a full awareness of the experiences around that situation. We notice how we are when we are involved with it, paying attention to our body sensations, our feelings and emotions, our thoughts, etc. Having noticed what goes on for us, we then intentionally release any of the emotional and mental glue that holds that unresourceful habit, belief or thought in place. At the beginning, it may be a bit hard to figure out how to release this glue, and that is where a system like AER can help a lot. Once we intentionally release any emotional and/or mental glue, it suddenly becomes possible to consider all sorts of new possible approaches to our projects and even to our beliefs and worldview. Projects which were hard become easier. Motivation is easier to find and resistance to success and change lessen, often dramatically.

For example, if I was considering applying for a new job, and I was very nervous about it, the old paradigm would have me trying to psyche myself up for the interview, perhaps cajoling myself into a sense of false confidence.  I might have talks with myself, rationalizing my fear in an attempt to minimize them. I might repeat over and over some sort of mantra-like affirmation such as “I am worthy of this job”. These are all common coping mechanisms being applied to try to wrestle feelings into submission using mental processes. This could be an exhausting tug-of-war, with much expenditure of effort and time and great potential for stress to be stored up from the process.

With the Intentional Releasing paradigm, one would simply start by noticing any tension in the body that arose upon contemplating the interview, set the intention to allow that normal human feeling to flow out, and then use an integral release technique such as AER to facilitate the release of the tension. If anything else arose, such as thoughts of self-doubt, these too would be released in turn until all the “stuff” that was coming up and bothering us when we contemplated the job interview was released out of our system. This releasing process is not one of struggle or effort, but one of allowing normal accumulated stress and feelings to flow out. Instead of feeling worn down by the effort, one feels relieved to have let go of the blocks.

While there are a few things that can slow down this release process, such as any attachment to beliefs and feelings, etc., most people quickly distinguish between themselves and their feelings, thoughts and beliefs, and are quite happy to let those that do not serve them any longer to flow out.

So, if you have been trying hard to shape yourself into a better person or achieve a challenging goal and have found it a tiring and stressful process, consider using the new paradigm of releasing instead.

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved

So, how does that make you feel?

OK, I admit it, the title is a trick question. But don’t be surprised if you got onto that track of thinking that “something makes you feel a certain way.” These days, it is the thing to do, promoted by therapists, counselors, moms and dads, teachers, popular music, etc., etc.

And, crazy as it might seem at first blush, that line of thinking is just plain silly. (I actually had some much less nice words to describe this concept, but good sense got the better of me.)

We unfortunately live in times of little personal responsibility. For quite a few years now, we’ve been encouraged to blame others for our actions and now for our feelings. We blame our misbehavior on our early years, our lack of nurturing as a babe in swaddling, our absent parent. Heaven forbid that we might have something to do with our actions today – no, it is far easier to blame it all on something or someone in the past.

A quick Google search turned up thousands and thousands of references to songs which have the words “you make me feel”. Actually, I fudged – there were more than 3 million hits on that phrase! Listening to modern music is like being brainwashed – endless references to how someone made someone else feel good, bad, upset, ecstatic, and more.

The expression “that made me feel…” has crept into our language so much that we take it for granted. And, like a mind-virus, it has taken over some of our critical thinking functions. Instead of understanding that our feelings arise inside us, we are constantly telling ourselves that somehow someone or something outside us is causing us to feel a certain way. Did you just hear that “boggle” sound? That was my mind…

Some people might think this is just nitpicking over language. However, there are lots of studies that show that we are influenced by the language we hear and the language that we use.

“If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.”
Joseph Goebbels, Reich Minister of Propaganda in Nazi Germany

The current propaganda is that our feelings are generated and controlled by others. This means that we are not responsible for them, and so when we act inappropriately as a result of our feelings, we can always blame it on someone else: “They made me so mad I punched the wall.”

Say this sort of thing to yourself often enough, and you’ll start to believe it. Instead of owning your feelings, you’ll spend your time blaming others for how you feel (and act), and end up feeling … powerless and stressed. How else could one feel when someone else can make you feel a certain way at their whim?

Take back your power

The funny thing is that all you need to do is take ownership for your feelings and you get all that power back. Rather than saying that someone else made you feel a certain way, you state the more accurate truth: they said/did X and as a response, you felt Y.

Let’s try this on:

  • Joe said that I was lazy and I felt mad.
  • Jill made a face at me and I felt sad.
  • Billy paid little attention to me and I felt ignored and hurt
  • Mary said I was silly and I felt ashamed

and so on.

The key thing here is that by stating the actual relationship between the exterior event (actions or words spoken to us) and our inner world response, we start to see how we are not subject to an outside power, although we can be influenced by exogenous (outside of us) elements. Notice that a cause -> effect relationship is not being used here. Instead, we state that something happened and then how we felt. This differentiation is also particularly important, as our response/reaction to an external event can vary tremendously.  One day we can be very upset by something and the next we can shrug it off, depending upon our mood, our level of distraction, our hormonal levels, etc.

The other thing that can really affect our response to a situation is how much emotional pain we still carry from prior similar situations. If we carry little pain, either from not having had much history of this sort of situation or by having released that pain using a technique such as AER, then our response is likely to be moderate. If we have lots of accumulated pain, we are more likely to get really upset and or hurt.

Talking and thinking about how we respond to situations reinforces our sense of ownership of our responses. No longer are we blaming others for how we feel – we are owning those feelings and noticing them arise in us. And, as a result, we can also own our actions. We get back our power in relation to our feelings, and we can actually have less stress, since we are not in a position of having handed over our power to others.

Man’s unique opportunity lies in the way he bears his burden.   Everything can be taken away from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way”
Viktor E. Frankl

So, the next time someone tells you that you made them feel a certain way, ask them where exactly on them is this magic button to make that feeling appear – it may be on their elbow… Tell them you want to make a note of it, so you can use it in the future. 🙂

Yes, you’ll probably get a puzzled look in response, and maybe you’ll have to thank them for giving you so much power over them, so they start to see what is really happening.

Copyright 2009 Robert S. Vibert, all rights reserved.

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