Day 13#: Choose it or lose it

When I was younger I had a tendency to spark warfare on myself when I got stressed out about something.

Sometimes my reaction to stress would be to get frustrated with myself. For instance, if I didn't do as well as I wanted to in a school test or if I didn't meet expectations I thought others have of me to in an athletics competition.

Sometimes I would withdraw into haze of self pity when I was stressed and not engage with others around me.

And sometimes, on the outside my actions may have looked like I was positively motivated to overcome the challenge - yet in actuality my actions were driven by fear that I 'was' as crap as the tormenting stories of self-doubt in my head.  

The thing with the above examples was that I could also be a really good actor. I could experience these stress reactions without others necessarily even noticing - or at least, that's what I thought at the time. I could appear to be keeping it together on the outside, but putting myself through torture on the inside. Gheez it was tiring!

Since those days, I have studied western and eastern sciences and philosophy and learned tonnes about the human stress response and resilience. I've learned how important it is to notice how our mind observes and interprets our experiences. I've also learned how important it is to practice skills regularly that help me to access a skillful mind under challenging circumstances.

Science and philosophy are incredibly rich with great detail into the what, why, and how of our experiences. The value of learning and practice was clear to me because I noticed that old habits would still lurk about in the shadows. Sometimes, old habits would grab me by the wrist and draw me back into re-runs of unhelpful past episodes.  

As well as accepting that this happens from time to time, my approach to these experiences has been to find helpful principles that are simple but powerful. These were helpful for me because all my learning and practice would sometimes rear up in attack if I was gripped by stress, fear, or sadness. I would use what I had learned against me. I would use thinking and intellectualising as a means to confuse myself from what was real or useful. Instead of realising that stress perpetuating thinking - even if linked with scientific evidence or a theoretical argument - was still just more thinking. It need not be given so much power that I would wield it over my own head...

So, here's a principle that I like to remind myself of when stress is beaming down and the shadows are closing in...

"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another"

William James

Powerfully simple. Don't get me wrong it can be freakin tough to put into practice sometimes. I'm not perfect and i'd say you have come to the same realisation. We don't need to be. However, the more we can remind ourselves of this - to understand it and practice it - the more skillful we can be when it counts.