it’s the stress of imagining the narrative of failure in advance,
the self-shaming and the what ifs …” — Seth Godin
I shared the above quote on Facebook last week and received a thought provoking question: “What would be a positive and stress free outlook one could hold at a workplace?” As I reflected on the question, I realized I was looking in the direction of explaining how to do something: How to be positive, and how to be stress free. That, however, wasn’t what the question was asking. It was asking me “what”? I then saw it as a state of mind question, and realized no skill or technique would be successful at resolving a problem that stems from state of mind.
For example, if someone is feeling stressed out and negative about their work, it can look like they need a technique such as mindfulness or a relaxation method to support them with experiencing less stress so they can be more positive, or it can look like more effective communication skills need to be learned to reduce the suffering of conflict and discord. However, learning these skills does not address the state of mind of the individual that is going to be using them.
Without having an understanding of state of mind, and a clear comprehension of where our experience comes from, skills do not provide the leverage for sustainable change. At best, they provide a brief respite before they are discarded, or at worst, they are perceived as not helpful and not used at all. This often results in the person blaming themselves and feeling incompetent.
So for the question, “What would be a positive and stress free outlook one could hold at a workplace?”, the place to start is inside. Wanting to have less stress and feel more positive has to start from within.
If I am experiencing stress, that experience is a direct reflection of my thoughts.There is a causal relationship between my thoughts and feelings. When I see this, if I am experiencing stress, I know I am having stressful thoughts. It does not matter how chaotic my outside world is, or what other people’s behavior is, my experience of stress is an inside job that stems from my thinking.
Understanding where my experience comes from is key. I now know the direction to look in. Rather than looking outside of myself to find less stress and good feelings, I know to look within. This means I don’t have to change my external circumstances in order to feel better. I don’t need to keep putting energy outside of myself to change my state of mind and my internal experience because I know it is coming from my own self-generated thoughts.
The natural response for someone who sees their unpleasant feelings comes from their thoughts is to ask, “How do I manage my thinking? What can I do to get rid of these thoughts?”
This is an understandable and logical response, but it does not take into account state of mind. There are all sorts of wonderful techniques that can be used to shift our thinking such as meditation, affirmation, exercise, visualization, and many more. There is no limit to how creative we can be with using the gift of thought in our lives. However, when we are stressed and in a low mood state of mind, we often do not have the willpower to use any of these techniques, or if we do, they only work briefly.
We then become exhausted trying to control our thinking. The problem is, we have too many thoughts to be able to control them one hundred percent of the time. When we are destabilized and experiencing a glut of negative thinking, we cannot use our thoughts to get us out of this state. If the quality of our thinking is poor, we are not going to be able to think our way out of a problem. We will usually dig ourselves deeper into the hole.
If I am feeling stressed at work, and I try to alleviate my stress through using a technique, I might get temporary respite, but until the quality of my thinking changes, I will need to keep using techniques to manage my thinking in order to change my experience. The challenge with this is it is tiring and depletes the limited mental resources available to me. My resistance and fighting against my experience does not leave my feeling refreshed and more resilient. Rather, I feel on guard, and that I need to be constantly vigilant. This, ironically, does not reduce stress. It creates more of it.
Am I suggesting that we just give up and surrender to the negative stressful thoughts when they show up? Am I recommending giving in to the low mood thinking and put up no resistance whatsoever?
No, I am not going to tell you what to do. Your wisdom will guide you. I am simply providing a description of how human psychological functioning works. We feel our thoughts. We do not feel outside circumstances. If I am feeling negative and stressed, that tells me what the quality of my thinking is and has nothing to do with anything outside of that. If I don’t like how I feel, the tendency is to try to change my experience. The trouble with this is that me trying to change my experience puts more pressure and stress on myself. This is the opposite of what I want to experience, and it does not take into account the natural stabilizing intelligence inside of me.
My brain is designed to stabilize. The innate intelligence of my body-mind system is to move toward homeostasis and to come into balance. That intelligence works independently of me intervening. If I work myself up into a frenzy of worry, as soon as I stop worrying, my thinking will settle, and my physiology will calm down. I will return to my normal stress free state, until I start worrying again.
My point is, by understanding the human design is to always move in the direction of peace, health and wellbeing, we do not need to add on techniques to our natural functioning. I am not saying not to engage in techniques. I love yoga, hiking, meditation, reading, and relaxing in my infrared sauna etc… These are all enjoyable activities, but I do not use them to control or manage my experience. That is not my job. My experience will stabilize naturally.
If you want to experience more ease and feel more positive at work, the place to start is to see how your experience is created from your thoughts. Then, notice how you have the innate wisdom and intelligence built in to support your anxious thoughts with settling. Observe how you return to a state of equilibrium after you stop adding fuel to the negative thinking.
You do not need to put additional pressure and stress on yourself to make yourself stop fueling your negative thinking. When you see you have a choice, you will naturally choose to stop. No effort will be required.
As humans, we have moods that go up and down. When we are in a low mood, we are more susceptible to get caught up in our negative thoughts and believe they are true. When we understand that our feelings let us know when this is happening, it is easier to remember our negative experience is a temporary state that results from believing the illusion of our negative thoughts. It is then more straight forward for us not to be scared by our experience, not to be reactive to it, and to allow it to pass with more grace and ease.
We do not need to hold a positive and stress-free focus in the workplace because we are naturally positive and stress-free. Just like we don’t need to work at being human, we don’t need to work at feeling good.
When we see this, we can more easily tolerate temporary, unpleasant feelings and low mood states of mind. We know they will pass, and we don’t need to concern ourselves with trying to manage our feelings. Our feelings will take care of themselves.
With this light-hearted relationship with our thinking, it is easier for us to experience the unchanging, presence of our formless nature behind our thoughts. We feel more often the loving essence that is there when our personal thinking settles. From this state of mind we have clarity, and our wisdom guides us each step of the way.