My friend and Three Principles mentor, Aaron Turner once said something, quite a number of years ago now, that still resonates with me today.
I had told him that I was quite stressed because I was so busy. He responded that, ‘a busy life does not need to mean a busy mind’. Simple, yet incredibly profound, it pointed me in a direction that has helped make my life so much more peaceful and so much more relaxed.
For all of my life, I had believed that I was stressed because of how much I had on my plate. If only I had less to do, life would be so much less hectic. The inside-out nature of stress had never occurred to me. It wasn’t that my life was stressing me; it was, rather, my own thinking that was stressing me. But the more I reflected on it, the more I saw the truth. One insight led to another and before I knew it, I was starting to notice that there are people with great responsibility, who are not stressed. And, much more in this group, people who look to me to have relatively little responsibility – and yet live with a feeling of constant pressure – in their minds, at least, because of how much they have to do!
Over time, I have found myself reaching a point whereby I don’t trust stress anymore. It’s not that I don’t feel it, but I don’t trust it. Often, stressful thinking will tell me how much I have to do and how little time I have to do it in. It will do the maths for me, showing me clearly that time available is less than, much less than, to-do-list. It will, very kindly, paint beautiful three-dimensional, technicolour fantasies of impending failure, collapse, doom and disaster. And, sad to say, I just don’t buy it anymore.
Invariably, and I’m not using that word carelessly, when I just get on with what I need to do instead of fretting so much about how much it is, I find that I have completed the tasks in record time and, in actual fact, time available was greater, much greater, than to-do-list. The only thing standing in the way had been my own thinking, which would create feelings of stress, which would make me panic and freeze – which would self-fulfil the belief in impending failure.
I adore not trusting my thinking about things, stress in particular. Because it liberates me. When thought is concrete, I am bound to what it says. When it is unreliable and untrustworthy, as stressful thought often looks to me today, it loses its power to define my reality. And new options are suddenly and almost miraculously available.
Thank you, Aaron. A sentence said in passing led me to an insight and subsequent insights that are changing the way I see and interact with stress. And my life is calmer and richer because of it.
You too can live a life with more joy and less stress, check out our upcoming programme Living Life Better starting on Wednesday April 27. We also have a new programme specifically aimed at teenagers - Imperfectly Perfect Teens showing teens how to live a life with less stress and anxiety, starting on Tuesday 3 May.