Last week, I found myself getting open, honest and vulnerable with a colleague. She then did the same. It was amazing, really. It was a moment of unexpected intimacy between the two of us. Our interaction was candid and real. We both needed to vent out stress over a situation. I'll spare you the details, but it made me wonder why we don't question our beliefs and perceptions more?
When I was a kid, I questioned everything.
Why do I have to? Where am I going? How do I know that’s true? Why can’t I do it differently? If I do this, why does that happen? Why, why why…?
And what we learned from the answers to these questions formed our map of life.
As we grow up, this unique map with which we analyze life forms our “truth”. These “truths” shape everything we think, feel, say, want and do — and how we solve problems — without our being aware of it.
These beliefs about who we are and how life works are formed by a complex mixture of personal experiences, our culture, role models, what is imprinted on us when we’re young, the behavior of our peers, what we’re validated and rewarded for by our families, community and culture, our personalities and what media influences we plug into.
So given all this input, we should get smarter as we mature — right?
Well, why then, as adults, do we so often stop asking why; stop reaching out and asking for answers and support; questioning the information, and explanations we’re given?
When everything goes pear-shaped and the sh*t hits the fan, the only question we ask is why me?
And then we implement the same old strategies, while desperately hoping for a different outcome.
Staying in the same job, hoping the pay and prospects will improve. Using the same financial strategies that got you into a hole, hoping they’ll get you out. Going from one dis-satisfactory relationship into another — changing only the name and the face.
Living the same stressful lifestyle that is making you sick, ignoring your body’s warnings and hoping you’ll wake up one morning miraculously stress free.
Many people think stress is synonymous with weakness, punishment or failure. It is not.
Stress is a valuable internal email!
But often we suppress or ignore it: delete it; mark it as unsolicited spam or stash it in the trash file.
We kill the messenger before we've read the message and, as the content is usually along the lines of battery low, recharge immediately or run anti-virus scan or upgrade belief system software, this is not a productive reaction.
What happened to those fluid, flexible, constantly evolving mental maps of the world we had as children; that hunger to learn ways to do it better? When did they solidify and become rigid assumptions we have no idea how to deviate from?
Why do we so often become self-conscious know-it-alls? How did our beliefs become absolute, embedding themselves in our psyches like leeches, limiting our ability to ask important questions, explore and experiment with alternative ways in which to relate to the world?
What if you allowed stress to alert you to the fact that you’re resisting something—standing in your own way?
Stress is a magnificent diagnostic tool for self-discovery! This is what the stress mechanism was designed for—a lifesaving alarm system. It’s why our puny, hairless, and not-always-so-bright species has survived this long!
Stress acts like a virus scan — a threat (to your well being) has been detected! It’s an invitation to reach out and start asking questions again.
Why do many of us stop asking why, and swallow everything our minds are fed whole, once we’re adults?
When you see something that looks familiar, hear something you recognize, or read something that resonates with you, does it give you that yes—that’s right buzz? Because it agrees with your previously installed programs, it reassures you that you’re not alone; others agree with me, therefore I am part of the tribe.
And so, this sense of belonging draws us back repeatedly to familiar information.
While this kind of psychological thumb-sucking is comforting, if we stick only to familiar information, our beliefs become set in stone; we’re in an echo chamber constantly reinforcing what we already believe.
These beliefs determine who we are, but sometimes we’re held hostage by them. And the more insecure we feel, the more we cling to what’s familiar—and fear that which is not.
That’s why often when we’re stressed, we instinctively isolate ourselves and take refuge in the perceived safety of these fixed belief frames; surrounding ourselves with people who are in the same boat.
But if you’re all in the same sinking boat, who’s going to keep it afloat?
For instance, if you undervalue yourself, the chances are you will unconsciously fit your health, career, financial status, social life and relationships into this belief frame—forming a self-fulfilling prophecy, keeping you trapped in a repetitive cycle.
You’re too afraid to risk rejection, by reaching out for help; too afraid of looking stupid to seek advice from experts in their field; too hell-bent on keeping those defenses in place, not allowing yourself to be vulnerable, thereby preventing yourself from engaging with resources that offer solutions to your problems.
It isn't stress that messes up our lives — it’s the inflexible, outdated belief frames within which we try to solve our problems that cause such unhappiness.
Just when we need most to step out of that belief frame so we can use our creative problem solving skills to move forward, our insecurities draw us magnetically towards influences that often compound the problem — instead of offer fresh perspectives and creative solutions.
The first step towards becoming immune to stress then, is learning to ask questions again.
Why am I feeling this way? Why did I get this result? If I re-frame it, will I get a different result?
Constantly question your perceptions and beliefs. Examine and expand the frames you choose to live your life within.
Historically society is littered with false assumptions, taught and enforced as fact at one time. It still is.
Look at our everyday lives: the way we care for ourselves and our families, how we solve our problems, the choices we make, the values we have and the goals we set ourselves.
The prevalence of stress in our world is largely because our creative problem solving skills are stunted by inflexible or outdated beliefs. Oh, but I’m not alone, almost everyone is suffering from stress you say.
Well just because there are millions of people suffering, doesn't mean there isn't a better way does it?
We have a set of interconnected brain cells that form highways along which messages travel. And the more often they travel this highway, the more this route is hard-wired into our brain.
Research shows that at any age or stage of life, human beings can forge new brain highways. The brain’s designated neural connections are not fixed at birth — nor are we destined to travel the same mental highways for life.
These neural connections can be modified and new ones can be built at any time. When we use a different route, we reach a different destination.
After all, beliefs are simply a conclusion we came to, or something we were repeatedly told, that we had no reason to doubt.
It’s comfortable because it’s familiar — we understand how to work within its frame. But what if we use that zoom out facility; expand the picture many times?
What we believed to be ‘the whole truth’ is now only one small corner of an infinitely larger, richer, more spectacular and complex picture. Now doesn't that give you a much greater number of stress resolution strategies and tools at your disposal?
So, start with these 5 questions:
1. Why am I feeling this way?
2. Why did I get this result?
3. Can I see this in a different way?
4. What are my biggest fears?
5. Is it true?