“The truth is that there is no actual stress or anxiety in the world; it’s your thoughts that create these false beliefs. You can’t package stress, touch it, or see it. There are only people engaged in stressful thinking.”
I’ve talked to a lot of students lately who feel unsettled and generally anxious. World events and politics seem to be contributing to it. It’s hard to turn on the radio or TV without hearing about some new calamity or other: extreme weather, the latest bombing/shooting, economic markets that freak with every new rumor. Like staring at a traffic accident, we get pulled into all the scary stuff happening out there, even when we realize that bad news is exaggerated to pump up ratings.
We can turn off the news but what about that sense of anxiety concerning our own lives? Generations ago, life seemed simpler and more stable. Marriages and jobs lasted a lifetime. You didn’t worry about what was happening halfway across the world because you didn’t know about it. You felt the support of extended family and you knew your neighbors. Life wasn’t always idyllic, especially for some people, but it seemed more predictable.
Today, marriages can end before the ink on the wedding license dries. Jobs depend on quarterly earnings almost more than good performance and hard work. Our families live thousands of miles away and we hardly know our neighbors. It’s easy to get wound up over all the things you cannot control. We feel anxious.
When we feel anxious, we are imagining a bad outcome for something that hasn’t happened yet, right? We might be setting goals, saying affirmations and working really hard toward the results we want. But if we’re anxious and worried about it, somewhere in our minds we’re imagining the result that we don’t want. Some part of us believes that the boogie man is poised out there in the future waiting to pull the rug out from under us.
Think about it: Why would you be anxious about paying next month’s bills? It’s because part of you believes you might not come up with enough money to cover them. Why would you be anxious about an upcoming speech or presentation? It’s because somewhere you have the image of yourself failing miserably. Why would you be worried about driving in the snow? It’s because you’re considering the possibility of skidding out and having an accident.
“But wait, Dr. Matt. I’ve had those bad things happen to me in the past. It’s just common sense to think they might happen again in the future.”
Do you really want the failures of your past to determine you future? That’s what you’re doing when you apply past experiences and project them into the future with your anxiety.
In my workshops, I teach a process based on Neuro Linguistic programming (NLP) and initially developed by my dad using your “timeline”. I’ve tweaked the process and it has evolved into Mental Emotional Release® (MER) therapy. We use it for a number of issues, including PTSD, phobias, emotional baggage and limiting beliefs. We also use it to release anxiety and project positive outcomes into the future. Here’s how it works:
- Establish your timeline. Our unconscious minds organize us—our memories, our present, what we anticipate in the future—using time. If you stop and think about it, you know where that timeline is in relation to your body. Bring up the memory of an event in your past. As you think about it, where is it in relation to your body? Many people experience the past behind them but it also could be to your left or your right. Now think about something that will be happening in the future. Where is that in relation to your body? In front of you? To the left or right? Just notice that you can draw a line between where your past is and where your future is. This is your timeline.
- Now think about a specific event in the future that you are anxious about. Maybe it’s a presentation or a difficult conversation you need to have. It might be the time of month when you sit down to pay bills. Get that specific event clearly in your mind and notice how you feel about it. You might have a clenched jaw or queasy stomach. You might have a feeling of panic or hopelessness. Whatever you feel, notice it.
- Next think about the best possible outcome for that event. What would that successful conclusion be? How would that feel? What would happen to let you know that you were successful? For example, maybe you easily pay all your bills and still have money left over. Get as clear an image of success as you can, even if you’re not clear how this could possibly happen.
- Now close your eyes and simply float above your timeline and out into the future until you are 15 minutes after the successful conclusion of the event. Float for a moment above your best possible outcome. (Don’t worry about doing this exactly right. Just play along.)
- Float down and into the moment that is 15 minutes after the successful completion of the event. Notice what you see, hear and feel in this moment. Stay for a few moments to bask in your success.
- When you’ve had a clear experience of that moment, float back up above your timeline and back into the present moment. Open your eyes, take a few deep breaths and look around the room.
- Finally, bring to mind the event in the future you were anxious about. As you think of it, notice how you feel. Do you have a different attitude about it? Do you feel more confident, more capable? And, can you see how your new attitude could lead you to a better outcome than your old anxiety?
For most people, this simple exercise removes or substantially decreases their anxiety. The shift in attitude feels so natural that they have trouble believing that they were ever anxious about it in the first place. Use this process to project the outcomes you want into your future, not the ones you don’t want.
To experience MER for yourself at a live training, consider attending the Empowering Your Life® Weekend that I conduct with Tris Thorp through the Empowerment Partnership (http://www.empowermentpartnership.com/).
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Byline: Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. To reach Dr. James, please e-mail him at info@Huna.com or visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com.
References: a 1961 Reader’s Digest article by Edison’s son Charles; according to Matthew Josephson’s biography of Edison