When I’m starting to feel stressed one of the first things I ask myself is, “Do you want to pick up that big heavy boulder?” I think about this story and my stress starts to feel much more manageable.
The Big Heavy Boulder
Ajahn Chah was a Buddhist monk and teacher, walking outside with this students and pointed a big boulder. He points to a big boulder and says to his students, “See that large rock over there?”
The students replied, “Yes we see the boulder.”
“Do you think it’s heavy?” asks Ajahn Chah
“Yes, very heavy,” responds the students.
Ajahn Chah replies, “Not if you don’t pick it up.”
Stress is a byproduct of your thoughts, it starts in your mind, where everythinggggg else starts. Even when you can’t seem to pinpoint where it’s coming from, I promise you, you can always trace it back to your thinking. You are worried about something happening or not happening. You have so much to do and your brain says you don’t have enough time. You don’t have control over this small thing or this big thing or this important thing. You don’t know what is going to happen next and your brain just really hates that so it starts firing off thoughts of worst case scenarios and the stress keeps growing. All thoughts.
“It’s not the situation that’s causing your stress, it’s your thoughts, and you can change that right here and now. You can choose to be peaceful right here and now. Peace is a choice, and it has nothing to do with what other people do or think.” – Gerald Jampolsky
Your thoughts always create the stress, the thoughts may be triggered by something but we have our flawed minds to thank for thinking the unhelpful thoughts we think that create the feelings of stress we do not want to feel.
The uplifting news here is that thoughts are optional. So if thoughts are the culprit for stress then stress is also optional. It doesn’t always feel this way, TRUST ME I KNOW, but it is this way. This doesn’t mean you will never feel stressed again but by learning to train your brain with different techniques you can reduce your stress by a shitload. I am living breathing proof of this. I was diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and just getting out of bed to do simple things was sometimes too much for me. I had panic attacks frequently and took Xanax every day along with ambien due to the terrible insomnia I experienced from the depths of stress I struggled with. My stress paralyzed me and ran my life more days then I like to remember. Today stress is still part of my life but it doesn’t run my life. It took work to get here, to train my brain differently, learn tools and techniques and create a healthier kind of relationship with my stress. Essentially I’ve learned how to manage my mind, which is why I do what I do today. Mind management transforms your relationship with your thoughts, emotions (like anxiety and stress), behaviors and outcomes in your life. If you want freedom from your stress read my free mind management guide that will help you train your brain to manage your stress.
The Ashan Shah story reminds me to think of my stress as big ass heavy stress thought boulders. “Do I want to pick up that thought?” “Does that thought serve a purpose or will it just further weigh me down?”
“I really sucked in that presentation”
“Why can’t I get more done?”
“I’ll never be as good as them”
“I’m never going to make enough money to support my family the way I want to”
“Why do things never work out the way I want them to?”
I remind myself any of those thoughts are optional, and I can leave them right where they are. I don’t have to choose them.
Interrupting Automatic Thinking
Part of the problem is we aren’t aware of our thinking a lot of the time, especially our beliefs. A belief is just a thought you have thought over and over again, and keep on thinking, it’s deeply ingrained in you. Your thinking patterns on automatic mode. When triggered by something we all have these preconditioned automatic thinking patterns. If you can interrupt that pattern instead of going into unconscious automated thinking patterns you can shift into conscious purposeful ones.
The big heavy boulder is one of my “pattern interrupts.” I’ve trained my mind to hit pause as the stress is manifesting in my body and ask myself this question. The really amazing part is as I interrupt old unwanted thinking patterns I am actually weakening those neural pathways in my brain and rewiring it while strengthening the new pathways I’m building for creating more optimal thoughts surrounding those trigger points. It takes repetition and training but neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to change and restructure itself. I won’t go into all the fun science here, but it’s pretty amazing the amount of control we do have over or brains, more than we think.
If I find that I have unintentionally already picked up a thought boulder or two or three of four that are weighing me down I remind myself I can consciously choose to release it through mindful thinking, I don’t have to continue to carry it with me. Read about how to develop mindful thinking to let go of stressful thoughts here.