Do you ever feel more stressed than is comfortable? Are you, like me, on the search for tools to help reduce stress?
If you answered no to those questions, please contact me, I really, really want to know what you know! I just finished my book and am in the process of expanding my business, so I have been using stress-reduction tools a LOT!
During times of high stress, I constantly use the gazillion stress-reduction techniques I have learned. They never totally make the stress go away, but they enable me to be calmer as I am pursuing whatever goal, task, or risk I am facing. They help me breathe a little deeper, relax a little more, and have a quieter mind.
I recently had coffee with a colleague I’ve known since college, Nancy Linnerooth. Nancy uses EFT/Tapping to help her coaching clients reduce stress and overcome procrastination. She attended Harvard Law School and practiced therapy for over 17 years, so she knows how to deal with stress! If you want to know more about her work, read about her below the video and check out her website: UnblockResults.com.
I asked if she would send me a video of one of her favorite stress-reduction tools so I could share it with you. Buddha Hands is the technique she sent. It is a simple, non-obvious way to calm your nervous system in any situation.
As I was doing it, I noticed my body relaxing and I spontaneously took a deep breath—signs that my nervous system was relaxing. This tool works! I highly recommend you watch it and practice Buddha Hands as you are watching.
Her book offers practical tools to shift your thinking about chronic pain so you can help the healing process. Personally, I think it’s a good book to help shift any thinking that is getting in your way of making changes.
Her tool I’m sharing with you today is the Stepladder Method. It is a process to move from old, unhelpful thoughts to new, supportive thoughts.
I have a love/hate relationship with affirmations. While they can be helpful, they can also backfire. When we tell ourselves something that feels out of the realm of possibility, our ego rebels and we end up feeling worse after saying the affirmation than before.
I offer an example from my own life—I learned about affirmations when I was in graduate school. I had very little money and the end of each month I was literally counting my pennies. As you might imagine, I was stressed about money most of the time.
I figured I’d give affirmations a try. Anything had to be better than what I was already thinking.
I was wrong.
Because I didn’t know anything about how to make affirmations useful, I tried “I am wealthy!” When I said “I am wealthy!” out loud, everything in me rebelled. I heard myself think, “That is so stupid! No you’re not! Do you think you will magically change your life with that stupid affirmation?” or, even worse, “See? You can’t even do an affirmation! What makes you think you will ever have money?”
Instead of shifting my thinking to be more positive and less stressed, I created more stress. So much for self-help! As a result, I decided to hate affirmations.
Fast forward about 20 years…I had a coach who was a big fan of affirmations as a method to shift beliefs. I decided to give them another try.
Around the same time, a friend sent me 3. Through that book I understood not all affirmations are equal. Part of the art of affirmations is crafting them to get our subconscious working for versus against the change.
The Stepladder Method is a tool to do just that.
The Stepladder Method is creating a stepladder of intermediary thoughts that are believable. Rucsandra Mitrea gives a beautiful example in You Don’t Have to Live in Pain:
“Instead of jumping from a thought like ‘There’s nothing I can do’ to ‘I am now living pain-free’ in one fell swoop, you write down a few intermediate thoughts that are believable.”
“So instead of one big leap, you take several smaller, more believable steps. For example, ‘There’s nothing I can do’ becomes ‘I don’t know what to do yet, but now I believe that health is my birthright, so there must be a way.’ This sounds a lot more positive and uplifting, and is also definitely believable, right?”
“The next step is to get used to this thought until it becomes your current mindset. Then you move to an even more uplifting thought: ‘I know there is a way for me to heal and I am sure that I will find it soon.”
Then a few more steps until…“it is easy to think ‘I CAN be pain-free!”
The Stepladder Method is a useful tool to gradually, change your habits of thinking, one small step at a time.
When we make small changes, our ego fights the change less. When we try to make a shift that feels too big, our ego fights us, as demonstrated by my ego with the “I am wealthy!” affirmation.
So do yourself a favor, try to shift a negative thought just a little bit, keep practicing the new affirmation, and notice how your ego gets used to the new thought and eventually accepts it. Then try a new, slightly more positive thought, step by step…until you actually believe what you WANT to believe, with less back-lash and more ease.
Let me be clear—when you make a mistake and hurt someone or inconvenience them—apologize. Mistakes happen, and it is important to tell the person you distressed that you understand your actions affect them. I’m all for apologies in that case. Taking responsibility for how our actions affect others is important.
Here is where sorry is not helpful—when you make a choice you know will not please someone else and you apologize, hoping they will make you feel better about your choice.
When you say sorry in that case you likely have an agenda.
You are either:
Asking them to not be mad at you
Asking them to forgive you instead of being angry
Wanting to make sure they still like you
Making a bid for them to make you feel better
These agendas may be unconscious. They are still agendas.
It is irritating to have someone inconvenience you, and then be asked to reassure them either by not reacting or by making them feel better.
What is the alternative? Take responsibility for your choices. You made a choice someone else didn’t like. Own your choice.
Here is a common example. Most of us apologize for being late.
Most of us (including me at times) say, “I’m sorry I’m late. Traffic was awful” or “I hit every red light” or, my favorite excuse in Seattle in the summer, “the bridge was up.” Really? Did lights suddenly appear on the route? Are we really surprised that traffic exists? Did I forget that people boat in the summer?
It would be more honest to say, “I didn’t leave on time.”
When we say that, we take ownership. We admit we chose to make our time more important than theirs. We don’t ask the other person to excuse us for our choice to not leave earlier.
I usually leave to go somewhere allowing the amount of time it takes when there is no traffic. Usually it works out, but I live in Seattle; we have awful traffic. I’m late sometimes. I do my best to own it. If people are mad I let them be angry. They get to have their reactions. If they get angry, you can bet I’m going to leave a cushion of time for our next meeting.
Along with taking responsibility for your choices, it is helpful to be honest about your reactions. That way the other person will know the consequences of their choices.
If someone apologizes to me, especially if they have done an action repeatedly, I say, “Don’t apologize, you made your choice,” or “No need to apologize.” If I am angry I will tell them—not to have them make me feel better, but to let them know how I really feel.
When people keep apologizing it just pisses me off. Really? You just inconvenienced me, and now you want me to not experience what I feel? (A good rule of thumb: It is not helpful to tell people not to feel what they feel.)
So I say, “I’m angry. I don’t need you to make me feel better. I’m just angry that I waited for you.” I don’t try to hide my irritation or anger, at least as much as possible. It is hard to have someone be uncomfortable with my feelings. It has taken a lot of practice, and sitting in discomfort, for me to be able to let people know when I am angry.
For some, not asking for forgiveness and letting people know how you really feel will be a radical practice. Some of you won’t like it and will feel it is not nice. For some of you, it will be a relief to be more honest. I suggest you try taking more responsibility and be more honest with your feelings, and notice what you experience.
I just had what could have been a very painful conversation with a good friend of mine. It could have been, but it wasn’t. At one point she stopped and said, “This is going a LOT better than I expected.” I wholeheartedly, and with no small amount of relief, agreed.
I was pondering why it went so well.
It was a superstar of a conversation because of these elements we both contributed to our discussion. Read below for 7 tips to effectively resolve conflict.
1. Do your best to avoid saying “you” as in “you are the problem”
We both used “I statements.” I statements are when you say what you are feeling because of the situation. Here is an example: “I am feeling angry because I don’t feel heard sometimes.”
Here is what NOT to say: “You make me so angry when you purposefully ignore me!”
Here is the secret of I statements. When humans hear the word “you” they start defending themselves, even if they don’t know what they need to defend against.
Think about it, when someone says to you, “When you…” your brain immediately starts coming up with reasons you didn’t do anything wrong. You don’t even need to know what the other person thinks you did “wrong.”
As soon as you use the word “you” when complaining, the other person immediately becomes less available to what you are saying. So whenever possible use “I” in your communication.
2. Say what you are feeling, not that they are creating your feeling in you.
Consider these two ways of saying the same thing: 1) “I am angry because we are leaving late for the airport and I had asked that we be ready to leave 15 minutes ago” and, 2) You make me so angry when you continually ignore the fact that I get anxious when we don’t have plenty of time at the airport.” It is much harder for someone to sound reasonable if they say, “you shouldn’t be angry” than if they say, “You shouldn’t let that obviously tiny, inconsequential thing I did bother you.” If you focus on the feeling rather than the action, you will get more to the root of what is going on, rather than the surface irritant. In the example above, the root is not feeling listened to, not the airport leaving time.
3. Don’t create motivations or feelings for the other person’s behavior.
There are two problems with telling the other person what their motive is: 1) They can argue with you about what their motive is vs focusing on what you want to change; and 2) you are very possibly wrong. I know, that seems completely unbelievable when you think you have been wronged. When we feel we have been wronged, our ego does a lovely job at convincing us our interpretation of events is the only possible interpretation. And…you are still possibly wrong.
4. Remain curious.
I can’t emphasize this enough. I’m not sure why, but it is impossible to be curious and judgmental at the same time. We can’t be curious about what the other person is thinking and feeling and think they are a moron. Really listen to the other person. Try to see the situation from their perspective, not just how their words do/do not fit into your own narrative.
When I aired my complaints to my friend, she said, “I’m curious, are you talking about the present or last year?” She didn’t say, “I haven’t done that since last year, aren’t you paying attention (you moron)!”
5. Be compassionate.
This fits in with seeing it from their perspective, but it goes deeper. The perspective shift is almost an intellectual process, whereas being compassionate or having empathy is more rooted in feeling. Both can be helpful. Compassion opens our heart. A closed heart makes for a good you-versus-me fight. Sometimes I rest my hand on my heart to help me remember to keep my heart open.
6. Stay focused on the topic instead of creating an everything-and-the-kitchen-sink argument.
This type of argument is when we bring in all the problems we have every had with the other person. This is a favorite tactic to make ourselves look more wronged and better than the other person. (You may not think you are doing this but notice how you feel when you are listing everything the other person has done wrong.) We cannot solve everything and the kitchen sink in one conversation. We can make progress on a single issue.
7. In the beginning, at the end, and (if you can) during the conversation, tell the person what you appreciate about them.
As I was talking with my friend, I was telling her what I have appreciated about her throughout our friendship. As I was telling her, I felt my heart open, and she also felt my love for her. You can bet both of us became less tense and more gentle because of that.
These tips work for me. Try them and see if your next fight becomes a discussion that clears the air and draws you closer. It is possible to leave the conversation feeling more intimate rather than angrier and more distant.
That’s what you really want when you start the conversation, right?