If you’re anything like me, you have worries. You worry about your health, your finances, about the way the world is and, of course, about how much you worry! I've managed to find a way to reduce my worries, using a tool we call: The STOP technique. This blog will tell you all about it and help you to try and relax your anxieties.
THE LOGIC BEHIND THE STOP TECHNIQUE
This version is an excerpt of the full STOP technique that we teach in our 6 week course. Both Mark and I have adapted it over the years, experimenting with the best wording. Regardless of the prompts, there are four main stages or 'principles' that we are trying to cultivate in our relationship with life:
HOW WE FORMED COPING STRATEGIES
We all have a worldview of belief systems from our past experiences, culture and education. Deep within these are lots of unconscious expectations about how ‘I’ should be and how ‘others’ should be. These result in patterns of behaviour that are designed to help us fit in and survive. We call these ‘coping strategies’. Some coping strategies work well in the modern world. Others create larger problems than the ones they were originally intended to solve. This is because they are leftover from a different phase in life, from a different context, where survival meant using tactics of aggression, avoidance, anesthesia or appeasing others (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Appease). I call these ‘problematic coping strategies’.
MY PROBLEMATIC COPING STRATEGIES
In my case I experienced plenty of bullying at school, from both boys and girls, which led me to believe:
THE SUBTLE USE OF THE TOOL
What you don’t see in my written text is the mindfulness work behind the tool. At each stage I’m stopping to check out how it feels in my body. I’m finding the root of any resistance. If something doesn’t seem right I ask, why? This will get me to the ‘root belief’ and reveal unknown shoulds, which I can work on instead. We teach a more in-depth version of this tool in our 6 week course at Bristol City Yoga, and I teach my own course online, (starting 14 May) which you can read about here. I also made a video of the STOP technique here.
IT TAKES TIME AND PRACTICE
When I first used this tool it was clunky and slow and I got too obsessed with the words, but after some practice I internalised the desire for learning and for inner peace, and prioritized those traits over the need to be right, or impressive, or afraid. I now live life as an adventure, full of curiosity, and with a very simple awareness:
It is not situations that cause us problems, it is our internalised beliefs. If we explore our beliefs we come to realise that all problems are opportunities for growth... If we are willing to dig into them.
If you’d like to let go of anxiety and find more peace, focus and clarity then consider coming to one of my *pay what you feel* online classes. I have a different theme each day. Each Tuesday I use the STOP technique in a group, to help people process stuck thoughts and instead: TAKE THE TIME TO FREE THE MIND. Want to come? Click here to register for free.
YOU STILL HERE?
Ok, so if you want to read more...
WORRYING IS USEFUL
The truth is worries normal and natural. Worries demonstrate care and they draw your attention to potential dangers. Worries, like all emotions, can be positive and useful, if we let ourselves ‘feel them’ and choose to interpret them positively. They can then give us the awareness and energy we need to make effective and peaceful action.
However, we often interpret emotions, like worries, very negatively. We deeply believe the thought: ‘something should be different!’ We miss the truth, that the very thought itself creates an internal conflict, expends our energy and misses the learning potential. Thinking negatively about emotions themselves often ends up creating the very thing we were worrying about. I battled with this for many years. I WAS A CHRONIC WORRIER
MY EVOLVING STORY WITH THE STOP TECHNIQUE
My turning point happened when I first started a meditation practice. My verst meditation showed me strong emotions hiding in my body, and belief systems in my mind that I wasn’t even aware of. I met Mark Dunn, of Positive Meditation, who crafted a tool that he called ‘The STOP technique’. Working alongside body awareness this tool used the strong emotions and situations in life to highlight what I was believing, and then showed me how to change it. I studied with Positive Meditation for two years, working through my inner pain, and then worked with Mark for the last five years, honing the STOP technique for myself and my clients.
FINDING THE NEGATIVE FEEDBACK LOOPS
My work was mainly about spending time listening to the body and catching the ‘shoulds’ of the mind. These hidden expectations led to the ‘gold’ of learning about myself and changing my responses. So I began to ‘celebrate the catches’. For example, I often catch the belief “I shouldn’t worry so much!” When I get curious I see that this ‘should’ creates a reaction of ‘more anxiety’ and a mild addiction to social media, which I use to distract myself from the anxious feelings in my body. The belief that I shouldn’t worry makes everything much worse!
But how the hell do we change an ingrained belief?
I STOPPED FIGHTING
Rather than trying to avoid or get rid of my anxiety, I learned to acknowledge and accept it as a feeling, whilst questioning the background thinking. This helps me to discover what my mind and body want and need. Over time old beliefs and reactions become weaker and new responses become stronger. This is called neuroplasticity. We can train the mind to change the brain and nervous system! Thing is, it’s a lifelong pursuit, because like any part of the body, if you don’t use it, you lose it. Old programming can and will resurface. So now I use the STOP technique and meditation daily, to stop any internal fighting with my mind.
HOW IT CHANGED MY LIFE
I’ve found that I catch things much earlier now. I often perceive a challenging moment in life as a kind of playful test, and difficult people as ‘my mindfulness gurus’ (Thanks to Jamie Catto for that insight!). Inspector Clueso (pictured below) hired 'Kato' to jump out at him. This was to train his reflexes to be sharp and ready, 'at all times'. When I practice the STOP technique I am able to be more ready to notice and respond to my own mind and emotions with this mentality. I learn something each time. I grow my calmness and clarity of mind. I use the STOP technique verbally, in quick questions to myself, and in journalling. I can now reduce my worry much easier.
"Thanks Jim - great words from a man who created his own life story. "
Do you want to live a life that is an incredible adventure? But do you find yourself paralysed by confusion, worries or lack of self-belief?
Do you want to see beauty and fascination wherever you go? But do you find stress, to-do lists, deadlines and ‘time’ ruining your experience?
This is all a result of the story you are living in. You know you have within you the ability to write your own script - to be the the hero in your own life story. Your thoughts are your choice (even if they don't seem to be sometimes) - and if you are choosing thoughts based in fear, obligation or guilt then you are actively creating a horror, a drama or a tragedy.
Of course you don't have choice as to ALL of your thoughts or ALL of the things that happen to you or ALL of your emotional responses, but if one learns a)self awareness b)to step outside of oneself metaphorically and see those passing thoughts, before you respond, then you can decide to let them pass or go with them. This is called Metta Cognition.
LIFE 'SHOULD BE' FAIR
The world is full of ‘unfair things’ - suffering, pain, torture, rape, death…
… but it is what we choose to focus on and respond with that shapes our world. So even if your intention is to do good in the world but you are propelled by fear, by unconscious self-talk of ‘should’s and need’, based on the interpretation that 'the world is a pretty terrible place' - then life will feel a whole lot less fair and harder.
We all want to be noble and make a positive change, and we are all going about it in our own way - but let's question ourselves to see if somewhere, underneath that intention is the feeling that we 'have a right to be here - and that we all have a right to be free from suffering.' This can lead to attachment to ideas, instead of reality.
The truth is - the world doesn't owe you, or anyone else, anything.
You already got the grand prize - life. Life includes lots of suffering. Love is suffering.
You lucky little devil - you got to live and love and learn - you wanted to be here and so you beat millions of sperm and came into being. Who knows what came before or after life?! No one! So don’t worry about that - enjoy this. Jamie Catto calls life ‘the after party’. I like that, but personally I see it differently - this is the play. This is the play that you struggled and worked and auditioned to be in and you got the lead part! You are the lead role in your own movie and every day you get to wake up and write a new chapter.
One way I like to remember this is whenever we get a crappy scene, a disaster or a death, I just think: “PLOT TWIST!” Wow! What is wonderful about this scene .
This is of course, after the emotion - the struggle - the work that is required to MAKE it beautiful.
But at the end of it all it comes down to a simple choice. Do you want this experience that we call life to be awesome or choresome? Do you want to focus on what’s good or the negative, fear-based story and situations or can you also really appreciate the beauty and focus on solutions? Can you visualise and inspire yourself - or would you rather you wait until the desperation sets in to such a point whereby you are ‘forced’ into action by the survival instinct?
Tony Robbins calls this INSPIRATION or DESPERATION.
Difficult things are always going to happen to you - they did to me too. I was hoping that something would happen that would change my life for the better. Eventually, after a very, very long time I realised that I have to create the conditions for change. When you change everything will change for you - If you want compassion, show compassion. If you want wealth, be like a wealthy version of you - practice gratitude for your wealth and be generous. Start small, where you are - start to see the beauty in the thing you have labelled as 'work' or 'chores' and start to dream up an awesome life for yourself.
Make it more awesome and less choresome!
This is harder than it sounds because it requires TRUST. Or a word with more spiritual connotations: FAITH. It doesn't matter the word you pick - as long as it resonates for you. Trust that life is happening for you and you have an opportunity right now to decide to welcome in whatever is deep within you. Welcome every experience - you never know which one is going to teach you the lesson that will really show you what you are here for.
What do you have to lose anyway?!
I wrote this blog entry to inspire myself but also to inspire you to come to my workshop on Saturday: COMFORT ZONE CHALLENGES! It's the first time I'm putting on this workshop - so I'm keeping the price super low. Book your tickets here, now!
Today I has a one to one client and I also utilised the space at Breathe Bristol for the first time to give a free meditation session (the first of a regular Tuesday afternoon event). One of the items we discussed included ‘choices’ and I was reminded of this quote in Susan Jeffers’ book ‘Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway’ (highly recommended):
'You will never make a bad choice. Notice that what lies ahead are simply two paths - A and B - both of which are interesting and have their own set of experiences, trade-offs, pro’s and cons. Each path will have unique "goodies" of experience along the way, regardless of the outcome of the decision I make.'
This to me makes decision making so much less stressful and can change one's perspective completely. This is as simple as mindfulness gets - everything, when viewed objectively, is experience; learning opportunities. This also came up with my one to one client and we talked a bit more about language, which again is a result of reading the book. Susan calls is ‘Pain to Power Language’ and I think that just the simple awareness of the language one uses and awareness of possible alternatives can have a startling effect on one’s awareness of choice.
Pain -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> -> Power
I can't -------------------------------- I won't
I should ------------------------------- I could
It's not my fault ---------------------- I'm totally responsible
It's a problem ------------------------- It's an opportunity
Life's a struggle ---------------------- Life's an adventure
I'm never satisfied -------------------- I want to learn and grow
I hope --------------------------------- I know
If only -------------------------------- Next time
What will I do? ------------------------ I know I can handle it
It's terrible -------------------------- It's a learning experience
It is important to not ‘trick yourself’ by saying without understanding or feeling. The first step towards REAL change is awareness, the second is acceptance and that’s a whole other topic. If you want to learn more about that, get in touch or come along to the Level 1 and Level 2 workshops in November, where these subjects get covered at an introductory and then a more in-depth level. This wasn't the only thing that got me thinking about choice today...
FREE GUIDED MEDITATION - MUSINGS ON 'FEELING OF OBLIGATION'
...I gave my first of a regular free guided meditation and self-enquiry session. I’m doing this because it allows anyone to access the work or to come along and try out my particular way of teaching and guiding. I want to create a world where we can support each other into kind awareness, which doesn't always have an ‘obligation of reciprocation’ of money.
Why do I use this strange term, ‘obligation of reciprocation’? Well, I’m reading a book by Robert Caldini, called Influence, which is all about the psychology of persuasion. The book’s first chapters indicate that the human brain has created many ‘automatic’ responses, otherwise life would be overly complex. These responses include the feeling of obligation when one is given ‘a gift’. That obligation usually encourages the receiver to give something back. This is often manipulated by salesmen or canvassers, such as the Krishnas did in the 60’s when they presented people with a rose or a book. Even though the gift was often unwanted the receiver usually then felt obliged to give something back (a donation).
I’m reading more about influence as I go because I am seeking ways to inspire people into kind awareness, rather than passing out advice, judgement, or moralising. I encourage and inspire people to find their own path. I therefore teach effective communication techniques, including ‘positive means of influence’ in my Level 2 and 3 courses.
So, even though this is a completely free session it is interesting to be mindful of the feeling of obligation that may naturally occur - that feeling isn't always negative as it can create a virtuous, energy-giving cycle, but it is always helpful to be aware of choice vs obligation otherwise obligation becomes an unconscious weight to carry.
As it turned out some people cancelled and it ended up being a one-to-one session, which we both really enjoyed. We spent the first 20 minutes meditating and the feedback I got was that just this was a huge benefit, because it allowed the person to unwind and to clear her mind. The practice of meditation is something pivotal to helping us relax, connect with our inner wisdom of felt sensation and to become more self-aware. This is covered in depth in all levels of the courses.
Neil Morbey is a meditation teacher, group facilitator and inspiration guide for Positively-Mindful.com