“As you inquire into issues and turn judgments around, you come to see that every perceived problem appearing ‘out there’ is nothing more than a misperception within your own thinking.”
It turns out humans aren’t very good at determining what will make them happy or unhappy. You tell yourself you’ll feel less anxious when [blank] happens, or you need [blank] before you can feel content, happy, and secure. But the way your brain actually works is that if or when you get what you wish for, an entirely new set of requirements for your happiness will arise, and so on. If you don’t get what you think you must have in order to feel happy, you’ve now placed your joy on the other side of something you may or may not have any control over. This is what researchers call “affective forecasting.”
Desires aren’t wrong. Wanting something to be a certain way isn’t the problem. Goals are good. But when your need for certainty is a requirement for joy and security, anxiety will persist. In an ever-changing world, what you have today may be gone tomorrow, and what you hope for now may take years to arrive. As the saying goes, “You can’t control the wind, but you can learn to adjust the sails.”
As you change the way you perceive life, your life changes; yoga calls this sat vata parinam vata. However, it’s not just your perceptions, and desires, that change; life itself is constantly changing, too. Life is always more mystery than it is certainty. Every human experience is a complex journey of twists and turns, ups and downs, and triumphs and failures. The Yoga Sutra says that suffering will arise when you misperceive what is always changing—what you believe, think, feel, and imagine—with what stays the same and is always steady: your soul circle (your personal, unchanging, and reliable, inner guidance system) and who you truly are deep inside. Your search for “enough-ness” and certainty in the constantly changing world around you causes you to lose sight of the stability and worthiness already present within you.
When you are in alignment with who you really are, you can’t help but feel more stable and joyful. Therefore, if you want to feel less anxious, you have to become less anxious within your own being.
Psychiatrist Daniel G. Amen has named the limiting thoughts we hear in our head ANTs—automatic negative thoughts. Just like real ants at a picnic, your ANTs can ruin your experience of life. Dr. Amen recommends that you learn to stomp on your ANTs.
Traditionally, you’ve been taught to think, “My anxiety causes me to worry and to have negative thoughts.” But consider looking at it this way, “I’m prone to negative thinking, therefore, I am anxious.” Notice how this slight difference in perspective places the power to transform your life, and be free, back in your hands.
One of the first things I help my clients with when we begin working together is to clean up their mental and emotional habits by committing to a 30-day practice of no blaming, judging, criticizing, or complaining.
When Michelle and I began working together, she blamed her ex-husband for what she perceived was wrong with her life. She felt angry, resentful, unhappy, and anxious. I taught Michelle that playing victim keeps people stuck because it blocks them from taking responsibility for their lives, which is necessary to reclaim confidence and joy. The hurdle, though, is that blaming can feel safe and comfortable because it keeps you from having to do the uncomfortable work of changing and growing.
Through our coaching together, Michelle became aware that her fear of feeling judged, unworthy, and abandoned caused her to stay passive in her relationship with her husband. She became accommodating and agreeable to everything he wanted. Over the years, she’d become more anxious and less confident to express her needs and ideas. By helping Michelle apply these principles and be more deliberate with her thoughts, words, choices, and actions, she was able to take ownership where she’d been blaming. Michelle shifted her life in an entirely new direction. Today she is happy, confident, and reconnected to her soul circle—her inner guidance system.
Challenge yourself to 30 days of no complaining or blaming. When you notice yourself complaining, instead, stomp those automatic thoughts out by repeating this simple mantra, “Peace begins with me.” You will quickly become aware of how much you were complaining and blaming before. This mindfulness will help you see what’s possible when you try to fill in your puzzle with more positive and empowering thoughts, beliefs, interpretations, and solutions.
This post is excerpted from Joy’s book, If I’m So Spiritual, Why Am I Still So Anxious: The Soul Seeker’s Guide to Reclaim Your Joy, available on March 2.
Joy Stone is a Positive Psychology Life Coach and a yoga teacher. She combines the yoga tradition with modern positive psychology to help people move beyond anxiety, fear, and overwhelm, without medication or traditional talk therapy, so they can move forward in life and thrive. Joy works with individuals and groups from all over the country via phone and Skype, and locally in the Nashville area. Find out more at joystonecoaching.com.