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PAUL MCKENNA – You CAN switch off stress with these ingenious mind tricks


The pandemic’s left so many of us stressed and worn out. But today Paul McKenna launches a major Mail series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions… 

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become good at training ourselves to consider worst-case scenarios. And no wonder.

For almost two years an ancient part of our brain, called the amygdala — which is where we process feelings of threat and fear that trigger a fight-or-flight response — has been receiving almost constant stimulation.

Protecting ourselves from Covid, as well as the people we love, has become the background theme to our lives.

As we navigate our way through this health crisis that is a crucial message. But living with it becomes exhausting.

For almost two years an ancient part of our brain, called the amygdala ¿ which is where we process feelings of threat and fear that trigger a fight-or-flight response ¿ has been receiving almost constant stimulation PAUL McKENNA writes

For almost two years an ancient part of our brain, called the amygdala — which is where we process feelings of threat and fear that trigger a fight-or-flight response — has been receiving almost constant stimulation PAUL McKENNA writes 

The Gradual  Confidence Booster  

1 Imagine a slightly more confident ‘you’ sitting or standing in front of you.

2 Now, I’d like you to imagine stepping into that more confident you. See through their eyes, hear through their ears and feel the feelings of your more confident self.

3 Notice that right in front of you is an even more confident you — sitting or standing a little bit taller, with a look of slightly more self-belief behind their eyes and emanating a little bit of extra charisma.

4 Now step into this more confident self and then notice that in front of you is an even more confident self — more passion, more power, more ease, more comfort.

5 Then again, imagine an even more confident you sitting or standing in front of you.

6 And step into that more confident new you. Feel your confidence overflowing! Be sure to notice how you are using your body — how you are breathing, the expression on your face and the light in your eyes.

Imagine the amygdala as a button. When it gets pressed it makes you feel anxious, on edge and under threat.

As time passes that button starts to stick. The more often it gets pressed the harder it becomes to re-set. Eventually, it refuses to switch off at all.

That’s where we’re at now: in a collective state of alert, struggling to switch off our fight-or-flight responses. And it’s playing havoc with our emotional wellbeing.

Of all the techniques I have developed over my career, I believe the most powerful are those that help people to dial down their own stress levels.

We all know what it’s like to feel so wound up you can’t think straight.

Stress makes rational thinking much harder; worst-case scenarios play out in your head much more vividly than any with a positive outcome.

As well as being mentally exhausting, stress also blocks us from feeling creative, optimistic and happy.

I can’t remove stress from your life. Experiencing it is an integral part of being human.

But I am going to share with you a series of techniques that will settle your emotional equilibrium and dampen down those feelings of impending doom.

They’re easy to follow, quick to master and they work. Best of all, this is a skill you can utilise long after the threat of the pandemic is behind us — the ability to switch off stress so you can think clearly, rationally and creatively whatever life throws at you.

Once we have more control over our thoughts and feelings, we have control over our choices and behaviours and ultimately control over our lives.

LEARN TO THINK LIKE EINSTEIN

Albert Einstein, one of the most creative thinkers of all time, used to undertake what he called ‘thought experiments’. These were simple visualisation exercises that helped him understand possibilities.

So, let’s do our first thought experiment because it’s not just what we think about, but the way we think about it, that is important.

Make yourself comfortable and remember a time when you felt very good. Return to that memory like you’re back there again now. See what you saw … hear what you heard … and feel how good you felt. Make the colours rich, bright and bold … the sounds loud and feelings strong. Right now, you should be feeling really good.  

Next, I’d like you to think about a mildly uncomfortable memory — maybe a time when you had an argument, or you felt disappointed or upset.

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become good at training ourselves to consider worst-case scenarios. And no wonder PAUL McKENNA writes

Over the course of the pandemic, we’ve become good at training ourselves to consider worst-case scenarios. And no wonder PAUL McKENNA writes

Reset your worry thermostat  

‘Worry’ comes from a Greek word meaning ‘divided mind’.

That is what worry feels like — a stream of thoughts pulling you in different directions.

It also has a purpose. Just like any negative or uncomfortable emotion, worry is a messenger sent by your mind and body to let you know it’s time to pay attention to something.

So, for example, if I have a worrying feeling and I stop to notice what comes to mind and, say, it’s the image of an upcoming meeting, my mind is trying to alert me to things that might go wrong in that meeting and to make sure I am well prepared.

The problems come when your worry thermostat is set too high, making life uncomfortable.

This exercise is a brilliant tool that will help you reset your worry thermostat. Read the instructions, below, all the way through first, then work through each step:

1. Think about something you have been worrying about.

2. Ask yourself: ‘What is the positive intention of this worry of mine?’ Often, the answer is ‘to keep me safe’ or ‘so I’m properly prepared’.

3. Focus on three new ways that you could think about this without triggering the stressful feelings.

4. Question whether you are comfortable with this alternative to worrying. If there is any hesitation, go back to your mind and ask it to sort out any internal conflicts.

You will know you’re ready to move on when feeling completely at peace with your alternatives.

5. Picture yourself doing the things that are keeping you safe, or mean you are well prepared, instead of worrying about what might or might not happen in the future.

With practice, you will soon be applying this simple method to any source of anxiety in your life, keeping your worry thermometer in check.

Step out of that memory, step out of yourself and look at yourself as though the event is happening to somebody else. Next, drain all the colour out of that event and make it black and white. And then gently fade it out. Right now, you should be feeling significantly less upset.

So many of us have a negative internal voice — running self-destructive messages that hold us back. Stopping that negative bad talk is a key part of learning the power of internal positivity.

It’s not just what you say to yourself, it’s also how you say it. Consider how the world sounds when you’re stressed.

What does your internal dialogue sound like — is it worried, anxious?

How do you speak to yourself? Calmly? Or do you sound frightened and concerned?

If we are talking to ourselves inside our mind in a way that is stressed and frightened, it will make us feel more stressed.

I’d like you to tap into your inner voice, so, let’s try another thought experiment. Talk to yourself inside your mind now in a very gentle, calm way.

With your internal dialogue, use the same tone of voice that you’d use to tell a bedtime story. Say something calming such as, ‘All is well. All is well’. Notice how that feels.

Remember, in addition to what we tell ourselves inside our minds all day long, the way we say it is very important, too. Progressive relaxation…

Using that calm, internal voice we’re going to imagine ourselves into a calmer and more and more relaxed state.

As you step, or float into that more relaxed self, you are going to increase the level of relaxation you feel.

Practising this technique will give you the power to be able to put yourself into a deep state of relaxation whenever stress takes over.

Close your eyes and imagine another ‘you’, one that is twice as relaxed as you are now. Imagine floating over and into that more relaxed you. See through the eyes of your more relaxed self, hear through the ears of your more relaxed self and feel this deeper relaxation. Repeat this process and feel this deeper relaxation. Pause for a little, while you notice the feelings.

Then, if you wish, repeat this process again and again. Continue imagining a more relaxed you and floating into it, until you are totally relaxed. Stay with this feeling for as long as you wish. You will be able to return to full, waking consciousness, refreshed and alert as soon as you are ready.

 Make friends with your inner voice 

1) Locate your internal voice. Just ask yourself, ‘Where is my internal voice?’ and notice the location where you hear the words. At the front of your head, the back or the side.

2) Now, I would like you to imagine how your voice sounds if it is totally confident. Is it louder or softer than usual? Is it clearer and easier to hear? Is it stronger or weaker?

Do you speak faster or more slowly? However your voice sounds when you are positive and confident, put that voice in the same location where your old internal voice was located.

3) Now, in a strong, calm voice, say these words over and over: ‘All is well, all is well, all is well,’ and notice how that makes you feel.

4) Next, think of some of the negative suggestions you have given yourself in the past — things such as ‘I’m shy and nervous’, ‘I am rubbish at giving presentations’ or ‘I will never find someone to fall in love with me’.

5) For each statement, come up with its positive opposite: ‘I’m naturally confident’, ‘I give excellent presentations’ or ‘I am extremely lovable’.

6) Finally, I want you to repeat the new, positive suggestions to yourself in your new, confident internal voice — say the new statements over and over again.

 Don’t be ruled by your feelings 

Even though some of our feelings may be uncomfortable, all of our feelings are part of our emotional intelligence — their purpose is to let us know we need to pay attention to something.

When something makes us happy, it lets us know we feel good, so we seek more of it.

However, there are other feelings that are uncomfortable, but necessary in order to protect us and keep us in the natural balance of life.

Fear warns us something bad could happen, so pay attention and be prepared. Anger often motivates us to get away from a situation where one of our standards or boundaries has been violated.

Frustration is in the same family as anger. It arises when we’re not achieving the level of results that we believe we should. The message is usually to get us to re-evaluate and motivate us to achieve the goal.

Even though some of our feelings may be uncomfortable, all of our feelings are part of our emotional intelligence ¿ their purpose is to let us know we need to pay attention to something PAUL McKENNA writes

Even though some of our feelings may be uncomfortable, all of our feelings are part of our emotional intelligence — their purpose is to let us know we need to pay attention to something PAUL McKENNA writes

Sadness is the result of feeling that something is missing from our lives, either because we’ve lost it or we’ve lost touch with it. The underlying message is both to appreciate what we’ve lost and to be grateful for what we still have.

However useful these feelings can be, we don’t want to be ruled by them. The following technique is inspired from the work of my friend, the Zen master Genpo Roshi. 

Place your hands out in front of you with your palms turned up.

Next, let yourself focus on the feeling that is bothering you, whatever it is. It could be a fear,  anger, or something else. As you notice it, ask if there is anything that feeling would wish to say to you. If there is, make a note of it — if there is not, that is fine, too.

Now imagine holding the feeling in your left hand, in front of you and get in touch with it. Then think of the opposite of that feeling — for example, peace, calm, comfort.

Bring that opposite feeling to mind — peace, calm, comfort — and notice how it feels. Next imagine placing that opposite, positive feeling in your right hand, in front of you. 

Now move your attention up to a few inches above your head and keeping your attention in that position experience both feelings at the same time.

Continue to feel the two emotions simultaneously with your attention above your head.

As you do that, your emotional system will re-­calibrate so that you can experience that difficult emotion at a lower level as it re-­integrates into your emotional intelligence.

How to THINK yourself positive: The pandemic’s left so many of us stressed and worn out… but today PAUL McKENNA launches a major series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions 

By Paul McKenna for the Daily Mail 

The pandemic’s left so many of us stressed and worn out. But today Paul McKenna launches a major Mail series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions…

Since the start of the pandemic, certainty has felt like a thing of the past. Much of the year was filled with turbulence, stress and worry; the world doesn’t feel as rock-solid as it once did.

But that doesn’t mean we should tiptoe into 2022 afraid the ground might crack beneath us. Things will go wrong, of course they will. But there’s every chance plenty will go right, too. 

New Year’s Day is traditionally when we look forward, full of hope.

We hang a new calendar on the kitchen door, its empty pages waiting to be filled with the various life-affirming events — birthdays, anniversaries and holidays — that punctuate the year with positivity.

Paul McKenna launches a major Mail series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions

Paul McKenna launches a major Mail series with a three-step plan to help you press reset on your emotions 

We make resolutions that we hope will help us thrive and prosper in the months ahead. Out of an entire year, it is the day we most feel as if we’re on the brink of discovering our very best selves.

This new year, perhaps more than any other, we need to harness those feelings of positivity, because they are what we require to give 2022 a much-needed jump-start.

Of course, with things as difficult as they are now, you may well be asking yourself: ‘Why bother?’ But we have to step out of that negative mindset because it’s only going to hold us back.

Of course, I do get the collective fug of pessimism that is affecting so many people right now. If 2020 was the year of fear, then 2021 will surely go down as being one of aching disappointment.

All those weddings that were postponed then re-arranged, often having to be delayed once again.

The holidays we didn’t dare take; the family get-togethers that it suddenly felt unsafe to go ahead with. It’s hard not to feel worn down by it all.

I’ve certainly been affected by a dull dampening of the senses as a result of so much uncertainty: bouts of weariness that can’t be cured by an early night; feeling flat or experiencing moments of sadness that seem to come from nowhere and can’t be put down to any one thing.

The Office for National Statistics has reported that levels of depression have nearly doubled during the pandemic

The Office for National Statistics has reported that levels of depression have nearly doubled during the pandemic

Choose a role model 

Often, another person’s insight is what’s needed when you’re looking for positive insight into your problems. But it’s not always possible to get that other point of view.

Here’s how you can get it from your own inner voice.

Think of somebody who is good at solving problems and sorting things out.

The person you choose can be real, or they can be a character from a story. Over the years, I have seen people choose everyone from Sherlock Holmes to Elon Musk — from Bill Gates to their Aunt Gladys.

All that matters is that you have a strong enough sense of what they are like, so that you can imagine them vividly in your mind.

Now, imagine stepping into your role model and take a few moments to imagine yourself seeing the world through your problem-solver’s eyes.

See what they would see and hear what they would hear.

While still looking through their eyes, think about a particular problem you have and consider it from this point of view. How would they handle it if it was their problem?

What advice would they give you about it? What do they think is the best course of action?

Act on any insights you have!

I’d be surprised if you haven’t felt similarly unsettled over the past 12 months.

Friends — often high achievers — tell me they feel demotivated and lack focus; that their stress levels are through the roof.

People complain that completing simple tasks, even something as undemanding as finishing a chapter in a book, can feel overwhelming.

But, as difficult as those sorts of feelings can be, they are entirely normal. They are the result of having lived with a prolonged sense of jeopardy for almost two years.

I’m not remotely surprised we’ve lost our collective mojo.

The latest NHS data shows that more than 7.87 million people in England were prescribed antidepressant drugs in 2020-21 — that’s one in seven of us.

The Office for National Statistics has reported that levels of depression have nearly doubled during the pandemic, with 21 per cent of people over 16 suffering symptoms, compared with 10 per cent before the first lockdown.

Clearly, what started as a health pandemic has evolved into a psychological one. But please don’t think that any of this means we’ve been rendered impotent in the face of so much stress and anxiety.

It is still perfectly possible to propel ourselves forward into 2022 with confidence.

Starting today, and continuing next week, I will introduce you to new ways of thinking that will help inoculate you against negativity and press reset on your emotions.

This plan is an exclusive extract from my new book Positivity: Confidence, Resilience, Motivation, which is published on January 6.

The techniques I am going to share will help you keep calm under pressure and enjoy a newfound sense of optimism and very soon your emotional default setting will be one of confidence, resilience and motivation. 

You have to think of your brain as being a computer: a brilliant machine which runs off its own software that helps organise your conscious thoughts and how you act on them.

Now, you must recognise that the power to re-programme that computer hasn’t been outsourced to Covid — it lies within you. This means that no matter how stressed and demotivated you may be feeling right now, you can stop the negative programmes that are running in your unconscious mind and replace them with software that promotes positivity. 

Over the next few days, I am going to teach you various simple tricks and techniques that will help you flip negative thinking into positive thoughts and actions.

My aim is to give you the tools you need to do that in a simple, three-step plan. Step one is to work at dampening down the feelings of stress and anxiety that can make you feel as if life is running out of control. 

I will help you locate your calming inner voice so you can soothe away worries and learn how to relax your mind.

Step two is working on various confidence and resilience-boosting techniques. Resilience means far more than simply being able to tough it out when life’s challenges arise.

Most resolutions are abandoned by the third week of January PAUL McKENNA writes

Most resolutions are abandoned by the third week of January PAUL McKENNA writes 

Resilience is all about adaptability, creativity and resourceful thinking. The final piece in the jigsaw, step three of my plan, is to show you how to switch on motivation; to work out the direction you want your life to head in. Drilling down to discover what truly matters to you is what will push you forward into 2022.

A new year is often the time to commit to various resolutions. We set ourselves goals, usually based on eating less, drinking less and exercising more.

The problem is, we go from nought to 100 on day one — hammering it in the gym and restricting ourselves in ways that are simply unsustainable.

Did you know that most new year’s resolutions are abandoned by the third week of January? This time, I’d like you to try doing things differently. Instead of writing a long list of goals, commit instead to working on one thing: simply feeling better. Better about yourself, your life, your future.

That’s something I can help you with, starting with the exercises here and overleaf. Before you begin, stop for a moment to imagine a new you:

  • How would your posture be?
  • How would your voice sound?
  • What kind of things would you be saying to yourself?

If you just imagined any of these scenarios, chances are you are already feeling more confident than you were a while ago.

 Close your eyes and float to a bright future 

1) Just imagine you are a year into the future and have had one of the best years of your life. Asking yourself the following questions will help you do that:

  • What has happened to your health, both mental and physical?
  • How are your relationships, personal and professional?
  • What’s your career like?
  • How are your finances?
  • How happy are you feeling?
  • Which of your goals have you achieved?

2) Now, create an ideal scene that represents all that you most want to happen in your positive future.

It can be realistic or symbolic. Some people see a picture of themselves in a particular setting, looking a certain way — other people go for something more symbolic, like picturing clinking champagne glasses, or a certificate of achievement on the wall.

3) As you create that image one year from now, make sure it is big, bright, bold and colourful, the size of a cinema screen. You’ll know you’re doing it right because it feels good just to imagine it.

If you just imagined any of these scenarios, chances are you are already feeling more confident than you were a while ago

If you just imagined any of these scenarios, chances are you are already feeling more confident than you were a while ago

4) Now float back three months from your big picture and ask yourself what needs to happen three months before that to achieve your big goals a year from now and make a picture that represents it.

5) YOUR next step is to float back another three months from that picture and ask yourself what would need to happen then, six months prior to that?

6) Then, float back another three months from your last picture and ask yourself what needs to happen three months before that? As you do so, make a new image in your mind representing this point.

7) Once again, float back three months from your last picture to where you are now. Then ask yourself what needs to happen from this day forward?

8) So, you are right back to now and you should be able to see a succession of images that show you the direction of your life over the next year.

9) YOU should now have a succession of pictures connecting the present with your positive, compelling future. The images should get progressively bigger with better and better things happening in them. Look at those pictures and let your unconscious mind lock in the road map to your success over the next year.

10) Now, float up and out of your body and into each picture, moving forwards in time through the year. Take a few moments to fully experience each step you will be taking on the path to greater success.

11) When you get to the big picture of your ideal scene, allow yourself to enjoy experiencing it fully. What will it be like to have everything you want?

12) Finally, come back to the present and look again at your future timeline. Feel confident in the knowledge that you’ve created a map for your unconscious mind to use as a guide in bringing about the future you want.

 Healing touch that calms the mind 

A calm mind is more open to positive thinking. Stress really is negativity’s very best friend.

So the first exercise I’m going to teach you is one of the most effective ways I know for instantly reducing stress and anxiety.

It’s a technique called Havening — the new kid on the block when it comes to psychosensory therapies, it uses simple touch to soothe body and mind. I have used this throughout the pandemic to help frontline workers — doctors, nurses, paramedics and ambulance crew — deal with stress.

It was created by Dr Ronald Ruden, an expert in neuroscience, who discovered that patterns of repeated touch to parts of the body combined with specific eye movements and visualisations have a rapid, reliable and predictable effect on our feelings.

Studies have shown that when we use Havening, we reduce stress chemicals in our body and change the way our brain processes thoughts and feelings

Studies have shown that when we use Havening, we reduce stress chemicals in our body and change the way our brain processes thoughts and feelings

Havening works by simulating the way your mother comforted you as a baby, when she cradled you in her arms. The soothing action of being held becomes hard-wired into all infants.

This technique is not merely a distraction. Studies have shown that when we use Havening, we reduce stress chemicals in our body and change the way our brain processes thoughts and feelings.

The effect of the specific sequence given here is to reset the way your brain interprets and responds to stress. Over time, it can alter for good the neural pathways in your brain. Practise these eye movements, body touches and visualisations until you know them well. You can then use them any time you need to change your mental state.

To start, pay attention to the discomfort you are feeling and rate its strength from one to ten, where ten is the most powerful. Then follow these steps:

1) Pay attention to any stress or traumatic memory you wish to remove and notice what it looks like in your imagination and how stressful it feels. Now, rate its strength on a scale of one to ten, where ten is the most powerful.

2) Clear your mind and then just think about something nice.

3) Cross your arms, place your hands on the tops of your shoulders and close your eyes.

4) Stroke your hands down the sides of your arms from the top of your shoulders to your elbows, and keep doing this downward stroking motion, again and again.

5) As you carry on stroking the sides of your arms, imagine you are walking on a beach. With each footstep you take in the sand, count out loud from one to 20.

6) Keeping your head still, while continuing to stroke your arms, move your eyes laterally to the left and to the right ten times.

7) Still stroking the sides of your arms, imagine you are walking outside in a beautiful garden, with each footstep you take in the grass, count out loud from one to 20.

8) Open your eyes and re-check your feelings against the scale from one to ten. If it is way down at the bottom of the scale, congratulations — you have personally changed your feelings. If you think the feeling of stress feeling is not yet reduced enough, just repeat the Havening sequence until it is reduced as far as you want.

Use this method any time you need to get rid of unhappy space.

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