The brain is a perplexing, fallible organ. One minute our wiring works great. No hitches. Our concentration intensifies. Our focus zeroes onto the task at hand. Our ability to excel at tasks seems inconsequential. That is, until anxiety overcomes us. When dreadful anxiety lands on our psyches, we can grow so debilitated that even the simplest of tasks become fret worthy chores. Just concentrating on counting to a hundred can seem like a challenge when thoughts are racing, palms are sweating, and thoughts are spacey. Nobody enjoys anxiety, especially me.
Rick Hanson delves into a jar of anxiety relieving exercises in his book Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. His strategies will keep you on top of your game, devoid of anxiety, no matter what the challenge.
Dream without Attachment
I’m attached to the dream of getting a Ph.D. Yet the anxiety I experience when tackling courses overrides my ability to concentrate much of the time. I get spacey. My mind falls into a pervasive fog. I fear potential failure from setting my horizons too high due to my fragile physiological tendency toward anxiety and stress. Don’t we all have big dreams that we long to attain, but that are fraught with our inhibitions, our anxieties, our unsure natures?
So, what if I try to get a Ph.D. and fail? Is that truly a loss to humanity? What if you follow your dream and fail? Is that truly a loss to humanity?
Sometimes, the treasures grow from the trying, and the attainment is just the icing on the cake. Rick Hanson provides advice on how to dream without attachment. You don’t want to be overwhelmed with feelings of failure at not achieving your goals, so set your goals at such a high, lofty level that if you fail them, you don’t feel rocked. When you start craving that goal, be leery. Craving, a sign of attachment, should be avoided. More often than not, our outcomes, our goals, are directed be a lot of external forces that we don’t have much control over. So, don’t feel down if you don’t achieve your goal. Instead, work hard and smart, and let the results come, good or bad. Just as rain on a baseball day can throw the game, external events can influence your outcomes more than you can.
Let Your Dreams Grow
Why shouldn’t you want to make a million dollars in the stock market? Win the lotto? Start a soon-to-be global business? Raise ten million for a business venture? While some of these ideas seem more farfetched, or should I say, more dependent on luck, others have been attained by a number of people. The rewards for making big plans have yielded fortunes for some, and these people do not necessarily come from backgrounds of lavish wealth or the proverbial silver spoon.
Lots of people start businesses that grow into successful enterprises. Lots of people build apps that make at least good money, if not a fortune. Lots of people write books that turn into bestsellers. While the share of millionaires may not surpass those in the middle to lower classes, these millionaires do exist, sometimes starting with the resources that you and I currently have available.
The more you open up to the mindset for thinking big dreams, the more you plan around them.
Rick Hanson says that although our dreams can be lofty or small, we should avoid the get rich and famous cliché and instead aim for experiencing our true inner callings. Imagine the dreams you’ve long to attained throughout your life, especially those from childhood. Each of these dreams brings new insight into your true calling. Imagine how those dreams can serve the benefit of both yourself and the greater humanity. Work a little toward your dream, day in and day out. Don’t forget to journal your actions to reinforce them consistently.
Do All in Your Power
I always wondered what it meant to do your best. How do you know what your best represents? Is your best when you become so single-minded that nothing but the task at hand enraptures you, and you glue yourself to completing it with fervour, the occasional shout for joy, and a click of the heels? If so, I think I’ve fallen short of the best at many things in life.
When someone asks me if I did my best at something, if I didn’t spend every waking hour perfecting it, then no, maybe I didn’t do my best. But that points to the faulty mindset called “perfectionism”.
Rick Hanson shows us that doing your best, or doing all in your power, is a matter of controlling what you focus on and what you have the power to control. Look at the intersection in your life between the things you can control and the things you feel passion toward doing or achieving. Set out to do good deeds at a volunteer center for a cause that hits home for you, for instance. Also, be sure to focus on your mindset. When you can’t control external events, or feel powerless against the external, you can build a wall of resilience and fortitude in your own mind.
Embrace Your Disposition
I’m an anxious, affectionate person. In business, I often present myself as a bit of the “sweetheart of the office” or, in other words, “the cheerleader”, where I would lavish compliments and assistance on anyone in the vicinity. One of my bosses asked why my personality wasn’t more domineering, more confident, more leadership-oriented. She seemed to think that only one personality type fit the business persona. Those traits just weren’t me. I truly long to lead a company, to become the boss of some endeavour, but the sugar in my cheerleading disposition makes me unlikely to fulfill the stereotype.
Wisely, Rick Hanson says not to fret your true nature. Instead, embrace it. In groups people with different temperaments achieve different goals more efficiently. It takes all kinds to cement a productive team. If you are prone to anxiety, or to bouts of anger, or to neutrality, whatever it may be, certain environments will bring out the best in you more than others. Sometimes environments can clash with our temperaments, and, to combat this, we need to be on the lookout for people and environments that draw out the best in us. At times we will experience very negative events, and these likely have more to do with the environment and people clashing with your nature. Don’t fret, but forgive yourself and forgive the environment that derailed or harmed you.
Don’t Shy Away from a Potentially Horrid Outcome
No pain? No gain? Risk-taking, academics, and careers all often come with struggle. There is nothing worth achieving in life that isn’t gained from some sweat, from some heartache, from some inner restlessness or turmoil. When you keep with a task, keep on ploughing through the storm, you end up coming to a point of victory or change, but always of growth. By plunging into a challenging task and facing head-on the trials, we strengthen our mindset for additional challenges. We forge ahead into areas that would otherwise leave us limited. We extend our boundaries. We grow closer to our truest purpose. Don’t shy away from pain and hardship when the goal is something you long to attain.
Rick Hanson says that a lot of our tendencies to avoid things that mean something to us stem from our childhood. Intrepidness is key: do things that you wouldn’t normally do, by starting with smaller challenges and working to larger ones. Reinforce each step of the way with positive self-affirmations. If you get knocked back, learn from it. A certain level of pain is almost essential in realizing our goals. And don’t forget to revel in the pride, the self-esteem, the feelings of achievement when you do arrive at that wonderful goal.
Finally we come to the ultimate of life: love. Doesn’t just the word love make your heart grow tender, softer, less irritable? Everyone needs love, whether it arrives from another person or from God or from a pet or from the memory of a deceased loved one. Love truly fulfills the spirit like no other energy. In fact, all spiritualties profess the desirability of expressing love to one another. Yet, a world fraught with both loving and negative emotions is our present destiny, so make the most of the good feelings.
I once experienced extreme distress, and immediately encountered the simple smile and brief conversation from a lady in the washroom. Her kindness completely defused my distress and prevented me from acting irrationally. I will always savour that simple smile. It made for a positive outcome to an otherwise negative scenario. Just one simple, kind act rippled through my universe in ways that I will always be indebted for. That lady’s one simple act impressed upon my memories, evoking a deep sense of gratitude, for the rest of my life.
The way to nurture love is to give love to others, says Rick Hanson. Just one kind, loving word can ripple throughout the universe in beautiful ways you never intended. Rick says that the people in your family and your friends need to experience the love you give. These people are in your life to experience your love. When you see love in someone’s eyes, doesn’t that person look beautiful? You look beautiful when you demonstrate love to others. So, love. After all, isn’t love our sole reason for existence?