We human beings are called the crown of creation because of our brain. Yet for far too many people, the brain does not seem to crown their lives with health, wealth, and love. Quite the contrary, it seems to malfunction in self-defeating patterns of stress, anxiety and depression. We now know that this means the brain’s fear center (the amygdala) is taking charge of our experience reducing us to fight or flight stress reactions that dump toxic stress hormones into our system.
Fact #1: Stress is Serious!
Chronic stress means the stress response system is turned on nearly full time and a build-up of stress hormones:
- sinks higher brain networks involved in memory, learning, and decision-making, and conversely causing the amygdala to expand, producing higher levels of anxiety,
- switches the brain’s emotional set point to negative, predisposing us to anger, aggression, insecurity, and depression,
- deletes our energy and disrupts our sleep,
- temporarily lowers IQ by as much as 40%,
- causes marriage and family dysfunction,
- dampens the immune system making us susceptible to acute illnesses that can later become chronic, and
- damages chromosomes, causing chromosomes to produce abnormal cells that can lead to premature aging and life-threatening illness.
Stress is serious. It is life-threatening serious. It is not something we should someday do something about. We need to shift stress whenever it raises its ugly head, and we can.
Fact #2: The 50-10-40 Factor
This leads to the second fact to keep in mind, which is if we have a problem with stress, it is not necessarily our fault, but it is our responsibility to change and science says we can. Fifty percent (50%) of what causes a predisposition to stress is an up-regulating stress gene you inherited which was probably reinforced by your family of origin, wiring your brain for a hyperactive stress response system. This is going to drag your mind and your day into self-defeating bouts of anxiety, engendering a nebulous sense of threat when none exists.
It is common for a beleaguered mind to think that a change of circumstances will solve a stressful life, but research shows that circumstances are only 10% to blame for a stressful life, which means changing circumstances does not make a big difference.
The change that makes the biggest difference is a change of mindset. It accounts for 40% of whether you live a life of stress or the good life. And there is growing evidence that a shift to the positive can down-regulate the stress gene, placing you fully in charge of your quality of life.
Fact #3: Everything is Mindset
New research has established that your brain takes its direction from your state of mind. So, here is the third fact to consider: Everything for a human being is mindset. This is a conclusion reached by some of our best scientists. And, there are only two mindsets you need to understand.
One mindset is negative generating an inner experience of contraction that feels like the walls are closing in on you. It is built on the fearful thinking that makes you believe you are a victim of circumstances. The stress hormones that a negative mindset produce shrinks higher brain networks.
The other mindset is positive, generating an inner experience of expansion that makes you feel like the sky is the limit. It is built on inner peace, love and optimism and makes you believe you are larger than circumstances. A positive mindset not only amplifies higher brain function, it also stimulates the growth of new connections within the higher brain to increase your potential to reach even greater heights.
Fact #4: Success is Inner Peace, Succeeding is Letting Go of Fear
This leads to the fourth fact, which is that stress is psychological fear and peace is neurological power. To say it another way: Success is inner peace, succeeding is letting go of fear. This basic shift in mindsets promotes neural integration, which:
- improves executive function increasing your proficiency at planning, strategic thinking and decision-making as well as improving memory, learning, reasoning, cognitive flexibility, error detection, and goal directed action.
- supports emotional regulation so that you feel vibrant and inspired, but not so emotionally charged that you become manic, chaotic, or rigid.
- promotes response flexibility by activating neurons that signal you to pause before acting, inhibiting rash impulses and allowing you to reflect on options.
- achieves attuned communication facilitating the interpersonal resonance that promotes better communication, harmony, and the capacity to transcend a limited self-interest in favor of a greater good.
- increases empathy, generating the capacity to enter another’s world so completely that you lose all desire to judge them.
- makes you tolerant of differences and enlightens you with self-knowing awareness and foresight directing you forward.
- fosters innovative thinking, integrating the creative insights produced by the brain’s right hemisphere with higher brain function to become more imaginative, able to think out of the box when a new approach is needed.
- generates holism, quieting shame-based, self-defeating thought processes to achieve the level of self-confidence and self-worth that allow you to maximize your inherent strengths and talents.
Who does not want their brain functioning like that.
Fact #5: It is Simpler Than You Might Think
The fifth and final fact to remember is, as far as I am concerned, the best news of all. The daily mindful practice that generates the change that changes everything is quite simple adding little to your to-do list. It is about learning to function from an empowering to-be list. And better still, brain change occurs faster than you might imagine, in as little as 4 weeks with practice.
Research over the last half century – beginning with Carl Rogers and Aaron Beck, and more recently with Yale’s David Rand – has revealed two essential facts about human beings that are enormously positive, which means they reveal something enormously positive about you personally.
Fact #1: The essence of your being is love, which means your basic nature, when functioning freely, is constructive and trustworthy. Love, in this sense, is not a romantic emotional state, but rather an exquisitely rational, coherent, and positive intelligence, guiding your life forward with subtle and ordered complexity toward the goals you are endeavoring to achieve.”
Your essentially loving nature establishes your worth and belonging as a human being, meaning you are inherently golden exactly as you are right now, have been in the past, and are in the process of becoming. It’s the truth and science backs it up. The fact that your worth as a human being is inherent means it is always true. There are no conditions you need to meet, no prerequisites to qualify you, no hoops to jump through to earn it. Your worth is not earned; it’s given. Your successes and failures in life neither increase or decrease your worth. Whether you live in a penthouse on Fifth Avenue or under a freeway, you are worthy. Whether you are a tea-tootler or an alcoholic on a bar stool, at core you are golden. Whether you are the chief of police or a behind bars, you belong.
The research of Brene Brown found that there was only one variable that separated the people who have a strong sense of self-worth and belonging from the people who struggle for it. The one and only variable is that people with a strong sense of self-worth believe they are worthy. They accept it as fact (which it is). Your unqualified acceptance of yourself as worthy is fundamentally all it takes to experience it.
Fact #2: There is one central motivating force in your basic nature that drives you to fulfill your potentialities. It is called the formative tendency, which directs you to express and activate all your talent and competences to enhance your life and reach your complete development as a person. A simple way of identifying the formative tendency in you is to make a list of qualities you experience when you are at your best, functioning at “the top of your game.” Simply list 10 words or short phrases that describe your experience when you’re in the flow, in the zone, running on all cylinders, making things happen. This will help you identify the experience of the directional force emanating from your essential nature.
The code for your essential nature is embedded in the very neurocircuitry of your brain, unwrapping to express the creative, curious, explorative, playful, constructive, peaceful, loving, joyful, compassionate, sharing, and cooperative forces within that move you forward toward self-actualization.
In short, what lives in you as you is not only powerful, it is beautiful. What you are is good enough, and all you have to do is to be it openly. So, if all this is true, and it is, then why do you struggle with shame and self-doubt?
Although you are by your very nature intrinsically worthy and forward moving, your inherent core of worth is so overlaid with layer after layer of negative thoughts, fears, and doubts as to feel nonexistent. Thus, your challenge in life is to remove the layers of fear and negative thinking so your intrinsic worth can emerge naturally. How do you accomplish that?
A Simple Practice to Accentuate Your Self-Worth
You can begin simply, by waking up each morning ahead of the morning rush to spend a few minutes to starting the day on a positive note that asserts your worth. Here’s how:
Follow your breathing and gradually relax into a feeling of peace and freedom. Feel your mind expand as you relax.
In this spacious state of mind, remind yourself that the essence of your being is inherently worthy, meaning you’re inherently golden, exactly as you are and are becoming, right here, right now. Remind yourself that your worth as a human being has no prerequisites. It’s simply true, in and of itself.
Next, take a moment to frame your day in a positive light. Begin by feeling appreciation for the gift of another day of life; another day to share with the people you love; another day to pursue your dreams.
Set your intention to have a great day, achieving meaningful results in all your endeavors. Equally, set the intention to succeed at sustaining a peaceful and positive attitude on the inside, regardless of what happens on the outside.
Research shows that people who believe in their intrinsic worth aren’t thwarted by shame-based thinking and self-doubt that says, I’m not good enough, not smart enough, not successful enough, etc. The research also shows that people who start the day mindfully experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, and are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, all of which predicts successful outcomes. They also sleep better that night. All this for devoting 5 minutes in the morning to a simple practice.
 Rogers, Carl. On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (pp. 194-195). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 1960.
Lao Tse, one of the world’s greatest philosophers, said: “Correct your mind and the rest of life will fall into place.”
The “rest of life” means the health, wealth, and love that eludes most people. So, what’s the correction you need to make?
According to Lao Tse, it’s the shift from fear to inner peace, and 2,500 years later neuroscience has proven the ancient sage was right.
Research has established that the mental shift from stress and fear to inner peace resets your brain state to the calm, creativity, and optimism that predicts success in your endeavors.
People who have mastered the shift from fear to peace make few if any mistakes. They tend to stay out of trouble, instead of chronically struggling to get out of trouble.
As a result, their peaceful brains mobilize the intelligence (that stress hormones retard) to reach greater and greater heights.
“Seek peace,” Jesus said, “and all things shall be given to you.”
So, how do you make the inner shift to peace when the world around you seems to vibrate like Grand Central Station at rush hour?
Here’s a prescription from Lee Ufan, the great modern artist:
“Agitated, busy people. Stop and stand still for a moment. Look at the sky. Close your eyes and take a deep breath. If you do this, you will change and the world will come to life.”
You can begin simply by taking a one-minute timeout for peace.
- Simply stop what you’re doing, resisting the compulsion to keep working, and step away from the busy-ness of the world for a moment.
- Let go of what you were thinking and allow your mind and body to relax.
- Take a deep breath and allow yourself to relax even more.
- Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
- No worries, no problems, no goals, no one to please, nothing to change or fix. Just you and the freedom to simply be yourself for a moment.
- Take a slow, easy breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide.
- Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.
Do this two or three time a day for a week and see if your life begins to fall into place.
Consider this. Everything for a human being is mindset.
And further, there are really only two mindsets.
The first mindset creates an experience of contraction that feels like the walls are closing in on you. It’s built on the fearful, stressful, pessimistic thinking that makes you believe you’re a victim of circumstances.
The second mindset creates an experience of expansion that makes you feel like the sky’s the limit. It’s built on love, inner peace and optimism and makes you believe you’re larger than circumstances.
And here’s the trick: when you are contracted (meaning stressed, afraid or judgmental) simply accepting yourself completely for the neurotic way you are being at the moment generates the shift into an expanded experience of self.
In other words. being at peace with your painful state of non-peace restores the expansive feeling of peace. It’s how you end stress.
Test it for yourself.