Category Archives: Tools that End Stress

The Thought Awareness Tool

Here is something we all need to know: Peace is neurological power; a dynamic state of peace literally builds a powerful brain.  Stress, on the other hand, shrinks and damages higher brain networks, inhibiting our potential to succeed at life.

Peace is clearly an internal matter, and so is stress. Both must begin with your own thoughts, and then extend outward. It is from an anxious, worried mind that a stressful perception of the world arises. Equally, it is from your peace of mind that a stress-free experience of life arises.

Here is  a proven tool that starts the process of building the dynamically peaceful attitude that builds a great brain:

Practice this throughout the day, until your pattern of stress changes:

1. Be aware of stressful, fearful thoughts, anxiety-provoking situations, “offending” personalities or events, or anything else that provokes in you stressful, unkind, hostile, or pessimistic thoughts. Note them all casually, whenever they occur. Notice the way these thoughts morph into negative emotions that produce a perception of threat.

Initially, as you look at a negative thought or feeling, don’t try to change it. Simply observe it. If you criticize, blame, or condemn yourself for thinking and feeling negatively, simply observe this as another negative thought.

2. Tell yourself: This thought or feeling is in me, not in reality. Take a moment and see the truth in this. Let it sink in.

3. Don’t believe a stressful thought: If you don’t believe an anxious, stressful, pessimistic thought it has no power. It’s just a thought that comes and goes. When you don’t believe a negative thought, it doesn’t turn into stress, anxiety, or depression.

4. Tell yourself: I could see peace instead of this.  Repeat this idea to yourself in an unhurried manner, as you watch your perception of the world change.

5. Conclude by remembering that although negative thoughts and feelings are in you, they are not you. They come and go like clouds. But the essence of your being is like the blue sky these clouds travel through and sometimes cover. Let your mind go completely and become the blue sky for a moment.

Here is a Shorter Applications as Needed

Shorter applications of the idea should also be made throughout the day, whenever a fearful thought begins to make inroads on your peace of mind in the form of depression, anxiety or worry, intervene by stating: I can replace my feelings of depression, anxiety, or worry with peace. Repeat the idea until you feel some sense of relief.





Transforming Type-A (the Heart Attack Personality)

As you may know, the term Type-A is shorthand for the highly driven, win-at-all-costs individual, who often feels oppressed by time and impatient with people he or she perceives as slowing things down.  The upside is that Type-A personalities can make a lot happen fast.

But there is an enormous downside.  When  researchers took a closer look they found this personality type was essentially driven by fear that often led to a chronic condition of extreme stress.  If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that chronic stress is a very bad condition.  It can kill you.

Type-A, as a definable personality type, comes out of the landmark research of cardiologist Meyer Friedman of the University of California, San Francisco.  Friedman found that a Type-A personality has the highest risk for developing serious heart disease.

Dr. Friedman developed and tested a series of exercises that teach Type A’s how to be more at peace in order to avoid an early grave.  If you’ve been reading my blog you also know that developing your capacity to be at peace builds the neuro-circuitry that delivers the brain power for a healthier, more successful, more intrinsically rewarding life.

Neurologically, ‘peace’ represents neural networks wiring and firing together to sustain the proverbial calm under siege that enables you to see a problem fearlessly, analyze it intelligently, engage it creatively, and make the best decision.  A dynamic attitude of peace builds a brain that can extinguish stress reactions and, at the same time, expand the brain structure that can sustain peak performance and the creative intelligence that enables you to hit the bull’s eye.

Friedman found that attaining peace was actually simpler than one might think.  You don’t have to renounce the world and check into a monastery; peace arises from changing the way you relate to the day-to-day world you’re already in.  And, you don’t have to be Type-A to benefit from this approach.  It not only improves your heart function; it strengthens your higher brain function.

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Standing In the Longest Line

My favorite but most challenging task that Meyer Freidman prescribes is to stand in the longest line at a store.  The challenge is to use the time to practice choosing to be at peace.  As you stand in line, notice the resistance in you to doing this task. Become aware of the strong pattern of thinking that says you have to hurry up to get to the next thing you have to do. Become aware of the judgments your brain is making about how long the clerk is taking or judgments about how somebody is dressed or the junk you think they are buying. Just be aware of all the noise in your head and practice reminding yourself that you could see peace instead of it.

Here are several other steps Dr. Meyer Friedman developed.

  • Look out the window for thirty seconds and let your mind go. Watch the wind blow or the sun shine or the rain fall.
  • Do one special thing for yourself today.
  • Drive home in the slow lane.
  • Smile more today.
  • Listen to calming music instead of the news on the drive home.
  • Practice listening without interrupting.
  • Buy a small gift for a friend or family member.
  • Call a good friend you haven’t talked to in a while.
  • Look for the best in someone you know.
  • Devote today to seeing your strengths and positive qualities.
  • Practice forgiving trivial errors.
  • Use a measuring stick other than business to measure your accomplishments, such as your talents, creative abilities, human qualities, or close relationships.
  • Quietly do good deeds and acts of kindness.
  • Practice receiving compliments graciously.
  • Accept that life is unfinished business.
  • Take five minutes today to recall times when you were happy.
  • Commit to stop judging yourself for your lack of perfection.
  • Consider the notion that perfection is in the imperfections.
  • When you feel conflict today, tell yourself, “I am not going to let this person or situation control how I feel.”
  • Today, feel more and think less. Become skillful at knowing how you feel by making I feel statements, such as I feel anxious or I feel confident.

Some of you might judge these simple practices as “touchy-feely.”  Make no mistake; the research definitively shows that these steps can generate the higher brain function to succeed and at the same time protect your cardio-vascular system from failing.  Put it to the test yourself.  Check off several that you are willing to practice and do one a day.

The 30-Second Time Out for Peace

All we are saying is give peace a chance  ~  John Lennon

Stress-free is the quality of presence called peace that flows into whatever you happen to be doing. We often assume that we have to strive for this quality but the fact is your brain is wired for peace. Evolution wired it into the neuro-circuitry of the right brain to make peace part of human nature. If you don’t believe it, listen to the TED.COM talk given by Harvard neuro-anatomist, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor.

The problem for most of us is that we don’t give peace the chance to flip the switch for a better life experience. Instead, the primitive brain takes charge of our auto-pilot and the day goes to hell-in-a-hand-basket of fight, flight or freeze (also known as STRESS).

But don’t stress, peace is still there for the choosing. It is always right here, waiting for you to simply choose it … right now.

Here’s one easy way of flipping the switch to peace in just 30 seconds:

  1. Stop what you’re doing and step away from the world for a moment.
  2. Let go of what you were thinking and allow yourself to relax a little.
  3. Now allow yourself to relax a little more.
  4. Let go of everything. Feel your brain relax as you let go.
  5. No worries, no problems, no goals. Just let them all go for a moment.
  6. Take a slow, deep breath – and as you do – let your mind and heart open wide. Allow peace to begin to emerge as your experience, all by itself.

You can do this short exercise just about anywhere: standing in line, walking to a meeting, or looking out a window. Try it a few times throughout today and see what happens to your day.


The Most Important Breakthrough in Our Understanding of the Brain in Four Hundred Years

One of the great scientific discoveries in the last twenty years is something called neuroplasticity.  Norman Doige of the Research Faculty at Columbia University said: Neuroplasticity is the most important breakthrough in our understanding of the brain in four hundred years.

Neuroplasticity is the discovery that the brain can change itself to expand and reorganize networks that make us smarter, happier, healthier and more successful in life. It’s what Aristotle defined as The Good Life.  These positive results are produced by positive neuroplasticity. Positive neuroplasticity builds the brain that delivers The Good Life. 

Positive neuroplasticity can even be facilitated within a company, taking the company from the proverbial good to great.  It does this by tapping more of the collective brain power that years of stress have eroded. The level of emotional and creative intelligence, individually and collectively, can actually lift from average to exceptional and in a relatively short period of time.  This is why positive neuroplasticity is seen as the new competitive edge.

It Couldn’t Be Simpler

Attaining the Good Life takes a great brain and it turns out that building a great brain is achieved through simple means, constituting a kind of effortless effort.  Initially, the biggest struggle for people is getting free of struggle. Most of us have been trained to put our nose to the grindstone. The new research points us in the opposite direction.

I spent several years in a think tank, investigating proven processes that facilitate positive neuroplasticity and often I was astounded by how simple it is to facilitate this exponential gain in brain power. Below are three examples, all of which I recommend you practice on yourself:

Example#1: Rewiring to End Stress

Rewiring your brain to transcend stress involves practicing a simple skill that requires less than 20 seconds to perform. The skill entails heightening your awareness, day to day, of all the stress-provoking thoughts and feelings your mind generates and indulges. Practice not believing these thoughts and it creates a condition within the brain for stimulating the growth of GABA fibers. These fibers extend down from the prefrontal cortex to the lower brain and they secrete a peptide that extinguishes stress reactions.[1] Through awareness, you direct your brain to modulate intense emotions.  In response, your brain literally mobilizes the prefrontal cortex to stimulate GABA fibers that force the stress response system to stand down.  Fight, flight and freeze are summarily circumvented.  It’s one way of  curing anxiety, stress and aggression. Neuropsychiatrist, Daniel Siegel of UCLA, is using this type of positive neuroplasticity to quell bullying on school playgrounds.[2]

Example#2: Rewiring for Creativity

Science is discovering that the creative power inside the human brain is not only vaster than we can imagine; it’s much easier to access than we used to believe. Creative insight is generated in a region of the brain called the anterior superior temporal gyrus, which is on the surface of the right brain, just above your ear. The research of Mark Beeman at Northwestern found that the sudden onset of creative insight is preceded by a sudden burst of brain activity in this region.[3] This burst sets in motion a steady rhythm of alpha wave activity in the right hemisphere. The peace and quiet alpha waves produce in your brain enables a multitude of networks to communicate with one another. The best and brightest parts of your brain pull together to intuit the right answer to your problem. There are two tell-tale characteristics to a surge of creative insight.

  • The first characteristic is that the insight seems to come from out of the blue.  The truth is, the insight was a result of you getting out of the way so the higher brain could get its best players on the field.
  • The second characteristic is that you know that the answer the insight delivers is the right answer.  People don’t even bother to check the details.  They know to the bottom of their socks that the insight hits the bull’s eyes.

The alpha waves that open the door for the creative brain to step-in occur when you let go and relax. Most people experience a creative insight when they’re taking a warm shower.  Simply taking short breaks two or three times a day will stimulate your anterior superior temporal gyrus to make you the most creative person at work.  For this very reason, breaks are mandatory at the 3M Company.  They claim it’s what made them the most innovative company in the history of capitalism.  Any kind of relaxing break from the grind serves to excite creativity. Dr. Beeman found that getting people to laugh and relax by watching a comic like Robin Williams increased their creative capacity by 25%.[4]

Example#3: Rewiring for Willpower

We all know that it requires will power to achieve long term objectives, be it a strategic plan, losing weight, or learning to play the piano.  Willpower begins in a willingness to do what it takes to reach the summit. Researcher Ibrahim Senay of the University of Illinois investigated willingness to see how it plays out in our attempt to motivate and direct ourselves to the finish line.[5]  What he found is astounding.

Senay found that the achievements of those whose willpower followed the path of least resistance significantly exceeded the achievements of those who pushed hard. It relates back to the research on creativity.  Less is more.  In terms of willpower and willingness, success boils down to something specific but quite simple: it’s the way self-talk propels or derails the effort.

The people who pushed themselves and underachieved approached their objective by asserting: I will do this! This led to feeling pressured to succeed.  They worried that if they failed, they’d feel ashamed and inept and others would judge them. Their anxiety produced negative self-talk and this affects the brain. It activates the stress response system, which douses the brain with stress hormones. Stress hormones retard higher brain function and positive emotion. As a result, people are more likely to perform poorly. As they ruminate more and more, the steady flow of stress hormones lock the brain into doing the same unsuccessful behavior over and over, rendering them incapable of finding a new, more engaging, and more successful approach. Eventually, they give up.

The people who succeeded took the path of least resistance.  They approached their objective by wondering instead of asserting.   Each time they focused on the challenge, they quietly inquired of  themselves : Will I do this?  Senay defined this way of relating to the challenge as “wondering mode.”  On the surface, the difference between I will! and Will I? may seem subtle but it led to a huge difference in the result.  Senay reported that the people who asked Will I? expressed a much greater commitment to their objective.  The nature of the question – will I do this – circumvented the pressure and anxiety. They were free to choose. As a result, their attitude didn’t become fixed.  Rather, they lived in the possibility of the positive change they wanted, were more able to inspire themselves, and kept a flexible, open mind about how their goal could be achieved.  It made the process intrinsically motivating.

This is a Good Place to Start

There are more examples but this is a good place to start. Begin your neuroplastic journey to the Good Life by practicing all three approaches to brain power and see who you become.

[1] Daniel Seigel, M.D., Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, 2010, Random House, New York pg. 100

[2] Dan Siegel Interview, “The Neurospsychology of the Playground,” Salon, June 24, 2002,

 [3] Bowden, E.M. & Jung-Beeman, M. (2003) Aha! Insight experience correlates with solution activation in the right hemisphere . Psychonomic Bulletin & Review, 10, 730-737.

[4] Subramaniam, K., Kounios, J., Bowden, E.M., Parrish, T.B., & Jung-Beeman, M. (2009).   Positive mood and anxiety modulate anterior cingulate activity and cognitive preparation for insight. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 21, 415-432.

[5] Ibrahim Senay, Dolores Albarracín, Kenji Noguchi, Motivating Goal-Directed Behavior Through Introspective Self-Talk, The Role of the Interrogative Form of Simple Future Tense, Apr 8, 2010, Journal of Psychological Science




Reframing A Stressful, Annoying or Tedious Situation

The PreAttitude process can be used to reframe major issues such as a problem that is about to become a crisis, a deadline you forgot, or facing a person you perceive as difficult or scary.  It can also be used to shift your attitude toward mundane tasks such as reading a bunch of emails, sorting through data, or doing the laundry. Whatever task or challenge makes you groan or freeze, let it become a vehicle for strengthening your ability to shift your attitude.

Here’s all you have to do:

  • Recall a specific place or time when you felt happy and peaceful.
  • Bring that happy, peaceful feeling to life by remembering anything particular about that time, such as the weather, the surroundings and the period of the day, or who you were with.
  • As this happy, peaceful state comes into focus allow it to lift your mind with the good feeling it produces. Relax into feeling good.  Allow it to form your attitude as you look out on the world. Sense the shift in consciousness this generates.
  • Next, bring to mind the situation you perceive as irritating, stressful or tedious and imagine you are in that situation right now.  Bring the peaceful, happy attitude into this situation.
  • See yourself at peace, confident, optimistic, and energetic in this situation.
  • Imagine that, as you work, you are absolutely present in what you are doing. You sense an awake, alive stillness within you.
  • You are open-minded, not so focused on the outcome that it pulls you away from the peace you feel.
  • Imagine that you feel increasingly larger than the situation simply because you are no longer afraid of it.
  • If other people are involved, imagine that you don’t abandon your sense of personal power.  Rather, see yourself able to communicate what you want to say and able to listen carefully to what they have to say, with no antagonism toward them.
  • Imagine that as you settle into this state of heightened awareness the situation is no longer stressful, but is actually becoming enjoyable.

What you are enjoying is not really the task but rather this positive inner dimension of attitude that flows into the work.  Make a positive, peaceful attitude your primary aim as you approach whatever you have to do, and you’ll return home at the end of the day with the vitality to enjoy the evening.