The World Health Organisation believes that stress will be the biggest killer of the 21st century. UK Government statistics indicate that over 15 million workdays were lost in 2008 due to stress. In the US, the National Institute for Occupational Safety predicts that depression will be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century. The same organisation regularly publishes reports on the affects of stress on heart disease, accidental injury in the workplace, etc., etc. – it’s a pretty long list.
The World Health Organisation published a list of recommended ways of combating stress, which included listening to music, horticulture – or growing your own fruit and veg! – and meditation. Not a single drug made it onto the list!
You see, as psychiatrists in Ireland, UK and US point out, stress and depression are not illnesses – they are emotions. To put it more simply, stress is a state of mind. Same with depression.
We allow ourselves to get stressed – we allow ourselves to become depressed. In fact, looking at it from the perspective that we choose our own thoughts, we decide to be stressed or depressed. Outside events don’t stress us – how we react to outside events is what determines how we feel about them and ourselves.
You might be forgiven for thinking that this is madness – surely, no one decides to be stressed or depressed. But consider eighty years of psychological research that proves that ‘normal’ people are mad! Research shows that we use a tiny proportion of our mental capability – perhaps as little as 1%. It’s also been proved that we live automatically – our behaviour and reactions dictated by our subconscious programming.
In other words, we react like pre-programmed robots. What other explanation could there be for the way we react to situations and make matters worse? Why else would we shout and abuse our nearest and dearest? For what other reason would so many people put up with work they don’t like?
Unfortunately, stress, just like beauty, is in the mind of the beholder! And, as long as we don’t take control of even just a little more of our own mental power, we’ll all still be hassled, stressed and even depressed. We allow ourselves to be stressed – because we do nothing about it. Research that I’ve carried out with my own clients in discussion groups could be summarised by saying that we allow ourselves to be stressed because we’re lazy. And, remember, most of my clients are already successful business leaders! What my clients mean is that they know how to access and control more of their mental capability than ‘normal’ people – and, yet, they still let themselves slip – by not taking action to ensure that they’re in the right state of mind. But, what do ‘action’ and the ‘right state of mind’ mean?
If you’re normal, living automatically, you cannot take action – you can only react. Also, you will always be in a state of mind dictated by your automatic reaction to outside events. You will never be in control. Indeed, research from the Universities of Milan and Chicago has proven that you’ll only ever be in the right state of mind by accident – when you have a ‘peak experience’ – like watching a beautiful sunset, witnessing the birth of your child, scoring that perfect goal or watching a great film – when two hours seems like ten minutes. Otherwise, if you’re ‘normal’, you will never be able to place yourself in the right state of mind.
What is the right state of mind? Certainly not stressed, depressed or hassled! Neither is it a positive state of mind. I know plenty of positive people who cave in when something bad happens – because they didn’t expect it!
The right state of mind is when you’re fully engrossed in what you’re doing – just in the here and now. That’s why the World Health Organisation suggests things like music, gardening and meditation. That’s why I’ve loads of successful business people meditating! Now, don’t get me wrong, meditation is often misunderstood – particularly by people who meditate! The key everyday practical purpose of meditation is to develop your own mental self-discipline to stay cool, calm and focused in the present moment – whatever that involves.
But, as I’ve already said, even many of my clients don’t meditate – they’ve admitted themselves that they’re lazy. So, why not try something easier – something I borrowed from Harvard Business School. Do some little things – habitual things that you do everyday – differently. In doing so, you break the chain of automatic reactive behaviour. You decide that you have a choice how you will behave, just in that moment. And by doing a little something differently, you will pay more attention – becoming more engrossed in what you’re doing.
Now that’s the perfect state of mind.