How to Create Stress (and How Not To)

• Think about all the things you have to do. Do this as you are going about your day. Go over your to-do list mentally many times a day, especially in the midst of doing something. Then talk about how much you have to do and how busy you are with everyone.

• Keep checking the time, and think about time a lot: how much time something took, how much time something takes, how much time something will take, how much time you have left. Tell yourself you don’t have enough time, or worry that you don’t.

• Constantly evaluate how you’re doing as you go about your day: “Did I do that well enough?” “Could I have done it better or faster?” “How did it compare with last time or with how someone else does it?” “How could or should I do it next time?”

• Say yes to every request from others that comes your way. Believe that you should be able to do it all—everything you think you need to do and everything everyone else wants you to do. Assume that everyone else is juggling all these things perfectly.

• Don’t take time to rest or do the things you’d really like to do. Don’t expect or allow yourself to enjoy life—just get things done, as much as you can fit in, in one day! Be efficient. Don’t make happiness, love, or peace a priority. Don’t make your Self a priority, but your goals or everyone else’s needs.

• Tell negative stories about life, yourself and your life, and other people: “I can’t do anything right,” “Life is too hard,” “No one will ever love me,” “I will never be happy,” and so on. (What do you tell yourself that causes you to feel unhappy and stressed?)

The good news is that all of this stress-creation is happening within your own mind! The reason this is good news is that you don’t have to believe everything that goes through your mind. You can learn to ignore the mind when it is producing thoughts that create stress, and when you do, you will no longer feel stressed. Stress is not caused by life itself, but by what we tell ourselves about life, by how we choose to think and what we choose to believe.

Thinking is nearly always bound to create stress because the voice in our head (also called the egoic mind) is a primarily negative voice and a time tyrant. This voice keeps us tied to it with fears, worries, admonitions, judgments, and commands. It’s a tyrant that, with its constant evaluations and demands, keeps us unhappy. We all have a similar tyrannical voice in our head, but we don’t have to give it our attention. Instead, we can learn to be very present to whatever we are doing, which is actually very efficient. But more importantly, being present to what we are doing results in enjoyment of life.

When we are present to what we are doing instead of to the voice in our head and its demands and judgments, we feel peace, love, happiness, and contentment. These states are not achieved by following the voice in our head, but by ignoring the voice in our head and simply experiencing life without the mind’s constant commentary. What creates stress? This ongoing mental commentary does. This is a great discovery because it means we have the power to free ourselves from stress once we learn to detach from this voice and stop believing it and catering to it. This isn’t as hard to do as you might think, but you have to be willing to see the truth about this voice: It is not helpful, and you don’t need it to run your life. It is the problem and not the solution to how to live your life and be happy. So here is how not to create stress:

• Get really involved in whatever you are doing. Experience it fully with all of your senses. Stay in the experience of the present moment, not in thoughts about what you are doing, thoughts about the past, or thoughts about the future.

• Don’t listen to the mind’s judgments and negativity.

• Do what you do out of joy as it naturally arises to be done, not because your mind is pushing you to do it.

• Stop setting arbitrary timelines and making lists of things that need to get done within a certain time frame. Don’t think about what you have to do or plan to do. Just be present to whatever you are doing.

• Rest and be kind to yourself. Do what brings you joy, peace, and love. Make love and happiness a priority rather than getting things done. You’ll find that many of the things you think you need to get done don’t actually need to get done. They aren’t as important as your mind thinks they are. What do you really want? If peace and love are what you really want, then don’t let the mind steal those from you. Move out of the mind and into the moment.