Laurie Nadel, Ph.D.
In “Stress and America,” the American Psychological Association reported that 80% of Americans feel stressed about the economic crisis; 60% feel angry about it; and 52% are having trouble sleeping.
It is easy to blame the news for the rise in stress levels. But let’s face it: even when the economy is booming, the news generally tends to be negative in tone.
Let’s look at it from another angle:
If you keep banging your head against a wall until it bleeds, do you blame the wall?
Ruminating obsessively about the economy or letting your fears keep you awake at night is like blaming the wall for being made of brick when you are the one who keeps slamming your head against it.
What happens when you stop?
Whether it’s a brick wall or the economic crisis, your head stops hurting.
(Aaah! Doesn’t that feel better?)
“That’s easy for you to say,” you may be thinking. “But what, specifically, can I do to stop worrying?”
The first key is to identify the Mind Traps that keep you from thinking productively and finding solutions. Here are FIVE of the most common Mind Traps:
Mind Trap #1: Watching “The Fear Channel.”
Did you know that your mind is like a television? It is constantly projecting images onto the screen of your conscious mind. When you are sleeping, those streams of images are called dreams (or nightmares). When you are awake, they make up a subliminal cable channel that runs through your mind 24/7 whether you are aware of it or not.
Every time you watch the news on TV or your computer, or listen on the radio, or read a newspaper or blog about the impact of the economic crisis, your mind selects the images, words, and themes that have the greatest emotional impact. Within nanoseconds, you are watching large, bright colorful ‘mind movies’ about bankruptcy, home foreclosures, swindlers, and people who became so desperate after losing large sums of money that they committed suicide.
Your head begins to feel as if it’s glued to “The Fear Channel.”
Knowing this, are you surprised that you have anxiety about the economy?
Here’s the solution: Change the channel! Imagine you have a remote control in your hand and you can switch from watching those disaster movies to watching something that makes you feel good. How about your very own personal “Health and Fitness Channel?” Or your “Friends and Family” channel?
It’s your mind. It’s your TV. It’s your remote.
Stop banging your head against the wall. It’s not the economy, stupid.
You forgot to change the channel.
So do it.
Mind Trap #2: Getting stuck in NeverAlways Land.
When I was a young girl, Peter Pan was one of my favorite stories. In one version, the actress Mary Martin played Peter Pan. She sang a song to describe her life:
“I know a place where dreams are born and life is never planned.
It’s not in any chart. You must find it with your heart.
As the Bible says, there are times “to put away childish things.” We outgrow nursery rhymes and fairy tales. We forget about Peter Pan and NeverNever Land.
We become adults. We have families and careers. We take on responsibilities. We work hard to pay our bills.
When a financial crisis like the present one escalates to becoming the number one issue on everyone’s mind, our attention starts to wander. Without realizing it, we have drifted into the emotional swamplands of NeverAlways Land. We start to think, “I’ll never get out of debt,” “I will always have financial problems,” “We will never recover,” etc.
The quicksand of NeverAlways Land starts sucking you down into a destructive spiral of negative thinking.
There is a solution: When you are feeling stuck, pay attention to the words you use when you are speaking out loud or in your head. Write down every time you use “Always” or “Never.”
Draw a border around your list of “Always” and “Never” phrases. This ‘territory’ of the mind is NeverAlways Land. As you become more aware of when you use these generalizations, it will become easier for you to navigate away from NeverAlwaysLand. Try replacing “Never” and “Always” with some of the following words:
You will find that staying away from NeverAlways Land creates a different mental landscape, one that is wide open to the possibility that life can change for the better. Not now, perhaps…. but possibly.
Mind Trap #3: It’s not fair!
One of my first jobs was assistant editor for the Comic Book Association of America. It was my job to read the story boards and make sure they conformed to the comic book industry association code which went something like this: “In every comic book story, good must always triumph over evil and the villain must never be allowed to escape.”
Boys and girls, I am sorry to have to break it to you but real life isn’t fair.
Nowhere, except in comic books, is it written that life comes without hardship.
Fair or unfair, that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
In some ways, Mind Trap #3 seems like the cruelest of them all. There is no rational answer for why honest, hard-working individuals will be prevented from retiring because of the stock market’s tanking. Nor can I assist you in understanding why the CEO’s of General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler have corporate jets at their disposal when thousands of auto workers are unemployed.
I do know that ruminating about the unfairness of it all will make it impossible for you to find that new job or scale down your expenses. What it will do is keep you stuck in the mentality of a victim, which you are not. You can choose to think differently.
“You probably spent more time learning how to drive a car than learning how to use your brain,” said Richard Bandler, a founder of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Whether you are out of work or afraid of losing your job or just plain worried, now is the best time to find your hidden strengths and make use of intelligences that you never knew you had.
It is possible that years from now, you will look back at this crisis and say, “It wasn’t fair but if I hadn’t gone through all that, I would not be who I am today. I would never know that I had certain strengths and abilities because I would not have been motivated to discover them.”
Mind Trap#4: There is nothing I can do.
In the 1990’s, I spent 7 years teaching in corporate universities. One of my favorite homework assignments was asking students to bring into class an “impossible problem.”
“What makes a problem impossible?” you may wonder.
1. You don’t believe you are smart enough to solve it.
2. The solution is not within your control. Someone else has to give it the green light.
3. The problem is framed in a yes/no format. This leaves no room for brainstorming new solutions. It implies that there is only one correct answer.
Mind Trap #4 is a virtual “bridge to nowhere.” If you do not believe you are
Capable of coming up with new ideas, you will stay stuck. If you frame the problem so that you do not have control over the choices that need to be made in order to solve the problem, guess what? You won’t be able to solve it. And if you frame the problem in a yes/no, black/white, either/or format, you are assuming there is only one correct answer. In complex, real-life situations, rarely is there one correct answer. Just as Mind Trap#4 has a few layers of complexity, so do real-life problems.
Stay far away from Mind Trap#4 if you really want solutions.
Mind Trap #5: “Second pig” thinking.
In the story of the three little pigs, the big bad wolf threatened to huff and puff and blow down the house of the first little pig. He panicked and built a house of straw. The wolf came, as promised. You know what happened.
The second little pig saw what happened to the first pig and said, “Hmm…that was a flimsy house of straw.” He threw together a house of sticks. The wolf came, huffed and puffed, blew the second little pig’s house down, and ate him.
The third little pig thought for awhile. “The problem isn’t the house. The wolf is the source of the problem.”
He designed and built a house of bricks but he knew that would not stop the wolf. Eventually, the third little pig lured the wolf to come down the chimney where there was a pot of boiling water on the fire.
The third little pig solved the problem by taking time to identify the source of the problem rather than just throwing solutions at it and hoping it would go away.
MIND TRAP #5 can be avoided quite easily. Take time to think about the source of a problem before you try to fix it. That way, it won’t come back.