An All-Purpose Self-Help Tool

Whenever you feel anxious, nervous, upset, tense, worried, etc., ask yourself this question: "What method could I use here?"

At first you may need to browse through this web site looking at the different methods. After you're more familiar with them you'll be able to do it in your head. But by making a regular practice of applying these principles, you'll eventually become familiar with a range of methods and this tool will become your key tool.

Yesterday I was walking into the post office to do some errands. I'd been feeling kind of anxious, and as I walked up I noticed I felt self-conscious, more than usually, probably because of the extra stress hormones floating around in my system.

I asked myself, "What tool could I use right now?" It only took me a couple seconds to think of one. I thought, "I could zazen people." I started doing it. Immediately I went from trying to get away to reaching toward. It changed my state, helped me relax, and allowed me a chance to practice a good principle.

We have different tools for different circumstances. Practice one method today at work. Practice a different one when you're at home. Think about a result you want or a change you want to make and then rummage around in your toolbox until you find a tool that will do the job. If it doesn't work, try another one.

The all-purpose, first choice tool I use is to relax tense muscles. Walking into a tense situation, I scan my body and relax. If I am worrying about something, I relax tense muscles. If I feel just generally agitated, I relax muscles. It's my first thought, and it always helps. It's a small thing, it only helps a little, but a little often helps a lot. Remember this please: When it comes to lowering stress or anxiety, every little bit counts.

It only does a little, but it also takes very little time and effort. If all you can do at the moment is take a deep breath, and it will only help a little, do it. Don't hold out for a cure-all. There may not be one. But if you can relax a little, that may be enough to make a difference. These methods will help keep your nervous system calmer and more relaxed. And they'll enhance the effectiveness of any other method you choose to use.

I have a set of custom-made military dog tags with principles imprinted on them — one principle per tag. When I'm getting ready to do something, I choose the clothes I'm going to wear and I choose the principle I'm going to apply. It sounds kind of odd, but it's very practical. It is really far more important to take time to choose the content of your mind than the covering of your body.

This metamethod is itself a very practical method to reduce anxiety. Using an effective tool — even deciding to use an effective tool — can reduce stress or anxiety.

Ask yourself, "What method could I use here?" This is an excellent question. You actually know quite a bit of useful information. You've learned a lot in your life, and you've read and heard a lot of good advice during your lifetime, but if you're like most of us, you don't apply nearly as much as you know.

We're running on habits for the most part: Habits of speech, habits of action, habits of thought. It takes something out of the ordinary to wake us out of our habit-sleep and do something fresh. This question is just the thing.

Another variation on this method is asking yourself the question, "What is a good rule to follow right now?" This question makes you stop and think. What are you doing or about to do? Is there some insight or advice you know of that, if you had it in mind right now, would make whatever you're doing go better? Think of a good answer to that question and then apply that answer as you go forward. State it to yourself as a rule, and keep the rule in mind as you take action.

Many of the rules that will come to you are the ones you've used before. There are three different kinds of things you can remember and use:

1. rules or principles
2. questions
3. facts

When you ask, "What's a good rule to follow right now," you're asking about what to do. The answer to the question will not be a fact from category #3, and it can't be another question. You're looking for a rule — an action-oriented rule or principle you can apply.

It obviously doesn't have to be a rule from this web site, or anything you've ever heard. Good rules will pop into your head if they're appropriate. This is one of the most useful questions you can ask. What's a good rule to follow right now?

It's one of the most useful because you can use it in so many places. The truth is you know a lot. If you were told to write a book of truths about life, you could, and it would probably be good. You've learned a lot during your lifetime. Haven't you ever thought, "I wish I could give myself as good advice as I give to other people?"

Well, here is one way to bring your accumulated wisdom out where you can use it. This is a way to call up your wisdom in the heat of the battle, in the midst of the fray, in the helter-skelter of an active moment.

Recall times when you felt tension, uneasiness, anger, when it struck you suddenly — intensely or mildly, but suddenly. That's a good place to ask this question. Asking the question can keep you from reacting automatically. It makes you think about the situation in a way that you can make a good response, the kind of response you'll be glad you made, instead of just an old habit or simply a blind, biological reaction.

Let those moments of sudden upset or negative feeling be your reminder to ask this question of yourself. Answer it to the best of your ability and put that answer into action.

Adam Khan is the author of Antivirus For Your Mind: How to Strengthen Your Persistence and Determination and Feel Good More Often and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.

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