Improve Your Life & Reduce Stress


Anxiety and stress are mostly inventions of our own minds. How many times have your worst fears actually come true? Improving your life is sometimes a simple matter of compartmentalizing your anxieties and fears, facing them head on, and working out simple solutions.

Our problems in life aren’t usually caused by harmful events, bad luck, or the intrusions of other people. We cause our own problems through negative mental habits, habits we’ve learned and taught ourselves over and over again even when they don’t work. Here are 10 “dont’s” that can improve your life a little bit at a time. Want to free yourself from your mental obsessions and bad habits?

1. Don’t jump to conclusions.

There are two ways that the habit of jumping to conclusions affects your mental state. The first is the most common — people use their ability to jump to conclusions to assume they know what is going to happen, and then they panic about it. If you are so sure of your conclusions that you stop listening to reality, you’ll only prove to yourself that you’re not much of a psychic. Most of what we assume will happen on a daily basis is simply wrong — if you find yourself wanting to improve your life, you’ve already admitted that your life is out of order. What makes you an expert on the future?

The second negative aspect of this bad habit is called “playing mind reader”, and it means you think you know why people make certain actions or statements. There are more bad relationships founded on the idea of mind reading than anything else — who are you to say what motivates other people? Don’t jump to conclusions, instead listen to what is happening around you and react in the moment.

2. Don’t be a drama queen.

The words “drama queen” get thrown around all the time. When you turn something small into a life or death catastrophe and act based on your end of the world assumptions, you are being over dramatic. The drama queen habit is what gives people anxieities that simply don’t exist — even if your anxiety is about something real, your problem is really very insignificant in the grand scheme of things. This is a particularly destructive behavior for people in a loving relationship. Your partner will assume that you think your problems are more important than their own. Don’t make that mistake.

3. Don’t invent rigid rules for yourself.

Therapists tell us that many of our problems come from “shoulds” and “oughts”, as in “I should be making more money” or “I ought to have a cleaner house.” Even these practical “rules” can cause a lot of impractical behavior. All that you’re doing to yourself is causing nervous feeling and guilt. When people set imaginary or impossible rules for themselves, they take away from their ability to deal with the real (and probably avoidable) circumstances that cause a need for self-improvement. The worst thing about making these rules is that we tend to apply them to other people besides ourselves. This makes you a nag, a bully, or even a downright bigot. Life can be easy without all those self imposed bans and regulations.

4. Don’t use stereotypes to label difficult people or situations.

Words are powerful things. What you say becomes what you are and what you believe. When you stereotype difficulties, you avoid dealing with them head on. Negative thinking is all that stereotypes and labels are — if you want to cloud your thinking with negativity and ruin your happiness, go ahead and place labels on things. Otherwise, stop forcing things into categories and try to get to their real meaning. Facing reality means taking things for what they are and not what your brain thinks they are.

5. Don’t be a perfectionist.

We should strive for perfection in our lives, but that doesn’t mean being a perfectionist. Perfectionists are disappointed by everything that comes their way — since perfection is impossible, it is meaningless to pursue. Learn to use the phrase “good enough” in a positive way and not a negative. A perfectionist attitude makes everything look meaningless or small. An attitude that everything must be perfect is the best awy to ruin your ability to feel pleasure. Why search for the impossible?

6. Don’t over-generalize negative (or positive) situations.

If you have a setback, this is not a sign that you are a failue any more than a single success makes you a genius. Stop looking for positive and negative trends in your life, and enjoy things for what they really are.

7. Don’t take things so personally.

No matter what you think, most people aren’t all that worried about you in their day to day life. The majority of people in your life would rather think good things about you than bad — that may be hard to believe, especially if you exhibit the other 9 behaviors on this list, but most things simply aren’t personal attacks. When you assume that people are talking about you or addressing your flaws, you just make your life miserable.

8. Don’t assume your feelings are trustworthy.

You’ve already acknowledged that your thought processes are wrong — why should you trust your feelings 100%? When you feel an emotion, that emotion doesn’t automatically become true. Being worn out, hungry, sick, or just plain frustrated can make everything seem dark. You should never trust a simple emotion. You can’t change your life or your future because you “feel” a certain way. As the playwright Arthur Miller said: “It is all true, but it isn’t THE truth.”

9. Don’t let life get you down in the dumps.

Easier said then done, but if you’ve got the first eight “don’ts” down, you are probably already avoiding the kind of everyday depression we’re talking about. Why not try optimism for a few weeks? You’ve given pessimism a go, and it hasn’t worked. Expecting bad things usually means finding them. When you let life wear you down, it is easier to see the black marks on your life. Most of the time, problems don’t exist until we look for them.

10. Don’t hold on to past mistakes or problems.

There’s a slogan in twelve step programs: “Let Go and Let God”. You don’t have to be religious to understand the wisdom here — you can’t control your problems. Even without God, you can recognize that your despair comes from holding on to negative feelings that have long since expired. Instead of trying to counterattack your misery, think through it and let it go. This is the best way to remove the power that minor problems have over your life.

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