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Stress is a universal part of the human condition. In short, just about everything in our lives can be a source of stress. The key is not avoiding stress, but learning how to filter what kinds of stress we allow to affect us, and to stop the influence of the worst sources.
However, in some cases one of the worst sources of stress is the voice in our own heads. It really is true that we can be our own worst critics. We talk ourselves into giving up on important projects, belittle ourselves, and sabotage our good, healthy habit-building progress with unhelpful language and private doubts. While a healthy dose of constructive self-criticism can help anyone, we frequently end up taking things too far and miss out on many otherwise good opportunities to build strong habits for ourselves.
With this in mind, we're going to take a look at the S.T.O.P. method of thought management. S.T.O.P. is one of the many techniques you can use to keep a healthy perspective on things. In particular, it is a means of bringing up those negative thoughts and banishing them before you can talk yourself into a bad situation. Practicing these steps will build a healthy habit to stopping stress.
S - Say 'Stop' Now.
Right at the start, learn to say 'stop' aloud to yourself. The moment you start having those self-sabotaging thoughts, or that mental voice tells you that you're stupid or silly for trying something, say 'stop.'
It may feel a bit awkward at first, but there's a reason for this. Remember that in a crisis, the police or firefighters will often give verbal commands, even when the situation is fairly obvious. This isn't just to relay the information itself, it also helps get everyone thinking on the same page. This psychological trick can be used in your own favor, so that the act of saying 'stop' aloud starts off a chain of events that you're able to use to your advantage.
As another example, it's similar to the habit of some experts who talk to themselves through a task they know how to do. They aren't necessarily reminding themselves how to do it. Rather, the act of saying the instructions and steps aloud helps them focus, and gets their mind in an appropriate place. Learn to take advantage of this at the first sign of trouble.
T - Take A Breath And A Breather
Now that you've brought your bad thoughts to a halt, don't let them just start up again. If you immediately start thinking about the problem right away, there's a good chance you're going to go down the same path of negative thinking as before. This is because the mind tends to think in patterns.
The reason habits are such strong behaviors is that the mind likes a pattern, and will adapt itself to one. Therefore, if you try to dive right back into a problem the moment after you say 'stop,' chances are you aren't going to be in the right mindset.
Instead, take a slow, deep breath. Hold it for a moment, and then let it out slowly. Deep breathing has a calming effect on the body, and our brains work better when we have plenty of oxygen.
Then, take a break from the problem. It doesn't have to be a long one, just long enough to think about something else for a few minutes. Read a short story, listen to your favorite positive song, or take a brief walk. The activity will allow you to get your mind into a more positive framework that you can use to your benefit.
O - Own Your Outcome
Remind yourself of the goals you've set for yourself. Remember that the reason you chose the Habit Changer program is because you want to feel better, and take control of the stress in your life. Yes, the present matters, but only in the way it relates to your goal.
Letting negative thinking defeat your efforts is going to sabotage the Outcome you've picked for yourself, so focus on that Outcome and analyze your thoughts for how they will help you get there.
P - Praise Yourself For What You've Accomplished
There is always a bright side to look at. Whether it's meeting a long term goal, or just having the satisfaction that you're finally starting to take small steps toward making your life better, remind yourself of the good things as often as you can. This will help put those negative thoughts into perspective, and allow you to see them in their proper context. Praise reaffirms our good behaviors, and is a critical element in good habit building.
The S.T.O.P. method is easy, but it will feel a bit awkward at first. We don't often tell ourselves to 'stop' aloud, so it will take practice. This is true of all good habits. It takes about a month of consistent effort to develop a new behavior into a habit. That said, once this time is up, the habits become strong enough to easily fit into our lives, and they get easier every time. Good luck, and remember to S.T.O.P. when stress starts.
About the Author:
Larry Tobin is the co-creator of http://www.HabitChanger.com/, offering effective and empowering solutions for losing weight. Try our 42-day weight loss program for Losing Weight.
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