From Generation Stressed to Generation Blessed

from Don Joseph Goewey’s article in the Huffington Post

Millennials, who came of age after 1999, and Generation X, born between the early 1960’s and early 1980’s, are now being dubbed Generation Stress. The American Psychological Association’s research on stress has found Millennials to be the most stressed demographic in America, with Generation X coming in a close second.

Both generations report nearly twice the level of stress that’s considered safe from serious health risk. They’re having problems with anxiety, anger, irritability, and depression, and it’s affecting their children. Research has found that today’s kids are stressed, now more than ever, and it’s because of how stressed their parents have become. Yet 83 percent of us are doing little or nothing about it.

BUT DON’T STRESS. If stress is a problem in your life, it because genetics and past traumas wired you for it. You can rewire those faulty circuits with simple, proven approaches. Your experience of life can change dramatically without circumstances necessarily changing. Experiencing a higher quality of life is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen fast, as happier, healthier, and more successful outcomes build one on the other to achieve the Good Life.

Below is a starter kit to get you moving in the right direction. These 3 stress busting tools are part of the more extensive program in my new book, The End of Stress, Four Steps to Rewire Your Brain.

The tools are all quite simple. This is because simple approaches are what work best in resolving stress. The tools in my book are also neuroplastic, meaning they rewire the brain to change a stress-provoking auto-pilot  that causes you to fixate on a problem … to a calmer auto-pilot accessing the clarity of higher order brain networks to create solutions.

The first step is a simple practice that goes a long way to frame a great day, instead allowing a stressful beginning to take over. It’s called Starting the Day in Quiet. This tool is an antidote to the frenetic, over-caffeinated early morning rush out the door that heads straight into a traffic jam. This tool encourages you to set aside a few minutes first thing in the morning to consciously frame a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative mindset to meet the day’s challenges. Doing this can make a big difference in how the day goes.  Here’s how it works.

  • Start your day by rising 10 minutes earlier, ahead of the morning rush.
  • Sit quietly in a place where you won’t be disturbed.
  • Close your eyes, tilt your head toward your heart, and follow your breathing. The idea is to feel each breath opening your heart and mind wider, empowering heart and mind to work in concert.
  • Feel appreciation for the gift of another day of life. It’s not guaranteed. Feel gratitude for another day with the people you love. Gratitude is a powerful psychological state. It is the gateway to positive emotions.
  • Set your intention to have a great day, filled with achievements. Equally, commit to a great state of mind to face the day’s ups and down with a dynamically positive, peaceful, and creative attitude.

The next step is to practice using a tool during the day that busts stressful, anxious, angry, or depressing thoughts and emotions that ruin your attitude. The brain offers you 90 seconds to bust these reaction before dumping a load of toxic stress hormones in your system that can overwhelm you with anxiety. This tool is called the Clear Button. It gets you through the 90-second window in time. Here’s how it works. You imagine a button at the center of your palm.

You press the button and keep pressing it as you count to 3, thinking of each number as a color.

  • Breathe in, count 1, and on the exhale think red.
  • Breathe in, count 2, and on the exhale think blue.
  • Breathe in, count 3, and on the exhale think green.
  • On the next breath, let your mind go completely blank for 10 seconds.
  • Next, refocus on the problem at hand, recommitting yourself to being calm, creative, and optimistic as you face this and other stressors that arise during the day.
  • If the problem you face seems beyond your control, recite the Serenity Prayer: Give me the serenity to accept what I can’t change, the courage to change what I can, and the wisdom to know the one from the other.

The calm this tool facilitates can shift control from the amygdala, the brain’s fear center, where all you see are problems, to higher order brain function in the prefrontal cortex where you are able to create solutions.

The third step in this “starter kit” provides a way to close out the day. It’s called Finish
Each Day and Be Done With It.

This helps you let go of the day’s problems, so you don’t take them home.  Moreover, it allows you to let the day go so you can begin tomorrow serenely, with too high a spirit and purpose to be encumbered by the past. This piece of wisdom comes from a letter written by the great American philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, to his daughter who was stressed over a mistake she’d made. This is what it says:

Finish each day and be done with it.

You have done what you could. Some blunders, losses, and the old nonsense no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can.

Tomorrow is a new day.  It is too dear, with its hopes and invitations, to waste a moment on yesterdays.

I invite you to cut-and-paste the statement and post it where you’ll see it at the close of your work day.

The more you learn to apply tools that bust stress reactions, the more your brain will strengthen synapses that quiet stress and anxiety the moment it raises its ugly hand. Before you know it, you’re functioning at the top of your game, and at the end of the day you’re the person coming through the door that your loved ones were hoping to see.



85% of What We Worry About Never Happens

Five hundred years ago, Michel de Montaigne said: My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened. Now there’s a study that proves it. This study looked into how many of our imagined calamities never materialize. In this study, subjects were asked to write down their worries over an extended period of time and then identify which of their imagined misfortunes did not actually happen.

Lo and behold, it turns out that 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered either they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.

Montaigne’s quote has made people laugh for five centuries, but worry is no joke. A worried mind means a chronically stressed brain, and chronic stress generates serious problems. The stress hormones stress and worry dump into your system shrinks brain masslowers your IQ, makes you prone to heart disease, cancer and premature aging, predicts martial problems, family dysfunction, and depression, and makes seniors more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s.

If we could get a handle on the worry and stress that habitually, incessantly, and often unconsciously seizes hold of our mind, we would greatly increase the odds of living a longer, happier, healthier, and more successful life.



10 Brain Discoveries You Should Know

Listed below are 10 discoveries about your brain that hold out to you the possibility of turning a brain wired for stress into a brain wired for the Good Life, which is a life of being well and doing well on the way to flourishing. Actualizing this change is simpler than you might imagine and change can happen quickly.  It’s called positive neuroplasticity and its the key to the health, wealth and love we desire but has eluded us.

Positive emotions make you smarter. Positive emotions broaden thought, refine behavior, increase mental flexibility, and facilitate creative problem-solving. Attaining a positive emotion state takes practice.

The Cure: Use the Start Your Day Positive Tool. It only requires five minutes of time each morning but it pays dividends for the investment. People who start the day mindfully experience more positive emotions during the day, exhibit more interest in their work, are more likely to feel connected and supportive toward others, and are more likely to sleep better that night.

Reacting to stressors with negativity invites long-term mental health problems:  If chronic, negative emotional responses to daily stressors predict psychological distress and emotional disorder ten years later. Yikes!

The Cure: Most emotional negativity begins in negative thinking, which is largely fear-based.  Use the Thought Awareness Tool to bust your negative pattern.

Happiness leads to success, not the other way around: Happy people are in general more successful across the board than less happy people, and their happiness is in large part a consequence of having cultivated a positive state of mind. The Cure: Count your blessing periodically. A mountain of research has shown that gratitude promotes a happy attitude. Give attention to what’s right in your life. Practice noticing moments when you feel happy, or peaceful, or connected, or expansive in any way. When your heart opens, even for a second, mark the moment. Tell yourself this moment matters. Tell your brain, This is how I want to feel, so please wire me for it. Then enjoy the moment for as long as it last. Neurologically, marking the moment makes the experience a reward and the brain cues on rewards in forming habits.

Stress and depression can shrink the brain: Major depression or chronic stress can cause the loss of brain volume, a condition that contributes to both emotional and cognitive impairment.

The Cure: It’s about attitude. Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative.

Financial stress can temporarily lower IQPeople who are worried about having enough money to pay their bills can experience a temporary decrease in their IQ, reducing the brain bandwidth needed to solve a financial problem. It ends up producing a mental state called “scarcity.” Yet research shows that 85% of what we worry about never happens.

The Cure: Use the Clear Button tool to quiet your worried, stressful thoughts so you can focus your mental energy on the solution instead being trapped in the problem.

Your brain needs a 20 minute break every two hours to sustain peak performanceThe brain cycles every 90-120 minutesDuring the first phase brainwaves oscillate at a fast rate, using sodium and potassium ions to generate electrical signals that enable you to perform at a peak level. But fast brain waves burn through the ions, which means your brain needs to refuel with new ions. That’s the second phase, which necessitates a 20-minute break.

The Cure: A walk under the trees is the best way to take a break, weather permitting. If the weather prohibits, walk around the office. Stop at windows and look out at what’s happening in the world around you.

The more you think on a problem the more you block the creative insight that can solve it.

The Cure: If a problem stumps you, take a quiet walk under the trees and let your mind relax, but keep a mental window open for a creative insight to come through.

Exercise may slow brain aging by 10 years for older people: Exercise in older people is associated with a slower rate of decline in thinking skills that occurs with aging. People who reported light to no exercise experienced a decline equal to 10 more years of aging as compared to people who reported moderate to intense exercise.

The Cure: Hike, walk in a park, or go to the gym at least three days a week. Walking around the neighborhood is a good way to get started if you haven’t been exercising.

Sitting for more than three hours a day can shorten your life by up to two years: We need to pull away from the computer, stand up, and move our bodies.

The Cure: The prescription is simple. At least every hour, stand up, stretch, do some movement, or take a walk to see if your brain offers a creative insight.


The 84th Problem

A farmer heard that the Buddha was a wonderful teacher and went to see him, seeking resolution to a set of distressing problems.

“I’m a landowner,” he told the Buddha, “And I love to watch my people working in the fields and to see my crops grow. But last summer we had a drought and nearly starved. This summer, we had too much rain and some of my crops did poorly.”  The Buddha listened and nodded compassionately.

“I have a wife too. She’s a good woman and a wonderful wife. But sometimes she nags me. To tell the truth, sometimes I grow tired of her.”  Again, the Buddha nodded.

“I have three children. Two are basically good, and I am very proud of them. But sometimes these two refuse to listen to me or pay me the respect I deserve.  My oldest son is not so good.  He drinks far too much and now he’s wandered off .  He’s been gone a year and I don’t know where he is or even if he’s alive.”  The man began to cry and the Buddha’s face filled with compassion.

The farmer carried on like this for another hour.  When he had exhausted himself, he turned to the Buddha and said, “Please tell me what to do,” fully expecting to receive an answer that would solve all his problems.

“I cannot help you,” replied the Buddha.

“What do you mean ?” the farmer retorted.

“Everyone has problems,” the Buddha replied. “In fact, everyone has eighty-three problems. You may solve one now and then, but another is sure to take its place. Everything is subject to change. Life is impermanent. Everything you have built will return to dust; everyone you love is going to die. You, yourself, are going to die someday. Therein dwells the problem of all problems, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

The farmer was chagrined. “What kind of teaching is this? How can it possibly help me?”

“Perhaps it will help you with the eighty-fourth problem,” answered the Buddha.

“What is the eighty-fourth problem?” asked the farmer anxiously.

“The problem of not wanting any problems,” replied the Buddha.

My Greatest Teacher on Peace Was a Mountain

Ironically, my greatest teacher on the sheer power of peace was a dangerous mountain called Mt. Shasta, which is the second highest mountain in the continental United States. Shasta is glacial and classified as a technical climb, meaning you need crampons, an ice ax, a hard hat, special clothing and boots, a subzero sleeping bag, and a long list of other essentials to undertake the journey. You also need to be in excellent physical condition.

The mountain is unforgiving of those who neglect even small details in preparing to make the climb. It can seem very complicated and daunting, but climbing Mount Shasta demands more than being tactically prepared. It requires an attitude of absolute simplicity and humility. This attitude can be absent in people who come to the mountain with the primary goal of “bagging” her. Hubris is lethal in mountain climbing, however, to a humble heart that surrenders to Mis Misa, the name native people have given her, the mountain becomes a guiding hand. In the beginning, my mind was preoccupied with reaching my destination: the summit. After a few hours, this goal became blurred in weariness, and my focus shifted to more immediate locations. I began to fixate on small plateaus or crevices just ahead that promised a place of rest. These positions almost always turned out to be a mirage of shadow and light, which was discouraging.
The higher I climbed, the harder it got, and for the first couple hours, my mind complained incessantly about the hardship, undermining the positive attitude it takes to reach the top. It badgered me with: What have I gotten myself into? What was I thinking when I decided to do this? It’s crazy to go on. I can’t make it. This mountain is going to kill me. Eventually, I realized that my mind was making me miserable, depleting my physical and emotional energy. I realized I had to let go of reaching any destination at all. I had to stop thinking and begin disciplining myself to focus on the step I was taking, to be fully present in the moment and alive in the experience. It is as Eckhart Tolle states, “The moment you completely accept your nonpeace, your nonpeace becomes transmuted into peace.”

It took some time to master this orientation, but gradually I calmed down and eased into accepting whatever experience occupied a given moment, from dispiriting fatigue to expansive joy, from overwhelm to surrender. Then something I had not expected happened. My mind began to quiet, and as it quieted I suddenly woke up to the experience I was having. The beauty of the mountain lifted my heart and expanded my mind as I watched the shadows of billowy clouds race across the undulating contour, darkening its surface, and then restoring it to pure white as they sailed by. I became aware that I was literally walking in other people’s footprints, etched in the ice, making the way easier to find, and I was bolstered by the courage of those who had preceded me. My heart opened wide to the people I was climbing with. They became brothers and sisters to me. I was touched by the way we watched out for each other, slowed the pace at times to let someone catch up, and how we quietly celebrated each other’s courage to continue to venture higher.

Gradually, effort transformed into flow, and within this feeling of flow I was carried along by a force or presence of something greater than me. It was nothing less than miraculous. I had no sense of time or even a sense of self. The mountain and I were at peace and at one with each other, without a shred of ego or conflict to separate us. That year I made it to the summit, weathering fifty-mile-an-hour winds through the corridor leading to the top. I had reached what felt like the top of the world. I knew, though, it was not ice, altitude, forty-degree snowfields, and fifty-mile-an hour winds that I had conquered in reaching the summit. It was my mind I had conquered.