Challenge Your Thinking, Change Your Life

“We can never obtain peace in the outer world
until we make peace with ourselves.”

~ Dalai Lama



Dalai LamaSeveral years ago, I had the chance to hear the Dalai Lama speak when he was visiting northern California. By the time I arrived, there were several hundred people in attendance on this warm, spring afternoon. So I wound up sitting far away from the outdoor stage, on the top of a grassy hillside. As I listened intently all afternoon, I was awed by the Dalai Lama’s wisdom and the powerful, yet lighthearted way in which he spoke about attaining peace. The comment that stood out most for me, however, was the answer he gave when an audience member asked:

“Do you have hope for humanity?”

His Holiness lowered his head and was quiet for some time.

After a few moments he looked up again and firmly said, “Yes. Yet two things have to happen: you have to remain optimistic and you have to practice internal disarmament.”

I since thought a lot about what was meant by those words and have asked many others, too. Just last weekend, I posed that question to a group of workshop participants who were attending a course I was teaching on stress management. We all agreed that the Dalai Lama was likely asking us to stop judging ourselves so harshly, to tame our inner critic and – in a sense – to stop the war within ourselves.

We then talked about the fact that much of our stress is created in our heads and mostly springs from the negative thoughts many of us entertain when we’re under pressure. Negative thinking can be so automatic – and so unconscious – that unless we’re willing to stop and observe our thought process, our stress levels can rise so rapidly that the chances of experiencing the peace and calm we need to solve our problems can be shot! It’s a lot like mounting an internal war.

The good news is that the willingness to stop and do a quick self-analysis – this psychological stance alone – is enough to break negative thought patterns and make room for our wisdom – and the best solution – to emerge.

Whether stress is work-related – such as dealing with budgets, team conflict or staffing issues- or personal – such as dealing with an aging parent, or worrying about health or finances – doesn’t matter. It all boils down to the same thing: it’s in the space between the stressful situation – and our automatic reaction to it – that we can begin to challenge our perceptions and change our pessimistic views to more optimistic ways of looking at things. As Wayne Dyer said, “If we change the way we look at things, the things we look at will change”

With practice, this conceptual shift in our thinking can have a strong, positive impact on both our inner and outer worlds. With a calmer mind and an increased sense of well-being, we’re more likely to be kinder and gentler not only with ourselves, yet also with others, creating an ever expanding ripple effect of hope and positive change.


This week’s practice:

When you experience stress (which you will notice by the signals Mother Nature sends you daily in the form of tension, mood changes and cascades of negative thought), simply commit to pay attention. These signals are your “red flags”. Do as you would if you were driving and saw a red light appear on your dashboard: stop and pull over.

Start by asking yourself:

  • What am I thinking?
  • Is this useful?
  • Is this train of thought aligned with my values?
  • Is it increasing my well-being – or taking away from it?
  • Who would I be (or how would I act) if I could never think this thought again?
  • Is my thinking moving me closer to my desired outcome?
  • If I could, would I be willing to drop this thought?

If the thoughts won’t let up, “lift the rug” on them: Ask yourself if there is an underlying emotion you haven’t dealt with. Be honest with yourself. Are you operating from an old, out-moded or unquestioned belief that’s causing stress? If so, question its validity.

Lastly, if you can do something about the situation, quiet your mind first, then explore your options. Asking questions will help you access the logical left part of your brain and search for the right answer:

  • What do I need?
  • What’s my intention?
  • Am I avoiding the best solution because it’s difficult?
  • What’s my desired outcome?
  • Am I willing to be there for myself?

Remember, it’s in the space between the stressful situation – and your automatic reaction to it – that you can begin to challenge your thinking – and change your life!


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