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The Thing that Ruins Your Life is Never What You Think

“Your nervous system cannot tell the difference between a real experience and one that is vividly imagined” — Maxwell Maltz

The feeling imploded in my chest. Claws of shame splintered out, making my face bloom into heat.

Worry overcame my mind, and spiraled into panic, guilt and a troublesome stream of thoughts.

You will never be successful, this is NOT how successful people behave.

You must be a lunatic to think you could pull this off, who do you think you are?

You’d be better off just quitting, that way no one will know how embarrassing you actually are.

Without realizing it this state of mind had become my default. Anytime I strayed from my stringent and obsessive path, panic set in.

Without realizing it my life had become a reaction to worry, which launched me into panic attacks, anxiety, doubt and immense shame.

I spent my days fantasizing about all the bad things I had ever done.

My mind obsessed over things that could happen. Sad story lines of all the ways I would fail, screw up or be hurt by this life.

I fretted over the typical things:

  • Failing
  • Embarrassing myself
  • Not following through
  • People finding out I’m actually a fraud
  • Not amounting to anything

All the things we assume will ruin us.

But what I’ve learned is that those things are never what ruin us. Not even close.

Your mind is either your greatest asset, or your biggest hurdle

“The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one” — Maxwell Maltz

In high school my anxiety and panic attacks started.

They got so bad that I would rarely leave the house.

If I had a date, or something to do with friends, my mind would immediately go to everything that could go wrong:

  • I would be stuck and wouldn’t be able to leave.
  • I would do something irrevocably embarrassing.
  • I would get sick, my stomach would betray me and I wouldn’t be able to leave without everyone knowing.

In the rare times I would actually be able to get myself out the door to whatever social event I had been invited to, my mind would trip into these thought patterns, creating fantasies of all the worst things that could happen.

By the time I would arrive at the event, I was in such a state of panic, I would actually be physically sick. My stomach would do exactly what I was most afraid of, and all my worst fears would manifest themselves.

This struggle of worry and manifesting my worst fears continued well into adulthood.

Eventually I started to see the correlation between what I was worried about happening, and how those things would end up happening. Then it became a battle between me and my mind.

I didn’t want to think about these things, but habitually I had made myself a worrier.

It wasn’t until I started diving deep into personal growth, meditation and other mental practices that this worrying started to go away. I was slowly changing my habits from a state of worry and panic, to a state of calm and joy.

In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, A New Way to Get More Living Out of Life, Dr. Maxwell Maltz deciphers the strange, almost haunting way our bodies manifest what we focus on.

Maltz says “Your nervous system cannot tell the difference between an imagined experience and a ‘real’ experience.”

In all my obsessive worry and panic, my mind was telling my body that I was in fact experiencing all those stories I was feeding it. And what did my body do?

It created everything I was imagining, almost to the detail.

As Maltz explains:

“A human being always acts and feels and performs in accordance with what he imagines to be true about himself and his environment…For imagination sets the goal ‘picture’ which our automatic mechanism works on”

I was imagining and obsessing over past events and traumas, I was playing out every bad thing that could possibly happen in my life. In doing so, I was setting the goal for my body — or ‘automatic mechanism’ according to Maltz — and it worked towards achieving that goal, even though what I was imagining was my biggest fear at the time.

Napoleon Hill, who wrote the classic Think and Grow Rich, describes how your subconscious cannot discern between what thoughts are good and which are bad.

It can only act upon what it is given.

Hill suggests “Every man is what he is, because of the dominating thoughts which he permits to occupy his mind.”

Maltz compares the human mind to a computer. The mind can only seek to attain the goal it has been fed, it cannot differentiate whether or not the thoughts or fantasies that occupy our minds are good or bad.

In the past, my worry and obsessing over negative situations and imagining the worst case scenarios would always lead to bad things being manifested. Whether it was my body becoming physically ill, or me acting in a way that pushed people away, I always seemed to fulfill my darkest prophecies.

The sneaky way our minds control us

“You are the master of your destiny. You can influence, direct and control your own environment” — Napoleon Hill

Fast forward to present.

I have moved well beyond my panic attacks and anxiety, my bottle of xanax now lives in my cupboard, hardly used, instead of my purse.

But even still my worriers mind is strong and present, constantly taking me off course.

I worry about my ideas not being good enough.

I worry about not making enough money.

I worry about failing, of having to start over, of never amounting to anything.

I fret over the things I do in my daily life. If what I’m doing doesn’t point directly to productivity, I chastise myself. In the midst of happy, joyful, unproductive moments with friends or family, I sit with the shame and guilt blooming in my chest.

This obsession and shame over how I’m acting, and comparing my actions to the successful people I follow, is a recipe to never achieving my goals.

So while I might have stopped the panic attacks, my mind is using comparison and shame to manifest failure. I’m struggling to grow into the person I want to be because I keep getting stuck on this fantasy that I’ll never amount to anything.

That I am a failure, that successful people don’t act like me, that I am not worthy of doing great things.

So what is it that actually ruins our lives? Our minds.

“Nothing splendid has ever been achieved except by those who dared believe that something inside them was superior to circumstance” — Bruce Barton

If I’ve learned anything from being a chronic worrier, it’s that my mind is incredibly powerful.

It manifests all the things I worry about most.

It is not the things I fear, the imaginary scenarios that I haunt myself with, that actually ruin me.

It’s the act of worrying and obsessing over them that does.

I have lost countless years worrying and living in a state of dread and shame. I finally realized that this is a state of mind that I no longer want to inhabit.

Why?

Because it’s this state of worry that is keeping me from achieving everything I dream of.

It’s not the failing that has “ruined” me. It has always been my own mind that has sabotaged my forward progression because it’s busy manifesting what I’m feeding it:

  • That I’m not good enough
  • That I’m doing it wrong
  • That I’m not smart enough
  • That successful people don’t behave like me

In all my fears, I have pointed my mind towards never succeeding. I have convinced myself that I am incapable, and so I’m busy manifesting not being capable of achieving my dreams.

A way forward

“There are no limitations to the mind except those that we acknowledge” — Napoleon Hill

My focus of late has been creating a habit out of positivity, success, joy, health and calm. We are not predisposed to worry, it’s just a habit we’ve created in our minds. Just like nail biting, it’s a habit we can break — but it takes work.

Here’s some tools I’ve been using to help me change my habit of negativity and self-doubt into a habit of success and abundance:

  • Listen to this meditation music, and imagine your goal with as much detail and rich emotional reaction as possible, free write what came to you for 10 minutes
  • Before bed, write your goals out in real time, as if they have already happened to you
  • As soon as you wake up, free write for 2–3 pages about all your fears, hold-ups, worries and negative thoughts. Get them on the paper and out of your head so you can start making progress
  • During times of stress, or intense self-doubt, shame, etc, breath and focus your mind on a memory of a time when you felt empowered, calm, joyous, relaxed, etc.
  • When in a negative-thought spiral, calmly relocate your mind to your present experience: what does the air feel like, what can you hear, what can you smell, what can you taste, what is happening right now that you can focus your attention on?

The idea is to create a habit out of positive thoughts, being completely present (instead of fretting over past mistakes, or worrying about the future), being less emotionally reactive to outside stimulus, and moving past fears and worries that have hindered your growth.

Conclusion

It is never the things that you worry about most that destroy your life.

It is always our habit of worry, self doubt, shame, guilt, and fears that ruin our happiness, growth, joy and abundance.

If you want to live an amplified life of success, abundance and happiness, you must make it a mental habit first. You must make this state of mind your default, instead of waiting for those things to happen to you.

This mental state takes practice, focus and determination until it becomes a habit.

But I would argue it is the most important thing you could ever do for yourself.

They were right when they said everything you want is on the other side of your fear.

You just have to first learn how to live outside that fear, instead of within it.

Take Action!

Make massive change in your life by figuring out how you want it to FEEL every day. I created a 10 minute audio exercise to plug you into your authentic self, so you can start living the life you want today 👇

Click here to get the Feel > Do > Be exercise now!

Originally published at medium.com

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