Dealing with worry and fearful overthinking (from Watkins Magazine)

IMG_7883When you go into worrisome or fearful thinking, things can get very bleak and the world seems to change: visuals may come into you mind of all the bad things that might happen. Your breath might become shallower and your body feel tense. Your mind races and the storm of thoughts begins.

This is simply what the mind (and then body-mind) does when you’re overthinking – everyone’s mind, not just yours. Before you know it, you are absolutely convincing yourself of nightmare scenarios. It can be shocking how detailed and negatively creative the mind’s projections can be. It’s all fiction, of course, but it seems so real.  And like being trapped in a spider’s web, the more you try to fight it, the more trapped in overthinking and fear you seem to become.

Dispelling fears

The feeling of worry or fear is a sure sign that you are not tuned in to You. You don’t feel like yourself during these times – and that’s because, in many ways, you’re not. You have temporarily disconnected from your clarity and are connecting with the static in the radio – not the radio broadcast itself. And that static plays all kinds of miserable, untruthful drama and judgement and projected worries. It really is like you are under a spell. And this article is all about how to break the spell; break the circuit in your overthinking.

Tuning into you

When you are fully “tuned in” – meaning when you are relaxed and centred –  you cannot worry. You haven’t got access to those relentlessly negative thoughts when you are tuned in. In an ideal world when the thoughts do start coming you want to ignore the content; that stream of worry thoughts that chatters on forever and will move from subject to subject.

But let’s get real: It’s not always that easy

All the above sounds good in theory. But theory and real life are very different. People read self help books and feel great but when a problem comes up it’s as if they hadn’t read them. That’s because theory on it’s own is useless – you need the muscles honed from practice to work with these ideas. When you are in the middle of an intense situation, all the best advice in the world can go out the window. It doesn’t matter how many positive thinking books you have read or how much you have worked on yourself or how many times you decide to “be mindful and observe your thoughts”, sometimes, despite all the “9 steps to stop worrying” books on your shelf –  you might get taken over by worry or fear. And that’s ok. 

I’ve worked with a lot of people who have the tendency to worry or go into fear and overthinking. This is partly what my book Lighthouse is all about. My effective solutions came from my years of research working with hundreds if not thousands of people – and from a very personal problem: because in my own life, I found it a challenge to deal with worry or fear and nothing had helped me. No books, teachers or therapists could reach me. I frequently went into panic or fear and couldn’t work my way out of these ferocious moods, which were totally ruining my life.

A personal experience 

I remember one of many fearful situations: I went into worry about a close friend of mine, in a situation I couldn’t do anything about. I was waiting for news. I hadn’t heard from him for days. Rather than going into a excitement of how he must be having a great time and be too busy to call me, you guessed it, I did the opposite.

I used to think there was something terribly wrong with my mind – but then I realised it’s the same for pretty much everyone: for some reason the overthinking mind tends to go into the negative and race with thoughts when we “disconnect” from our empowerment.

My stomach went tight and my mind raced with worst case scenarios. I convinced myself that all kinds of terrible things were going on and desperately tried to think my way out of this and try to find solutions. I felt so physically and mentally exhausted with it all I had to leave my place of work and go home and sit down, which hardly improved things, as I continued overthinking.

Worrying about worrying

I’d read a lot of “positive thinking” books which had got me scared about how I shouldn’t be worrying as it would block solutions or even negatively affect the situation, which frightened me and made me worry even more. But trying not to worry was useless – in fact it made it worse. Then I was worried about the negative affects of my worry, so I tried hard not to worry and to think of positive outcomes  – in order to positively influence the situation. Things just got worse, the negative voices and images in my mind got more ferocious. The pain that comes from worrying means you have stepped aside from truth and clarity – but knowing this doesn’t always make the experience any easier. Worry clouds your vision; it’s like being in “static in the radio” where you can’t see sense or hear your intuition. And it’s like being swept up in a cyclone of confusion and high emotion.

So you’re worrying. And it might not be your chosen state of being, but that’s where you are right now. You are where you are.

Fighting against thoughts doesn’t work

You want to look for something to appreciate but let’s be honest, if you are swept up in a drama (like I was) that can feel almost impossible. Trying to focus on other things just gets you to “try not to think of” what you’re currently obsessing about. And it will, more times than not, keep you stuck in your worry. Of course you would love to feel great right now- but that’s not an option. Trying to feel good, trying to change your mood, trying to do anything is resistance. And what you resist, persists.

Make peace with where you are

And so in a situation like this, the first thing to do is face where you are. And that means looking for the good in where you are; looking for the good in worrying.

You may be arguing with this point. But, I ask you, what is your suggestion? When you are caught up in a storm of overthinking like worry, you have two options. And one of them is not to stop worrying or to ‘be positive’. Your two options are: to worry and to fight against the worrying. Or, to worry and make peace with the worry.

“I should be worrying because I am. It’s normal to worry in this situation. It shows I care. Maybe my worry is necessary right now, in a way I can’t see right now…”

When you embrace worry, and see it as a normal feeling, it begins to leave you and you become clearminded. Things then start to happen.

This isn’t about “not doing anything”, but when you are caught up in worry you can’t think clearly and decide the right things to do, if anything does need to be done. This is about centring yourself so that solutions, both within and without, reveal themselves to you. And this is easier said than done and required practice.

Once you’ve made peace, now Life can help you

Once you’ve made peace, ideas for distractions and solutions will naturally appear.  Life will begin to help you out and find other things to get your attention. The path to where you want to be will open seemingly from out of nowhere. When you try to do it “your way” by continuing overthinking there are no gaps between thoughts; It’s like there’s a hardened shield of thoughts around you and Life cannot get in.

A relaxing outcome

I accepted that there was nothing I could do, which initially added to the worry, but then helped me make me peace with my situation. Experience had shown that when I find away to be ok, even just for a minute. Even if I’m in a really dramatic moment. If I can just slightly make friends with where I am, a space is formed where answers can come in.

I did the practice I shared earlier, “good things about where I am”. And then life began to help me out. A phone call came in from a friend, I saw an interesting  article on the internet, which was enough to fully get my attention (and take it from the fearful subject). I began to relax, and feel a little more naturally optimistic. (I hadn’t tried to be optimistic –  I just, as best as I could, settled into where I was.) From this state of peace, more optimistic ideas came in. Sometimes I went back into the fear again, but then I quickly came out of it. And I was certainly feeling a bit better; and a lot more relaxed. I felt like “me” again.

Within about 30 minutes, an email came in, and I got news of the friend I was worried about – the first time in five days. And all was well.

When the storm is over

Practicing meditation and other techniques day to day, when you are not in the grip of worry or fear, will recondition your mind to go there less – and stop these habits of worry before they get started. However, if you do go there again (and if you have been going there you probably will again), you now know what to do.

For further practical, effective solutions for dealing with low feelings – and moving into feeling good again – see the book Lighthouse – Navigate the emotional storms of life and discover the power within you. Out now in paperback.

Finding self-confidence

0-weu-d2-fe98c7939fd0bfd242be70d8ffa743abI first discovered I was going to be taking the stage to talk about Finding Self-Love (at last month’s Mind Body Spirit Festival in London- pictured here), just when I was coming through a storm of self-criticism. I’ve been teaching this stuff long enough to know better – but here I was, being tested. Rather than laugh at the irony (though I did that, too) – I immediately paid attention. In fact, the invitation itself snapped me out of whatever was bothering me. After all, Life clearly believed in me to be the best person to talk about self-love – and in a split second, I did too. I was “back”, so to speak.

And this is the thing: self-love or self-confidence is not a permanent state we get to and then stay there, but a state like a radio channel, which always exists, and we can tune in and out of. Nothing has gone wrong if we find ourselves temporarily “tuned out”, as I did. In fact, it is these deviations from connection which evolve us much like the tension of lifting weights at the gym evolves our body. I was the best person to take the stage and talk about self-love because of this moment of disconnection, not in spite of it; and also because I understand that it is in the less-that-self-confident moments that the most powerful states of self-confidence are created.

Practice, not perfection

I’m way past the point of condemning myself for “being human”. Even the great mystics of the past were allowed to mess up, and were open about this in their brilliant writings, so surely I’m allowed to. They understood what so much of the new age movement doesn’t – that the human journey is about stumbling, learning, evolving, and getting up again stronger. The mystic Teresa of Avila, for example, made it clear that the spiritual journey is about practice, not perfection – it’s not this “happy all the time” nonsense that the contemporary spirituality often professes. And trust me, I’ve seen a lot of fellow teachers off stage and let’s just say anyone can appear perfect for a brief talk or a 2-hour workshop, if that’s your intention.

Now there are some great teachers out there, don’t get me wrong – but you get my point. And here’s the thing (and they’d agree with me): changing your thoughts and changing your life is not like changing your socks – the human mind just doesn’t work like that. Those “Don’t worry be happy” quotes are fine when you’re happy – and downright infuriating and useless when you’re not. They didn’t work for me, and in the early days, I thought there was something wrong with me because this kind of bumper sticker spirituality wasn’t working. But then, several years ago, I began teaching groups and realised it was the same for almost everyone I met. Life – and humans – are not as simple as these “five easy steps”. It’s much more interesting than this, with way more depth.

Finding Love within

We are never looking for anything out there- we think we are but we’re not. What we are looking for is an internal shift – from the static of overthinking to the power of our Real Self. The answers really are within.  It may look like you need something out there, but that is part of the world’s training, to make you think you are not enough and you “need” something out there to complete you. The good news is, once you give yourself the quality you are looking for “out there” – then you attract that likeminded quality to you,  because you don’t get what you want, but what you are. When you find self-love, life will mirror back this self-confidence – which occurs as all your dreams coming true.

Confidence is everything

We all know that confidence is everything, right?  Talent is always good – but far more important than talent is how talented you feel you are. Everyone agrees with how important self-confidence or self-love is, but people often stop at that point, not doing what it takes to embody it and move this theory into practical change.  Who you really are is always in the state of self-confidence, so it’s less about building it up and more about revealing it.

We are all God’s gift- but do we know it?

People who feel they are “it” usually are, in some way or other. I’m not talking about delusion – like those guys you see on the X-Factor who are clearly not very good singers but seemingly think they are. In truth, they know they can’t sing. And that is why we are perceiving them as such.

Confidence and it’s counterpart: Insecurity 

When you begin to train yourself into feeling more self-confidence or self-love, you’re probably going to experience it’s opposite, as your lower self mind rears up for a challenge. Keep going anyway. If you fall, get up as quickly as you can (though it’s fine and perfect ok if you ‘stay down’ for a bit).

When you start something new – firstly, well done. And secondly, you’re going to get some obstacles, for two reasons:

  1. Think of riding a bike. If you didn’t begin, you would have no risk of falling off, which is kind of inevitable – so having some resistance to leaving your comfort zone is bound to happen
  2. You actually need these trials to strengthen the muscle.

Welcome the obstacles in – they are going to happen, don’t be surprised when they do. Just as you are not surprised when your muscles tense at a weight at the gym.

You may want to collapse on the ground when you face an obstacle, but think about it. A toddler falls of his bike and gets back up as quickly as possible. If he didn’t get back on pretty quick – he’d probably never back back on again. So you’ve got to be quick – stand up tall and walk in, even if you don’t feel like it. And guess what- you almost definitely won’t feel like it.

This is what I was talking about at the beginning of the article, my drop into self-criticism didn’t phase me, as I knew it was a “hardcore workout” to prepare me for life – and the making of the very talk on self-love I presented (which I was told was a great success). There is nothing wrong with going into self attack, it’s not “negative” – it’s what evolves us.

Once the neediness is burned off, all that is left is the most attractive state of all: self-confidence. The irony is that in this state of self-confidence, you need nothing to complete you because you already feel whole, complete and fulfilled. And that’s when you get everything.

Light in the Shadows (with Teal Swan)

original-2Finding Self-love, purpose and peace within the murky challenges of everyday living

When I first met Teal Swan back in 2014 we instantly connected.  I remember the moment clearly. In St James Park, London, we got talking and I found myself instantly at ease with her, saying way more than I’m used to on a first meeting. We shared a feeling of familiarity like old friends coming back together.

After that first meeting in the park, what followed was hours of conversation on Skype about the meaning of life and everything – including one of my favourite topics: Practical spirituality. We offered one another insights and helped one another through the challenges of everyday life – not knowing at the time how it was all one of those perfect synchronicities for building material for our workshop, Light in the Shadows, which we are presenting together at the Mind Body Spirit Festival this May.

When Mel Carlyle from Mind Body Spirit asked us to team up, it was an instant “yes” from both of us. By this point we had already discussed co-writing a book –  and this organisation, which I love, seemed the perfect place to make our debut together.

Years before we had met, both of us had always wanted to go to an event like the one we are going to present; one in which the speakers get real and share their insights about how to handle those “murky  challenges of everyday living” that everyone encounters. The relationship struggles, health worries, body image concerns and other fears. We will be sharing the ways we have mastered feeling good when things “out there” are proving difficult. It won’t be another of those “Five steps to get everything you want” – but something more authentic and helpful to this human experience.

Lighthouse in a storm

In my own life I’ve reached many lows. There was a time when it seemed like the darkness would never end. Finding a way out of this darkness is what has led me to be able to help others help themselves out of their personal hell. Someone who hasn’t been to the depths, without any knowledge of this emotional terrain, cannot guide those who have. They can simply offer a vacant “cheer up”, perhaps – but this is both annoying and totally useless to those lost in a tangle of thoughts.

Another benefit of these dark times is that these moments forged my best qualities and life experiences: The rags of life create the riches. Without the shadows, I wouldn’t have evolved so much. And it’s the same for everyone, of course.

The benefit of the shadows

Ferocious thoughts are needed for a phenomenal life just as heavy weights are needed to create great muscle. The thing is to leave thoughts be, to do their thing. We don’t analyse and go crazy at every detail of the heavy weights – we just lift them. Let the tension of the mind be. Leave those thoughts and feelings- they are not you. These shadows are nothing to do with who you are, they are just a machine, evolving you.

So if you are aware of what I’m talking about when I talk about ferocious emotional storms- good. You are an Olympian, not a regular amateur.

Depths of emotion

I was interested in Teal’s “Shadow Work” – an area of exploration I wasn’t so familiar with. And Teal appreciated my way of soothing people “like a lighthouse” wherever they were emotionally – and however life was for them. Both of us are teachers who are open with our own struggles – and both of us had also struggled with much of the personal development material out there in our own lives – and had seen others go through the same.

From my experience working with people, it seems everyone has their own personal hell – yet we often keep our own a secret. The illusory perfection of social media like Instagram and Facebook can beat us down – and being told to “be positive” or “just let go” is useless information and knocks us down further. Especially when we are in a low mood. But that’s what so many of the books we had read told us to do – and it was hard to do it. Myself and Teal both relate to the depths of human emotion and have found ourselves as guiding lights to many others, helping them out of their own personal storms.

Diving for treasure

We all know that feeling after a stormy time in life – we feel incredible after. Not only the relief that comes from it begin over, but we actually emerge better off: more evolved, in so many ways.

When we go into the shadows, it’s like a deep sea dive for treasure. It may feel harsh – but on our return to the surface, we are better, we have new insights – and perhaps we have been “nudged” to change our life in some positive way.

Michael and Teal collaborate

We started to get messages requesting that we combined our approaches. When we met in London last summer the timing was all wrong. So here it is, our first collaboration- and it’s happening live at the Mind Body Spirit Festival in London on May 2 2016: Light in the Shadows: Finding self love, purpose and peace within the murky challenges of everyday living. 

For the latest Mind Body Spirit Festival visit: www.mindbodyspirit.co.uk/events

Going beyond patterns to find peace and empowerment within challenging relationships

10446193185_8519af2f43_b-1024x765The “anxious attachment” (known as partner A in this article) type of person I spoke about in my last article, are often leaders, natural counsellors and professional advisors to others. Understandably so, as they have a warm and caring, trustworthy nature and deep wisdom that belies their years.

In a relationship, partner B can sometimes feel like they are being fixed all the time, when all partner A is trying to do is heal their partner, well meaningly.

Partner A is sometimes paid for their advice in a professional capacity – so they feel rejected and shocked when their partner gets irritated with them. They see it as a personal rejection, in fact; another sign that “they’re not good enough”.

Although it’s totally understandable why this “bright light” partner would want to fix their loved one – after all it may be their day job, and they are probably accurate about what their partner needs – this approach doesn’t work. The problem is only the individual themselves can make their changes. This attempt to fix doesn’t work – the partner must make the effort to do their own inner work. Partner A’s carry their partners and it doesn’t work for anyone! It is well intentioned, but it doesn’t work.

Loving not analysing

As much as Partner A-types make great psychoanalysts – this isn’t actually their main purpose. Although they are often great with words and thoughts – their real gift and purpose is beyond words and beyond the intellect; it’s to shine the light; it’s to love, which is beyond vocabulary. This is unconditional love, “loving outwards” no matter what. It is simplicity, almost zen like. It is the opposite of what educational institutions classify as “intelligence”, in fact.

Overthinking is actually what gets the partner A into the most trouble. Their solution and key to their connection is to relax into that loving space, which is beyond thoughts, where the power centre is. You can’t think and love at the same time – as I  said, partner A is more naturally a lover than they are a thinker.

Love is empowerment

Partner A is a lover and a light. That is what we all are in our aligned state. Don’t be tricked by the call of your own mind that the other person, like your partner, “doesn’t deserve it”. You’d be right – they probably don’t – but you do. Being Partner A is who you are, like a lighthouse, and being a lighthouse is therefore your key to happiness and all your dreams coming true. Anything less that that will feel off to you because it is off.

Take the focus off them

Yes, the other person can’t handle emotion and is not doing the work. That’s for them to work out. Stay in your own lane and focus on being you – not trying to manage them. Think of an actual lighthouse: It isn’t so much focused on the individual ships, it just tends to its flame and radiates. This, too, is your focus.

More shining; less talking

Softness is strength. Hardness is weak. Hear that. Feel that. Silence is power, sometimes, too, as lighthouses are known for their eloquent conversation- but can also not know when to stop! They feel bad… And then keep talking. The more their partner withdraws, in fact, the more they want to talk. They go on and on. It’s shining not talking that you want to focus on; more loving, less thinking.

Run your own race

Why would a champion athlete go on a run with an amateur fun runner? The amateur fun runner is not “wrong” – they’ve just got a different intention, a different training schedule. They don’t need to be hated. You don’t need to write angry songs about them… Just run with a champion. Hang out with champions. Stick to your own.

Anyone can be a champion. It’s not like you’re discriminating here.  It’s simple really. Let the slow swimmers swim in the slow lane. Don’t make them wrong for it- just leave them be and swim with the champions.

Your dream life is to be found at an Olympic pace – and nowhere else. Don’t slow – keep on running.

I remember getting a vision where I felt so dragged down by a relationship – that I was underwater fighting to get to the surface and my partner, tied to me, was doing nothing – in fact, I was being pulled down deeper. I got the image of cutting the rope that bound us together – realising the choice was at this point we both sink or I save myself.  The thing is, when we free the other, we are both free. We both have the choice to kick into swimming. And by being bound together, the other has no reason to use their muscles. So whereas for years I found this image bleak, stuck between a rock and a hard place, now I know me focusing on my race is win-win for all. Shining brighter is the only choice.

There is a fear that if partner A states their needs, partner B will reject them. What I would say is, if they are going to reject you, they will anyway. In these new energy relationship dynamics, nothing beats straight communication. Stating clearly who you are is your best option, as is shining brighter no matter what; running your best race.