Archive for December 4th, 2017

Revealed! The Myth Of Stress And How To Overcome It

People often ask, “What exactly is Spiritual Growth Monthly and why would I want to join?” So today I’m excited to share with you one of Kevin’s weekly coaching messages. These are normally only seen by members of our elite Spiritual Growth Monthly coaching program and community.

So sit back, relax and enjoy this audio/text article about “The Myth Of Stress and How To Overcome It”. More information about SGM follows in the PS below.


Matt Clarkson
The Mind-Body Training Company


Revealed! The Myth Of Stress And How To Overcome It

In this month’s Messages, we’ll explore the book “The Myth of Stress,” by Andrew Bernstein. In this book, Bernstein challenges the traditional view of what causes stress and recommends a process to eliminate stress in our lives. I think you’ll find if you sincerely apply yourself to this technique, you’ll significantly shift your experience of stress.

As with any technique, you can’t just read about it to “get it” and have it work for you—you’ve got to practice it. This week, we’ll lay down a foundation to help you understand how and why this process works. In the following weeks, I’ll describe the steps of the process itself and then we’ll go through many examples together.

Andrew Bernstein began asking questions about stressful life challenges as a teenager when his father and little sister passed away. “Determined to find answers, he spent much of the next twenty-five years exploring a wide variety of approaches to psychological transformation, including three years working with Byron Katie.

In 2004, Andrew integrated his experiences into a new process, called ActivInsight, that makes the dynamics of insight mainstream and accessible. He has since taught ActivInsight to thousands of leaders at Fortune 500 companies to help them resolve personal and professional problems more effectively. Andrew also shares ActivInsight at some of the country’s most respected nonprofit organizations, and regularly serves as a faculty member in The Wharton School’s Executive Education programs.” (

Bernstein’s central thesis is that stress is the result of our mental processes, not outside influences. Because of that, he believes that “insight” is the key to eliminating stress in your life. Through ActivInsight™ Bernstein provides seven steps to gain insight and thereby eliminate stress-producing thoughts.

In this Week’s Message, we’ll explore his central insight and how it differs from traditional models of stress and stress management. We’ll begin our discussion by looking at what has become accepted as the cause of stress. Then, we’ll get into why Bernstein says this approach is incorrect and leads to ineffective solutions.

The traditional view of stress was expounded by Dr. Hans Selye and others in the 1950s and 1960s. It has since become accepted as a scientifically valid explanation. According to this view, stress is the result of outside demands that overwhelm an individual’s ability to cope with those demands. Life circumstances come at you in ways that you are not equipped or resourced to deal with. In other words, you can’t handle what is “happening to you.”

You experience stress when life pushes you beyond your ability to adapt. That is why the most stressful circumstances are those that involve great change, such as losing a job, moving, death, and divorce. We experience stress because we lack the ability to quickly adapt to or handle these changes.

To those four “stressful” events we can add the generalized experience that “I just have too much to do and not enough time to do it” which seems to be more and more prevalent for many people. The explosion of the “information age” has bombarded us with “information overload” on top of increasing pressures to do more and more in less and less time. The solution, then, is to adapt better, manage things better, schedule better, prioritize better, reduce the demands upon you, and so on. This is where the term “stress management” comes from.

Bernstein tells us that this, now-accepted, model of stress is just plain incorrect. In Bernstein’s view, “stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life—it comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life. Your job isn’t stressful—your thoughts about your job are stressful. Your relationship doesn’t stress you out—your thoughts about your relationship stress you out. All stress is an inside job, a result of subconscious assumptions. . . Things happen (divorce, layoffs, disease, etc.), and you experience stress—or you don’t—depending on what you think about those things. Stress is a function of beliefs, not circumstances.” (p. 12, TMOS)

This accounts for the fact that different people have dramatically different responses to the same life circumstances. For example, one person is laid off and sees it as a rejection of their worth and imagines impending poverty, while another sees it as a great opportunity to explore a new and more fulfilling direction. One person becomes ill and is consumed by a fear of everything falling apart, while another sees it as an important opportunity to slow down, take better care of their health, and re-evaluate what is most important in their life. One person sees their divorce as a huge drama full of pain and expense, while another may see it as a time to relate to their ex-spouse in a healthier way and learn how to have healthier relationships in the future. One person may view having too much to do as an overwhelming burden, while another may view having so much to do as the fruit of a vibrant and successful life. One person may view the death of a loved one as the end of love and happiness, while another may look back with fondness on the good times together and pray for their spouse’s joyful transition to the next phase of their journey. Your experience of any circumstance greatly depends on your beliefs.

Can you see then, that there is some merit in Bernstein’s approach? Can you see that how you interpret what is happening creates the experience that you have? As Bernstein says, “The key to eliminating stress¸and not just managing or escaping it, is to create a fundamental and lasting shift in the way you actually think.” (p. 16, TMOS)

How you think about the events in your life strongly influences how they feel to you. According to Bernstein, stress, unhappiness, or any negative emotion is no different. They all have the same cause and are resolved through the same means. As Bernstein says, any “unhappiness arises internally, through the subconscious mind. And it is dissolved through insight.” (p. 17, TMOS).

O.K., so what is insight? Insight is the realization that what you believed to be true is not in fact true. This realization allows the emergence of a more healthy or empowering perception. Insight cuts through “false beliefs” and eliminates their power over your perception. Bernstein calls false beliefs “counterfactual thinking.”

He says that, “Every time that you experience stress, you’re thinking counterfactually. In fact, it’s not possible to experience stress without thinking counterfactually” (p. 41, TMOS). By thinking counterfactually, Bernstein means that you are thinking things “should” or “shouldn’t” be the way that they “are.”

There are actually two types of counterfactual thinking. One creates inspiration, the other creates stress. One is expansive and the other is contractive. You have an expansive counterfactual thought when you experience “this” right now while envisioning “that” good thing in the future. For example, you think of the successful completion of a big project that you are working on, a vacation you’re planning, or someone special that you are looking forward to being with. You are envisioning some wonderful experience in the future, preparing for it, and being excited and expanded by that possibility.

The second type of counterfactual thinking is contractive. These are the counterfactual thoughts that create stress. For example, you step on the scale and see what you weigh and you tell yourself that you “should” weigh less. Your spouse or significant other doesn’t respond the way you think they “should” and you get mad. Your boss gives you a pile of work to do and you think that you “shouldn’t” be expected to get it done in the given time. You fail to achieve a goal that you think you “should” have achieved and become self-critical. You get upset because there “shouldn’t” be so much traffic. You get the idea.

Contractive counterfactual thoughts are judgments you place on “the way things are” by saying that they “should” be otherwise or they “shouldn’t” be the way they are. This type of thinking creates stress.

The way to counteract contractive thinking is to change your beliefs. Bernstein tells us that “The opposite of stress is education, releasing the contractions by having insights” (p. 43, TMOS). “What you need to do is not avoid your “shoulds,” but dismantle them” (p. 46, TMOS).

Through ActivInsight you identify your subconscious “shoulds” and “shouldn’ts” so you can challenge them. You actually prove to yourself that the opposite of what you believed is true. You do this by identifying the conditions that are causing things to be as they are. When you see the cause and effect, you realize that “In reality, life really should be the way that it is, at this time.” There are good reasons why life is the way that it is. When you understand the causes, you gain insight, and that insight creates a permanent shift in perception that eliminates the stress caused by your former belief.

When you dismantle your “shoulds” you are more open to reality “as it is” or at least to healthier, more helpful beliefs about it. You can then take more effective action on the specific causes that can create positive outcomes in your life. This empowers you to think more clearly rather than being overwhelmed by the negative emotions and energy drain that came with your contractive beliefs. As you go through ActivInsight™ this month, I think you’ll find that there is great power in this approach.

Personally, I’ve really enjoyed the results of applying ActivInsight™ to my “stressful” experiences. I do have a couple caveats with how the process is framed. However, these do not take away from the effectiveness of the method, they just tweak its viewpoint slightly.

First, I substitute the word “perception” for “thought.” Whereas Bernstein says that thoughts create stress, I would say perceptions do. Perception is a more holistic concept that includes your body, heart, mind, and energy/spirit. Perception includes your entire interpretive lens. It involves your physical state, your emotional state, your mindset, and your spiritual intention at any given moment. You bring all this to bear on every experience that you have. Your thoughts are an important part of this irreducible whole.

Bernstein focuses on the cognitive or mental dimension and sees this as the primary causal level. Therefore, he emphasizes a cognitive solution. He acknowledges that this is one tool among many, though he finds it to be the most significant and powerful.

In my experience, I find it important to work at all levels when addressing stress. It’s just as important to work from and through your body, your heart, your mind, and your energy/spirit. We can work with physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, beliefs, and intentions. These form integrated neural, chemical, and energetic networks. Each aspect is an irreducible and interwoven part of the whole. So, in my adaptation of Bernstein’s approach, I will substitute the word “perception” for the word “thought” to emphasize a more holistic approach. I will also use the word “belief” in a functional way to mean a perception that you hold about what is “the most effective way to go about, or relate to, something.”

In line with that view, the second substitution I make is to substitute “healthier” or “more effective” for “true” or “Real.” Bernstein says that we eliminate “false” beliefs and replace them with “true” beliefs. In my view, all beliefs are interpretive. All beliefs are contextual, they all come from a certain perspective and a specific point of view. Some may be healthier, more expansive, more empowering, and more effective toward your goals, but to say a belief is “true” is a slippery slope. This can easily lead to internal and external conflict and more stress over who has the “right” or the “true” view and who doesn’t.

Anyway, that’s my point of view, so I’ll use the words “healthier” or “more effective” rather than “true” or “real.” Bernstein himself calls some counterfactual thinking “expansive” and some “contractive” and I’ll keep to that way of framing things. Yet, even these are relative terms. Sometimes it’s healthy to contract and consolidate experiences, while, at other times, it’s important to expand and stretch your boundaries. The key is to become aware of where you are coming from at the moment, so you can make choices that are as informed and conscious as possible.

My suggestion for you this week is to pause and take a break whenever you feel stress rising. See if you can identify a belief that you are holding at that moment that is creating your stress. Next week, we’ll talk about how to phrase your beliefs in a way that unlocks your limited perception and opens up the 7-Step ActivInsight™ process to your eliminate your stress.

Until next time,

Take a break to identify your beliefs when you feel stress,

Kevin Schoeninger

P.S. This article is one of Kevin’s “Weekly Messages” for members of Spiritual Growth Monthly. What is SGM? SGM is our community of mind-body practice. It’s the place you can come to every Sunday to get inspiration, insights and tips to encourage your ongoing growth and development. This month at SGM, we’re focusing on stress and how to deal with it effectively in our lives. The other Weekly Messages for October give you the “Practice of the Month” for working with stress and the answer to our members’ “Question of the Month”.

P.P.S. On the fourth Sunday of each month, we have our Group Coaching Call for SGM Members. This is your time to ask questions and share your experience (either around the current month’s material or anything related to your mind-body practice). You can be a part of our live discussion and ask Kevin questions directly, or you can listen to the Call Replay posted a few days later. Also on each call, we’ll participate in an interactive mind-body practice to deepen connection to Source. Our members say this is one of their favorite parts of SGM! We also post the replay in our members’ area in case you miss it. And here’s the best part… you can test-drive SGM for just $1. Click here for full details.

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