State Management - The Foundation of Happiness
By Christoph Schertler
Have you ever paid attention to the states you are in during your day? Are there moments when you become particularly aware of yourself? Why don't you check in with yourself right now and notice the state you are in? How does your body feel (calm, tired, energetic, excited, tense, etc.)? What occupies your thoughts (people, tasks, future, past, etc.)? Do you feel any emotions (happiness, anxiety, anticipation, etc.), and if so, how do you feel them (e.g. warmth in your chest, knot in your stomach, etc.)? Your state relates to your physical well-being, as well as your thoughts and emotions.
Most people do not realize that we are constantly in a state. In fact, we 'cannot not' be in a state. Even if we were devoid of a physical, intellectual and emotional internal process, that would be a state in itself. As long as you walk this earth you are going to be in one state or another; And if you are like most of us, you will be going through a wide variety of states on a daily basis, sometimes changing between states in a matter of minutes or even seconds.
States can be resourceful (happy, motivated, creative, etc.) or non-resourceful (angry, resentful, fearful, etc.). People who spend the majority of their time in resourceful states are more likely to lead a successful and gratifying life, even if not necessarily an easy life (does anyone?). If you are in a resourceful state you can make the best of any situation. It is the number one criterion to success in any walk of life. Likewise, if you are in a non-resourceful state you will say and do things that draw tension and complications into your life.
So the million-dollar question is this: How do you maintain a resourceful state in the midst of the many challenges you face every day? The answer is easy in theory (and of course, not so easy in practice). First, know your states and what triggers them. Second, neutralize the triggers that put you in non-resourceful states. Third, optimize and add to the triggers that activate your resourceful states.
Let's start with knowing your states and what triggers them. This takes some practice in the art of introspection. Check in with yourself several times a day, noticing you state. What does your body feel like? What are your thoughts and emotions? Once you have noticed your state, think about how this state limits or empowers you. Is it a desirable state? Do you like yourself in that state? Next, track back in time to the moment that state started and ask yourself, "What started it?" Was it a phone call from your friend? Did you remember something important? Did you succeed or fail at something? Link you state to a particular incident, something that triggered it. For example: You got your paycheck in the mail (trigger) and are in a relaxed, upbeat state as a result of it. If you do this kind of introspection on a daily basis, you will get a good idea of what your main states are and what triggers them.
The second step is to neutralize those triggers that put you in a non-resourceful state. There are several ways to do this, depending on what kind of trigger you are dealing with. For example, if you enter a non-resourceful state every time you get an email from a person you have been avoiding, you might neutralize this trigger (the email) by contacting that person and clarifying the unresolved issues that bother you. After you have done this, you will either no longer receive emails from that person or it will not negatively affect your state if you do. In other words, 'clean out your closet' and you will clean out a significant amount of triggers that put you in non-resourceful states.
If your negative triggers have something to do with bad or even traumatizing experiences from the past, you have the option of seeking professional help (coaching, therapy). If you want to work on it yourself, you can try the following: Ask yourself what being in the non- resourceful state, which this particular trigger (relating to a negative past experience) causes, does for you. Ask your negative state (anger, fear, etc.) internally, as if you were speaking to a person: "What is your positive intent for me?" In many cases you will receive an answer from inside that sounds a little bit like this: "To keep you safe from X happening again." In this case your negative state actually acts as a protective mechanism that is trying to spare you from harm.
For example, if you have been in a bad car accident you will most likely become fearful when sitting as a passenger in a speeding car. Instead of being silently paralyzed by fear, and vowing never again to get yourself into this position, wouldn't it be better to ask the driver: "Could you please slow down? It bothers me that we are going so fast." In order to get to the point where you speak up and make this request of the driver, you first have to ask your fear "What is it you want for me?" The answer will most likely be "Safety." Once you know what your non-resourceful state is after (in this case: safety), you can figure out a better way to get it, e.g. speak up and take charge instead of being frozen by fear.
Thirdly, optimize and add to the triggers that put you in resourceful states. Having made a list of all your states and their corresponding triggers, sort out those states that you find most empowering. These states produce harmony, efficiency, and enthusiasm in your life. Again, notice what triggered those states. It could have been an event, a person, or a memory. See if there is a main theme among those positive triggers. Do they all have to do with your partner, your kids, your hobby or a concept like 'helping people'? Try to find one or more headlines for your positive triggers.
Now you can consciously design a schedule that involves a good spread of those triggers throughout your week. It helps to have at least three of them (even if little ones) every day; A strong positive trigger in the morning will set the stage for your daily state. Most likely the trigger will be an activity you enjoy like riding your bike, meditating, listening to music, or interacting with loved ones. Lastly, if you can, finish you day in a resourceful state by planting a positive trigger in the evening (nice meal, reading a book, spending time with a loved one, etc.). When you build a foundation of positive triggers into your daily routine, you will find that in time your base state will be a resourceful state - your foundation of happiness.