The question that made my stress go away

In the summer of 1992, I was 23 and had already run my own company for several years. I guess I did not do that well…. My business partner had recently left me, there was no expected revenue, and I lacked focus as the business concept was very sprawling and unclear. My cheque credit, as it was called in those days, was SEK 100,000, ($10K) and my dad had vouched for that amount. The account showed minus SEK -99,716. There were, in other words, only SEK 284 left to utilize. So, to sum it up, things seemed pitch-black.

My driving force was to show that I was indeed capable and that I was smart and energetic enough to be able to build a successful company. I wanted to become a millionaire before I turned 30, and my entire identity and self-esteem was associated with running my own company. As a result, the pressure and the stress grew and grew as my dream of becoming rich became increasingly distant the worse I did and the further down I declined. In this downward economic spiral, I became increasingly paralyzed.

I had read lots of books about thinking positively, setting goals, affirming what I wanted to achieve and working hard to succeed. I had hung big notes all around my apartment with one wise quote after another to constantly remind myself of how I should think and act. I wholeheartedly believed that the power of thought was the solution to all problems.

But using willpower and forcing myself to work harder had no major effect. My thoughts were rather a dead weight that made me try too much and prevented me from taking a step back and thinking clearly. And I had already been working very, very hard for many years, with countless late evenings and nights. But because I was still in the same vicious circle of stress, the result was that I hesitated before making decisions or simply made the wrong decisions and focused on the wrong things. I worked hard but in the wrong direction, much like a person addicted to gambling who plays increasingly desperately to win back lost money.

What is the worst that could happen?

The breakthrough came when I stopped telling myself that everything would turn out well. Then, it was as if I woke up from an alcohol intoxication and could soberly look at myself in a mirror and honestly ask myself the question: “Okay, Anders, I know this thing with your own company is important to you, and I know you want to show the world that you are good enough, that you indeed want to show what you are capable of. But, in all honesty, what is the worst that could happen?”

When the question had sunk in and I really started to think about what the absolute worst thing that could happen was, I realized it was not that dangerous. I would owe my father SEK 100,000, and I would have to admit to myself and those closest to me that I, unfortunately, could not build a company. I would have to get a job and, hopefully, be able to pay off the debt to my father within a year before putting it all behind me.

The stress and the pressure just disappeared

This simple question, “What is the worst that could happen?” became a huge relief. The stress and the pressure just disappeared. All of a sudden, I felt free. The demons seemed blown away when I accepted the fact that my days as a self-employed person were perhaps about to be over. So what happened then? Well, I got cheerful again and started doing what I am good at: deciding on a direction and continuing and enduring with what I had decided about, but now it was with a completely different attitude: creativity and joy.

Two or three weeks later, Lund University, one of the largest universities in the Nordic countries, more or less from nowhere, placed an order worth several hundred thousand Swedish crowns. That was the turning point, and when I met them a few months later we signed a deal worth millions of Swedish crowns each year. It is quite possible that this would have happened anyway, but, quite frankly, I do not think so. The question I asked myself made me go from fear of failure to creating my future based on joy and inspiration.

Acceptance boosts the immune system

Accepting the worst that can happen is an effective way to reduce stress and fear. It allows us to get out of a state of paralysis and gives us access to our creativity and inner strength so we can begin to take action. It can be successfully applied in many situations.

Accepting also gives the immune system a boost. Our immune system is extremely powerful when it comes to restoring our health, and it works the very best when we are resting, relaxing and recovering. Therefore, acceptance is considered to be very important in, for example, cancer treatment. Accepting for yourself that you may die puts you in a space that may help you take the next indicated steps for recovery.

Accepting is not the same as giving in. On the contrary, it will help us reducing stress so that we can find solutions. When we do the reverse and think in terms of fighting our disease, such as thinking “fuck cancer,” we, instead, get into a state of fight/flight, which reduces the activity of our immune systems.

From a breathing perspective, acceptance means that we reduce stress and pressure and tension, which has a positive impact on our breathing, which becomes more relaxed instead of stressed and tense. We can also advantageously use Conscious Breathing as a tool to increase our ability to become more flexible and be able to accept what is happening. 

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About the author

Anders Olsson is a lecturer, teacher and founder of the Conscious Breathing concept and the author of Conscious Breathing. After living most of his life with a ”hurricane of thoughts” bouncing back and forth in is head, Anders was fortunate enough to come across tools that have helped him relax and find his inner calm. The most powerful of these tools has undoubtedly been to improve his breathing habits, which made Anders decide to become the worlds most prominent expert in breathing. This is now more than 10 years ago and since then he has helped tens of thousands of people to a better health and improved quality of life.

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