I have to admit – I’m a little impatient. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t really like waiting the requisite 4-1/2 minutes for my Lean Cuisine dinner. I get scratchy when Netflix takes “too long” to load my movie order. And I definitely don’t want to wait for the cookies to cool when they come out of the oven…

So it is easy to understand that I was never really good with the whole slow-and-steady approach to life. I’m usually impatient to see the results of whatever I’m doing, and taking the long view does NOT come naturally to me. This was one of the reasons that I made it harder than I needed to when I was learning to deal with my chronic anxiety and panic attacks.

That might surprise some of you reading this blog, since (if you’ve done much reading here) you’ve heard me say multiple times that overcoming and mastering anxiety is NOT, for the vast majority of us, a quick process. But believe me, my knowledge is hard-earned and slow in coming. And I know from the emails I’ve received and the coaching work I’ve done that a lot of YOU are a little impatient too…

So today’s blog post is about a simple concept I learned several years ago, and it is one I wish somebody had told me about back in my anxiety-fighting days. It is something called The Compound Effect.

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This Just In – 1 and 1 Make Two…

The Compound Effect is both a concept and a title of a book by a guy named Darrin Hardy. The notion is simple: most of us don’t really understand how it isn’t the things we can do quickly, in short bursts, that make the difference in our life. It is instead the daily, persistent practice of consistent effort that pays off in the things that can really build up (or tear down) our lives.

Weight loss is a classic example. Despite the bombardment of weight-loss commercials and people with incredible bodies writing “lose a million pounds in 10 days” self-help books, the brutal truth is nobody loses (or gains!) that belly we hate to admit we have quickly. Nope, we got that belly with years of steady eating of bags of Ruffles Potato Chips (YUM) and (I hate to admit) more than a couple of cookies after dinner.

No, if we want to lose that belly we’re going to have to get serious about daily, steady work, not a lettuce-and-water diet that will wash the pounds away in two weeks. I have mentioned before in this blog that I was a pretty hefty boy back during the fight with anxiety, as high as 235 pounds. That may not sound like much to you, but I was easily 80 pounds over my standard/healthy body weight, and man, I felt it.

I hated being overweight (and really, who likes it?) I tried a number of things to lose that weight quickly, but the bottom-line is I lost that weight with consistent, steady, daily effort. I lost that weight over years of work, and it has taken work to keep it off.

(Not boasting, btw – it took a LOT longer than it needed to, and I didn’t make it easy, believe me.)

But this blog post isn’t about weight loss! It is about applying the same idea to our fight with anxiety. We need to understand that sorting out our anxious thinking, diminishing our frightened responses to our Flight or Fight reactions and learning to take real, decent care of ourselves will come with steady practice and time, not with “stop being anxious in one lesson” efforts.

(And, btw, it doesn’t have to take YEARS to get rid of anxiety – don’t start thinking that, please. 🙂 It won’t go away quickly, but any of us can see significant progress with steady work even within a few weeks. Still, not instant!)

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It’s All About Acquiring Interest

That isn’t a reference to how much money you have in your savings account. It is about the slow building of skill and competence in the fight against anxiety.

When we start this work most of us are pretty badly beaten up by our fears. We stumble across something like this Fear Mastery framework and we think “OK, maybe this will help me get rid of this crap called anxiety.” Most of us don’t see it as a starting point – we see it as a Lean Cuisine in the microwave. 4 & ½ minutes and, hopefully, anxiety will STOP making our lives miserable…

This is the mistake that too many people bring to the use of anti-anxiety and anti-depression medications. We start taking them expecting to feel better RIGHT NOW. More accurately we expect the anxiety to GO AWAY when we take meds. We often settle for some relief (and, too often, tedious or even debilitating side effects), but our mission in our thinking is to stop feeling anxious NOW…

This is also why we get in trouble when we do ANYTHING to avoid feeling anxious, i.e., avoid situations where we have been anxious in the past, avoid seeing certain people for the same reason, stop engaging in activities where we might get anxious, etc.

It is the very nature of anxiety to get us away from our fears. We want relief instantly. That’s biological. But our poor Flight or Fight response didn’t evolve to deal with the problems we transmute into crises in our thinking. Only healthy thinking can fix that. And that takes time.

So our efforts need to focus on changing our thinking – both changing our fears about the future into problems to solve (if they are even that) and changing our thinking about what Flight or Fight actually means to us.

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Hammer and Saw, Hammer and Saw

The mission we have before us is simple: to sort out what is scaring us, making us anxious. If we can embrace the notion that we both dismantling old thinking, anxious thinking, as well as building new thinking, problem-solving thinking, then we can approach our work with different expectations.

That takes a little practice and patience in the face of our anxious responses to our crisis thinking. We will NOT be good at this right away! I hate to say it, but we will have better and worse days in this work, especially at the start, but also all the way through.

We have to remember that we are WIRED to run from danger. It doesn’t make us weak, or chicken, or anything except human. We are literally rebuilding some very basic thinking we acquired over the years, thinking that is deeply engrained in us. It will take TIME. It will take steady effort.

It will take what the notion of the Compound Effect can give us – regular, consistent effort across time.

One last note: we who wrestle with anxiety have a terrible habit of looking for proof that we’ve failed – yes? When you read the word “consistent” please don’t translate that as “perfect” or “never missing a day of work”. Consistent isn’t flawless. Consistent is getting up and trying again. Consistent is pushing on even we really don’t feel like it – as well as, if we flinched back or avoided the work one day, we don’t have a self-abuse orgy the next day, but instead we get up and try again.

So – you ready? 🙂 Maybe today is a great day to add another little bit of work to your growing effort at building new thinking, non-anxious thinking. What fear will you hammer on today?

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