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I wrote a post back in August about the Surrender Reflex (HERE). In it I talked about how we get TRAINED by anxiety into giving up. It’s a terrible training, but one that we can reverse and kick out of our lives.

Today’s post is a follow-up to that August post. I am going to talk about how that trained giving up that anxiety sets us up for takes shape – i.e., the ways we explain to ourselves why it’s OK to give up.

News flash: giving up takes us nowhere. Nowhere. It is SO tempting, so alluring to just throw in the towel and say things like “I’m never going to get free of anxiety” or “this is too hard for me.” But none of those things are true and none of those things are useful.

Let’s start the list:

It’s Hard

Hey, this is hard work. I’m not going to contest that. Hell yes this is hard work. It’s tedious, it’s exhausting, it often sucks and it would be nice if someone could just make this stop. I’ve heard all these things and I SAID all these things myself when I was slogging through this work.

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But it is easy to make hard a reason to give up. Anything new we learn will challenge us. Any new set of skills will require some sweat and toil. Certainly changing the habit patterns of anxious thinking is harder than learning to ride a bike or play the guitar.

And certainly Flight or Fight doesn’t make it any easier. This work demands that we learn new thinking skills and face down the crap we’re getting in our body and feelings. That work won’t come easy, and we will fight that work. Change is hard!

But so what? Do we want lives that are free of chronic anxiety or not? Hard is a quality, not an impassible barrier. It’s hard being pregnant and giving birth (or at least so I’m told – I’ve never had a baby and baby, that seems MUCH harder than overcoming anxiety, at least as far as this boy is concerned.) 🙂

Hard gets a bad rap. Hard makes us stronger. Hard means that we have to lean in and really dig for this work. Hard makes us smarter. Hard is largely based in the NEWNESS of this work for us – the often alien way this is making us rethink our thinking, the task of actually changing and challenging thinking (which most of us never learned to do, and which seems freaky and alien.)

Hard – but not impossible. Hard – but totally within reach. And it definitely gets easier and faster AS we learn to treat problems as problems, and as we learn to stop making Flight or Fight reactions into a crisis.

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It’s Lonely Work

Holy crap, yes, this is lonely work. I’m not going to fight you there. It seems like nobody really understands what we’re going through. People look at us like we’re mutants, they get impatient with our fears, they get frustrated when we won’t do what they want to do or when we just want to stay home and hide under the covers.

Yeah it’s often lonely. And? Does that mean we shouldn’t do this work, or that it isn’t worth doing? Of course not. Lonely is a quality, not an impassable barrier.

Of course we’re not truly alone. Not these days. There are lots of people talking to each other in places like Facebook and other online communities who are there to support us in our fight against anxiety. We can find people to talk to, people who understand and have been where we are in this fight.

(I would offer a suggestion that we, as we find and get involved in such groups, be leery of lots and lots of discussions about symptoms of Flight or Fight reactions, or how terrible the day is, beyond some focused sympathy and getting good information about the commonality of this fight for all of us. It can get easy to get lost in too much comparing of miseries – and that isn’t going to help us. It can in fact add to our anxiety, and we sure as hell don’t need THAT when we’re breaking the habit of anxious thinking.)

That isn’t counting the therapists, doctors and coaches who actually get this work and are there to help us as well. We can and should avail ourselves of that help as much as we can! (See my post HERE for more about finding a therapist.) And we’re of course usually not utterly alone even within our own communities and families.

It might mean having to get clean with people we care about – explaining to them, making them listen, teaching them how they can support and help you. Yeah, that might be challenging. But then we’ve developed a nasty habit of running away from the things that scare us – and that hasn’t worked out so well, right?

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I’m not strong enough

Forgive this next word, but, well, bullshit. If you’re here, on the planet, and you’re still breathing, you’re strong enough to do this work. No, you’re not the Man (or Woman) of Steel that you’d like to be, but you have the strength you need.

Hey, you’ve been anxious for years and decades, and you’re still here, yes? You’ve had terrible panic attacks or fought chronic unrelieved anxiety or fought ongoing depression (or all three) and you’re still breathing the air, yes? Then you’re strong enough to do this work.

When we say we’re not strong enough we’re really saying we don’t FEEL strong enough – and right away we’re talking the results of our anxious thinking, not any accurate measure of our actual strength. Don’t fool yourself that you’re not strong enough.

It is SO tempting to default to how we feel! Holy crap! But feeling not strong enough is just that – a feeling. Anxiety fighters are usually blind to their own strength. Any of us can do this work – if we begin to develop the habit of not letting feelings and sensations decide for us what we can and can’t do.

Other people don’t have to fight so hard

OK – it can feel that way. It can sure as hell look that way. People seem to breeze through the world, smiles on their faces, clothes clean, heads held high – it looks SO much easier for them.

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Except we have no idea what they’re dealing with in their lives – do we? This judging of other people’s lives and challenges based on how they LOOK – it’s a classic behavior of anxiety fighters. It’s an easy, nasty and useless habit to fall into if we’re not careful.

EVERYBODY has challenges. EVERYBODY is missing pieces of the puzzle and is having to make their way. So they have perfect teeth? So they get to ride around in Porches? So what? You don’t know what battles they are engaged in, there in the marches of the night, by themselves, with no-one to impress and no image to maintain.

And speaking of images, most of us anxiety fighters are doing a damn fine job of portraying a life of calm and zen peacefulness to the people around us. Most folks in our lives have no idea the battles we are engaged in, EVEN WHEN WE TELL THEM. They may hear it – but they don’t really GET IT until they have to deal with it themselves.

Kvetching about other people having it easier than us won’t take is anyplace. Doesn’t mean we can’t once in a while mutter to ourselves about how WE’D like to have a Porsche or perfect teeth – but we are then better served to get on with where WE are, not where someone else appears to be…

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It’s unfair

Damn right it’s unfair. Nobody should have to fight this fight. Just like nobody should have to fight cancer, or diabetes, or high blood pressure, or get in a car accident, or ever lose a child, or be poor, or deal with political debates. 🙂

So what? Fairness conversations are best left to the sports and the courtroom. Life is what it is, for each of us. Getting lost in debating the fairness of our situations when it comes to issues like anxiety or physical challenges is largely a waste of time and will produce little that is useful for us.

By all means draw boundaries. Fairness is part of living in the human community. Don’t be a doormat. But if you really think anxiety is unfair then DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT. Wade in, attack the thinking that scares you, unlearn your learned flinching back from Flight or Fight, and CHANGE YOUR CRISIS TO PROBLEM THINKING.

Then you won’t care nearly so much if it’s fair or not. 🙂 By all means, get mad. Get frustrated that you feel weak. Be sad for yourself. Cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes. 🙂 It’s LEGAL! We fighters of anxiety are so quick to beat ourselves up for “being weak” or other unkind things we think about ourselves. This is hard work! Pity parties are part of the journey and we’re not losers if we succumb to frustration and fury over the struggle some days.

The problem isn’t getting upset or feeling sorry for ourselves. The problem is not taking action despite feeling that way.

Avoiding the thinking that makes us surrender

I hope that today’s list of ways we talk ourselves out of doing the necessary work to overcome anxiety is useful to you. This kind of thinking derailed me for way too long in my own fight, and I hope this discussion helps you lessens your own tendencies to get lost in less-than-useful thinking.

We are strong – stronger than we know, even with as hard as this work can feel. We are not freaks living with weird problems. Yes, it’s lonely work – but we’re not really alone. Yes, we are dealing with an unfair burden – but we can deal with it and get RID of that burden.

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OK, yes, I confess, I’m a Star Wars Nerd. Guilty as charged. There is a magic and a joy in these stories that sings to the Geek in me. 🙂 And one of the things that makes these stories especially interesting is a little green man named Yoda.

Yoda has some great things to say, both to his young apprentice Luke Skywalker and to the audience watching Luke’s adventures. I’m going to riff in this post on some of those pearls of wisdom because they pertain directly to our fight with anxiety. We’re going to go to Jedi Boot Camp today, so dig out your lightsaber and fire up your X-wing Fighter – we’re making time with Master Yoda.

The Biography of One Master Yoda

I’m assuming that most of you already know this wise green soul, but here’s a quick summary of this character’s life and credentials. Yoda is a smallish creature belonging to a race that’s never identified in the stories. He is simply Yoda or Master Yoda. He is 800 years old, more or less, and he is a true Jedi Knight – a master of the Force, a mysterious energy that gives him great power and strength.

But that isn’t the most interesting thing about Yoda, interestingly enough. He is also the very definition of Zen Calm. Now don’t get me wrong. Just because he’s so Zen-like doesn’t mean he doesn’t get angry. Baby, he gets angry. But he’s very clear about the limits of anger, or indeed any emotion. He has mastered his emotions because he understands that emotions come from thought, and his emotions are his servant, not his master.

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In fact, Yoda contends, that to be a Master of the Force it is vital to be in control of your emotions, and not the other way around. Which sets me up for my second Yoda quote (the first is the title of this blog post):

Fear is the Path to the Dark Side

In the Star Wars universe there are two kinds of Force Masters – the Jedi, and those that have turned to the Dark Side. Why do we care? Because those Dark Side Force people have one thing in common: they have let fear and anger take control of their lives.

Yikes. Sounds a lot like being an anxiety fighter, yes? We become an unwilling prisoner of our feelings and anxiety’s physical reactions, then flail around, trying to get free of those feelings and sensations, and knocking over a few lamps, people and other things in the process.

We don’t have to go to the Dark Side. And, in the Star Wars universe, even if you DO go to the Dark Side you can always come back out again. You are NOT doomed to stay there – unless you let your fear and anger continue to control you.

That’s a big thing in Star Wars – fear being the path to the Dark Side. It also spends some time talking about how easy it can to fear run away with us – unless we’re paying attention.

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Named Must your Fear be before Banish it you can!

HOW do we escape the Dark Side? We have to name our fears. We can’t fight what we can’t clearly see or get our arms around. (For some recommendations on how to name your fears see the posts HERE and HERE.) This is how the evil Emperor, himself a victim of the Dark Side, controls Luke’s father, another Force Master and the character we know as Darth Vader.

Darth doesn’t realize that he is even being controlled, at least not for a long time. He thinks he is in charge of his life, until events make it clear that in fact his life is out of control. He thinks he has good reasons to be angry and afraid, but only late in the stories does he come to understand that in letting his fear control his thinking and his life he has wreaked havoc in his life.

In Fear Mastery language naming our fears is identifying as clearly as we can the what if thinking that is making us anxious in the first place. What if someone doesn’t like me? What if my life is slipping away? What if I can’t find success? What if I never find true love? What if I’m not attractive enough?

All of these call us to the Dark Side – the place of endless analysis, endless telling over of our fears, endless futile attempts to “solve” crises that are not crises at all.

Identify what we’re running from and see it for what it is – a problem, a set of problems, even a set of urgent problems – but not a crisis. See through Flight or Fight’s reactions to our fearful thinking. Break the cycle of worry and fear and anger. Thus we begin to escape the Dark Side…

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Do, or Do Not. There is no Try.

How do we do this? We just lean in and start doing it. We suck at it in the beginning. We fight it like hell. We fall down and get up again. And again. And again. We flee and we come back. We yell and cry and shout at the heavens that we can’t do this work – then we get up and do some more.

One of Yoda’s most famous lines is the heading of this blog post section. Yoda is dismissive of trying. “I’m trying!” Luke cries, and Yoda doesn’t buy it. Either we’re doing or we’re not doing.

That doesn’t mean that we don’t take self-care breaks. Sometimes we have pity parties. Sometimes we stomp our feet and pout. That’s OK too. All part of the work. The point is we COME BACK TO THE WORK.

We expect frustration. We expect days where nothing seems to be happening. We anticipate that it will sometimes feel we’re even back to square one. This is the case for every skill anyone learns.

And it is so tempting, some days, to just want to give up, to go back to the familiar pattern of running away from our fears and how they make us feel. The answer? Keep doing. Either we’re doing or we’re not doing. There is no try.

Strong in the Force you Are…

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I have written before in this blog just how strong and stubborn anxiety fighters are – much stronger and much more stubborn than most of us consciously understand. We are all, in Star Wars terms, Jedi-Knights-in-training, and we each have the power to break anxiety’s hold in our lives.

That can be hard to believe sometimes. Anxiety is so good at undermining our self-confidence, our thinking, making us doubt ourselves and our abilities. But here’s some good news: we don’t have to believe it right now.

All we have to do is drive the practice and the regular work getting clear on our fears and shifting that thinking from crisis to problem. Like any Jedi we won’t master the skills we need overnight. Long will the days of training be (at least they will feel long to us) and we will wrestle with self-doubt and the convulsions of Flight or Fight as we face our fears and prove to ourselves that we are the master of them.

Believe, increasing self-confidence and better and better skill at not making problems/issues into crisis thinking will come with time and practice. So gird up your loins, Jedi-to-be! The Force is strong with you – and with all of us.

One Last Yoda Quote before I go –

Yoda says to his young apprentice this thing: “you must unlearn what you have learned.” YES. We have to, HAVE to see anxiety as a set of thinking responses we LEARNED early and deeply. But as the Master Jedi points out anything we learn we can unlearn, and learn differently.

Anxious thinking is a learned thing. We can learn new ways to think, new ways to map what makes us anxious and take back our thinking.

So – are you ready to come out of the Dark Side? Dust off that lightsaber, gas up the X-wing fighter and get ready to face down your fears? This is work each of us can do – for we are all Jedi, if we will do the work.

Yoda 2

Some words are fuzzy. We use them as if they had precise, clear definitions, but if we look at them a little closer it gets hard sometimes to explain what we mean – or even what something is.

One example might be the word “freedom”. We use the word a lot, but most of us are not clear what freedom precisely means from use to use, from user to user. Freedom could mean a complete lack of rules, boundaries or restrictions.

Or it could mean the capacity to move easily within a framework of restrictions – i.e., parameters that define a certain range of motion or activity. Or it could mean that someone is free BECAUSE they are also responsible for specific outcomes or duties.

Those are some pretty varied meanings – yet we use one word for all those meanings. The same thing could be said of motivation or drive, two words I hear a lot in this work of breaking the power of anxiety in our lives.

I usually hear the word used in a sentence like this: “Erik, I’d love to get serious about digging into my what if anxious thinking and facing down my Flight or Fight reactions, but I’m not really motivated right now. I just don’t have any drive. I think I’ll wait until I have some motivation before I face this work.”

Oops. We need to get clear on the definition of motivation and drive…

Let’s get out the Dictionary

Most of us have the notion that motivation is a mysterious inner force, a fund or well of energy or push that just is, like the sun or the rain. It comes and goes, it waxes and wanes, and it is more than anything else based in how we FEEL.

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Uh, no. That’s not motivation. Let’s go to the Oxford Dictionary. It says that motivation is “the reason or reasons one has for acting in a particular way.” Hmm. Reason. Not feeling. That’s pretty interesting. It implies that feelings don’t have a lot to do with motivation.

That’s a pretty serious reorientation for most of us. We have learned to see thinking like “I just don’t feel like doing this work” as an accurate way to assess our motivation, when how we feel has very little to do with whether we have REASONS to get up and tackle our fears.

This ties in very nicely to the notion that feelings are the result of thinking, and not the other way around. It pulls the curtain back on that illusion that says feelings just come out of nowhere, or that feelings stand independent of what we are experiencing in our thinking. Motivation isn’t emotional – it’s mental.

Which means that to create motivation we have to get clear on reasons to do something. Motivation comes from knowing what we want enough to go get it, regardless of how we feel. Like so much in life (healthy, actually-based-in-how-things-work life) we have to have the cart in FRONT of the horse for the process to work in the first place.

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OK. What about the word “drive”? You hear similar conversations around drive that you hear around motivation. “I’m not driven to do that right now.” “I lack drive.” “Some people seem so driven – I wish I had their drive.”

Driving Miss Daisy

Let’s go to Merriam-Webster for this definition: “to direct the movement of, to move in a specified manner or direction, to travel.” Here’s some more: “to carry on or through energetically, to set or keep in motion or operation.”

Wow. That’s not really what I expected to find when I first looked up the word drive. But isn’t it interesting to see how, again, the word has very little to do with feelings or emotion, and instead has everything to do with DOING and TAKING ACTION.

This made me think of something else we apply drive to – using a car or truck. The car or truck doesn’t drive us (although if Google has its way we could all easily wind up with vehicles that do the driving for us.) Nope, WE drive the car, we drive the truck, we direct the movement of that collection of steel, computer chips and rubber.

Motivation. Drive. These are both things that come from us making a decision to do something and then doing it. They are not based in feeling, they are based in thought that forms to action.

So that begs the question: what reasons would generate motivation and drive in us? Note that I’m not talking about generating any feelings here. I’m talking about reasons that would make it worth our while to lean in and do the hard work of changing thinking, rather than sitting around waiting for something to change on its own…

This is such a crucial thing to understand. Feelings don’t spring from a mysterious inner well. They are not fairies that sprinkle magic dust on us and presto! we’re having a feeling.

Ixnay on the airiesfay! Feelings come from our thinking. (Man, if I had a dollar for every time I’ve written that here I could get a week in Puerto Vallarta at the beach…)

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In fact drive and motivation are precisely how we can GET the feelings we’re sitting around waiting for, not the other way around.

What is my Motivation?

In younger days I was an actor (high school, some in college.) I loved it. At some level of my soul I’m a ham. One of the questions that an actor learns to ask when they are creating a character is what is that character’s motivation? Why are they doing or not doing in this particular scene of a play?

And doesn’t that make sense of the definition we’ve discussed in this blog post about motivation? Characters in stories take action because they have reasons to do so. They then both take action and have feelings.

You hear it all the time on the stage. “What is my motivation?” “Why is my character doing this thing?” We can use those same questions to help us motivate, drive ourselves to do the work we need to do.

So – what is your motivation? Why push against anxiety? Well, that seems like a silly question, doesn’t it? We don’t want to be afraid anymore! We don’t want to hand away any more of our lives to this stupid and maddening condition called anxiety! We want to feel happy and peaceful and NOT ANXIOUS.

OK. Sounds like a great set of motivations to me. They were my motivations as well when I waded into this battle with anxiety.

But Erik, you don’t seem to Understand – I’m AFRAID!

Ah, but I do understand! I understand that we too easily confuse feeling or lack of feeling, energy or lack of energy, with motivation and drive. They are not the same thing.

Because trust me, I had ZERO energy and ZERO passion for this work when I started. ALL I wanted to do was JUST NOT FEEL ANXIOUS. And this work meant that I had to both face down my anxiety and FEEL a LOT of anxiety to make any real progress.

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I said out loud a 100 times “but I don’t feel like doing this work. I don’t have any drive. Nothing seems important, nothing seems worth the effort.” That was my anxiety and my depression talking, and, combined with my believing that I had to FEEL like doing something before I did it, I stayed frozen, waiting for something to magically change in me so I could take action.

Here’s some big news: I slowly, haltingly, began to learn that nothing was going to change until I DROVE the BEHAVIORS of change in my life, in my daily activities. I began to learn in small baby steps that feelings and energy didn’t change until I DROVE change – in my thinking, in how I treated Flight or Fight, and in deciding that feelings and energy came from sustained action rather than some mysterious place in my soul.

This Car won’t Drive Itself (at least not yet)

Motivation and drive are not feelings. They are reasons. What are the reasons you have to break anxiety’s hold?

Would you like a real life?
Would you like to not be anxious all the time?
Would you enjoy getting out of that damn house and seeing the rest of the world?
Would you like to get a job, or volunteer someplace, or just be involved in life again?
Would you like to get more time with your kids, or spouse, or total strangers again?
Would you like to travel, see the planet?

There’s some GREAT motivations right there. Lots of things to drive towards, yes? This work isn’t about feeling like doing it first. It’s about doing the work and then seeing feelings and energy change.

That won’t happen overnight. And it can’t happen if we keep NOT doing the work. That specifically looks like this:

Taking action while still fiercely feeding what if stories
Flinching back from Flight or Fight sensations and emotions
Hanging on to old anger and self-abuse behaviors
Deciding that we must be fighting anything but anxiety – i.e., making our condition into a mystery we can’t solve

Motivation is reasons to act. Drive is moving towards those reasons, making them real in our lives. We don’t have to feel it first. In fact we can’t. Feelings will come later. All we need now is clarity and taking action.

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Ugh! We are so afraid of making mistakes! And this is such a mistake! If we are going to break free of the grip of anxiety we must, MUST come to embrace, respect and even cherish our mistakes. When we are afraid to make mistakes we are fiercely crippling ourselves in this work.

Yeah, I know. This is crazy talk. So much of our life training is about avoiding mistakes, presenting ourselves as capable, even super-capable. We have to be seen as grown-up, in control, having it all together. We relegate mistakes to the realm of childhood or idiocy – the former being forgivable IF you’re still a child, the latter being the worst of all sins for an adult –

But learning MUST include mistakes. Nothing of any value is acquired by avoiding mistakes. No skill, no wisdom, no real accomplishment comes from treating mistakes as a mistake to make.

What does it mean to cherish our mistakes?

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Let’s start with the What Ifs…

Someplace on the road to adulthood we learn that mistakes are BAD. They are bad because other people will think less of us (more about that later in this post.) They are bad because it means that we’re stupid, or careless, or not paying attention, or some mix and match of all three.

We can build a whole “what if” portfolio out of this fear of making mistakes. Let’s list some of them here:

What if people see me make a mistake and think less of me?
What if people trust me less because they see me making mistakes?
What if that person is my boss, or co-worker, or customer, or husband, or a total stranger, or…?
What if I KEEP making mistakes? (as if mistakes were some kind of slippery slope to HELL)
What if THIS mistake is THE mistake – the mistake that utterly ruins (whatever we’re doing)?

I’m sure you can add to this list… I do a lot of business consulting these days (it’s how I’m making money until somebody discovers me as a country singer and puts me on “Nashville” for a season or two.) One of the things that working this much in corporate America has taught me is how many people spend enormous amounts of energy and time worrying about making a mistake.

You can’t blame them! Our culture is SO much about success, perfectly executed performance, competition, etc., that it would be odd if people were NOT stressed over the fear of making a mistake. As I mentioned earlier we learn quickly that mistakes are not to be displayed or betrayed to other people.

We learn it in school when our peers start laughing at us for saying a word wrong, or when a teacher is sharply critical of our pronunciation. We learn it in high school under the relentless pressure of other teenagers, our parents or those teachers I mentioned earlier. We learn it at work. We even learn it from our romantic partners!

It’s way past time for most of us to rethink this whole mistake thing.

Mistake 1

Mistakes are part of the learning curve of our lives

Thinking that mistakes are something to avoid is dangerous thinking. Mistakes are CRUCIAL to the learning curve in anything more complex than learning to dry yourself off with a towel. Mistakes are at least as important as teachers to us as doing whatever we’re trying to do right – and some people think MORE important.

As a teacher (and student) I can testify to this truth. One mistake can do more to help correct process, thinking or execution that five efforts where I make no mistakes. (Weird, yes?) Mistakes can teach multiple lessons in one effort.

In fact it is accurate to say that mistakes make us more skillful. Mistakes are a kind of course correction. Speaking of course corrections there is a brilliant example of this from the field of aviation. Airplanes (as in those big 747/767 type planes carrying hundreds of people) are only rarely ever actually on the precise course they need to get where they’re going.

Isn’t that wacky to think about? This modern technological marvel, flying as far sometimes as halfway around the world, is almost never on course. The pilots and the plane’s computer are constantly making adjustments, modifying and correcting that course. It’s off-course much of the time, yet it still gets where it has to go.

That’s not a bad metaphor for our lives. And we don’t even have an onboard computer… we can’t get where we’re going if we’re not willing to risk some, make some mistakes.

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What are some of the mistakes we’re afraid of making?

Making a speaking mistake in public – in front of an audience (even if it’s just at dinner with our family or friends)
Not knowing something we think we SHOULD know
Not remembering something we think we SHOULD have remembered
Confusing two things
Trying something and completely messing it up – or even partially messing it up
Looking clumsy, awkward or not skillful at something
Asking for clarification when we think we SHOULD already understand

I’m sure you can add to this list too. My argument here is that when we become reflexively afraid and twitchy about making mistakes then we shut down a huge and vital source of learning and growth.

A willingness to risk mistakes, take some thoughtful chances, try something and suck at it the first 1-2-10-15-25-100 times is a STRENGTH, an asset, a real skill that makes us stronger, smarter and more agile than most of our fellow travelers on this life journey.

Let’s not forget one of the principal reasons we’re so freaked out about making mistakes

That reason is what other people might think of us. Gulp. Holy crap. This is easily the biggest reason (maybe the only real reason?) we’re so afraid of making a mess, screwing something up, not executing the activity like we’re professionals who have been doing this thing for years.

What makes this fear so dangerous to us as learners is that it develops a terrible habit of retreating from taking chances. When we equate making mistakes with being dangerous we will do what seems safe, and safety when we’re afraid making mistakes is too often to not try in the first place.

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(Caveat: there are of course things we should struggle mightily to not make mistakes at doing… If you don’t know how to drive skillfully yet stay off the freeway when it’s raining, OK? If you’re not a certified brain surgeon don’t do skull surgery, right? On the other hand you’ll NEVER get good enough for the freeway if you never ever drive for fear of not doing it perfectly. Same thing for brain surgery.)

Earlier I mentioned it was OK in our culture to make mistakes if we’re little kids. Little kids are not expected to get it right the first time – at least not for a while. And thank goodness, because little kids have so much to learn… how to crawl, how to walk, how to talk (imagine if little kids were afraid to try when we laughed, as we do, at the mistakes they make?), how to eat, how to follow the hundreds of rules of living in the world with other people, how to read…

We trade away enormous potential for growth, learning and healthy expansion of our strengths and skills when we run from the fear of looking stupid in the eyes of other people. Everybody, EVERYBODY screws up at the start. Everybody, EVERYBODY experiences a learning curve. What could we learn if we were less afraid of looking the fool?

Being willing to Look the Fool sets us Free

Anxiety starts because we treat a problem like a crisis. Breaking anxiety’s hold is learning to see that problems are just problems – and need to be treated as problems.

If we’re terrified of making a mistake we’re treating mistakes like a crisis. They are not. If I make a speaking mistake in front of my peers it’s JUST A MISTAKE. If I mis-remember something, or if I tried something and I made a mess of it on the first or second or third go, well, I was in a learning curve. It isn’t a disaster and the world will not end because of it.

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It might be said that to overcome the fear of making mistakes we need to be somewhat comfortable with looking the fool. Maybe a better way to say it is that we have to allow enough humility in our lives to be comfortable with looking less than suave and perfectly capable while we’re learning to BE suave and perfectly capable.

Did you know that you’re a model?

Don’t think we’re not modeling behavior for the people around us – and helping to support and reinforce the (mostly) unspoken rule to not make mistakes where others can see them – or at all. People are watching us. Our kids are watching us. Our co-workers and subordinates are watching us. Our friends are watching us.

But maybe the most important person that is watching us is US. One of the things I’m learning these days is how we are demonstrating to ourselves all the time if we can trust ourselves or not. Isn’t this an interesting notion?

If we tell ourselves that we want to lose weight, but then we continue to eat donuts every day (not that I’ve EVER been guilty of this) then guess what? We’re not being honest with ourselves, and we are in essence teaching ourselves that we can’t trust us.

Same thing if we’re constantly modeling for ourselves that risking looking the fool is dangerous. We reinforce that habit and that belief every time we back away, every time we wave off on chancing some good learning by risking a mistake.

It’s Time to be more like a Kid

Nobody who is fighting anxiety, about ANYTHING, wants to keep being stuck in anxious reacting and feeling. One of the ways, one of the principal ways we’ll get free of anxiety, is to learn to get comfortable with the risk of mistake-making again.

Mistake 7

Why? Because overcoming anxiety, as I’ve written here many times, is a small handful of skills. And we can only build skill if we’re willing to not be very skillful at the start.

I have told numerous coaching clients that one of the key pieces in my recovery from life-consuming anxiety was focusing REALLY HARD on the work to change my thinking. That meant I had to put other things on hold, or at least put them lower on the priority scale, than this work.

That meant that I had to go out to the store (food shopping, etc.) even though I had had panic attacks in stores and was scared to death to go back. Which meant I would look terrified, and would be forgetful or distracted when I was in the store, looking (I thought) like a crazy person.

It meant that I had to talk to myself, out loud, with my unpacking and challenging what if stories. Sure, it was uncomfortable as hell. But it was either that or succumb to old frightened thinking and run screaming out of the store. (OK, I wouldn’t have probably screamed – I would just knocked over old ladies, children and in-my-way store clerks on my way to supposed safety.) 🙂

Of course I didn’t get it right the first time. I got obsessed over my what ifs again and again, at home and out in public. Of course I started this work and then got caught up in my dizziness, or my numbness in my hands, or a sense that I was doomed and I should just give up. Sometimes I had to walk in and out of the store and call that much a victory.

And I couldn’t do it just once. I had to get utterly focused on doing it again and again and again on my way to getting some skill at challenging, disrupting and changing my thinking. And it wasn’t just at the store. It was just about everywhere. And it took time. And I had a tendency to really slam myself for looking the fool (because of course I was convinced I was looking the fool.)

But surprise – I learned to change my thinking. I learned to not give a damn about what other people thought of me. (And really – what terrible thing was I doing to them anyway? Embarrassing them? I wonder now if anybody actually noticed – or, if they did, if they didn’t just shake their heads in pity and sympathy and send me good vibrations before they want back to buying cabbage or whatever.)

Perfect

Look Foolish – It will do you Good

Don’t think I’m kidding. We NEED to get comfortable with the risk of making mistakes (well, OK, the total certainty that we will make mistakes.) Hell, we’re making them anyway – if we’re being honest with ourselves.

Consider today where your fear of mistake-making, your refusal to risk looking the fool, is holding you back. Because there is nothing quite so freeing as learning to not give a damn in this direction.

So, you ready to have someone read you more of your rights? 🙂 Last post we talked about two very fundamental human rights – the right to say no and the right to ask for what we want. I would call these rights basic – essential – in our work to break the hold of anxiety in our lives, and getting much, much healthier along the way.

Let’s talk about a couple more rights we all need to know we have (and practice at creating in our lives) –

The Right to make Mistakes

This might sound wacky as a right, but it is a primary source (in my opinion) for anxious thinking. There’s a whole bundle of blog post discussions just in this topic, and it is a major blind spot in most adults these busy, over-achieving days of 2015.

Children simply don’t worry about making mistakes. Well, let me modify that – LITTLE children don’t give much brain sweat to making mistakes. In fact they make mistakes left and right. How could they not? They don’t know enough yet to avoid mistakes!

The problem seems to start as we get older, begin absorbing all that we hear from other people. Don’t look stupid. Don’t show weakness. Strive to demonstrate perfect ability when you’re around other people. Don’t take risks that show that you’re not in control or know what you’re doing, regardless of the subject or situation.

Here’s a weird way of seeing things: all that pressure to get it right right away, to never display confusion or less-than-perfect control, leaves us without the right to make mistakes. And THAT IS a mistake…

Rights 10

Without mistakes we cannot learn. That’s one big reason to fight for the right to make mistakes. Experimenting, trying new things, trying skills we don’t have, mandates mistakes. Mistakes are crucial to acquiring skill, to becoming highly competent in something, for figuring out what doesn’t work.

I argue further that a willingness to make mistakes gets us out of endless analysis mode (something we anxiety fighters are amazing at) and gets us moving. It helps what the business people call creating a bias for action. Instead of looking at the world, watching it go by, hesitant and afraid to make any mistakes or “look stupid”, we just wade in and make a mess of things… for a little while, until we’re better at what we’re trying to learn and do.

Sure, this risks people making fun of us, ridiculing us, telling us to cut it out, to pull back. It risks (even more scarily) that internal critic we acquired so long ago, screaming at us to sit down, to not make mistakes, to be terrified of what other people will say or do if we make a MISTAKE!!!

Ugh. Enough. We have the right to make mistakes, and it’s a right we have to fight to defend and grow in our lives. Make some mistakes already, OK? Look stupid. Who cares?

This is a great way to develop mad skill at pushing back on your Comfort Zone, btw. We can learn to stop caring so damn much what everyone else thinks about us and what we’re doing (including that bossy, out-of-control internal critic I just mentioned.)

Rights 111

We can learn that’s OK, more than OK, to make mistakes. Start small. Make little mistakes first. Reteach yourself that the world will not end if you blow it, make a mistake, look stupid for a while. You’ll have more fun, I promise, than flinching back for fear that someone will criticize you for not doing everything perfectly…

Of course this means we have to grant OTHER people the right to make mistakes as well… and even encourage and support their willingness to make mistakes.

The Right to have and express our own Feelings and Opinions

Yikes. I’m wading into the deep end with this right. SO many of us have learned, one way or another, that we don’t have the basic human right to 1) possess our own feelings and opinions, and 2) express those feelings and opinions as the situation and our needs warrant.

This is so not being a healthy human. Now I’m already hearing from the cheap seats the protests! It can’t be OK to just say what we’re thinking, can it? Doesn’t that make us the tedious, annoying, irritating person that’s constantly complaining, never happy, always bitching about something?

I understand the tendency to go there. It is easy, especially for those of us that were taught to sit down and shut up (rather than say what’s on our minds, be honest with the people in our lives, etc.) Speaking up risks being shut down, criticized, even attacked for having the sheer audacity to HAVE an opinion, to have feelings, in the first place. How dare we have our own thoughts and feelings! 🙂

Rights 13

Here’s one problem with this thinking: it isn’t like we DON’T have our own thoughts and feelings. They’re in there, making noise in our skull, demanding that we at least give them a hearing, expecting to be respected the way it seems everyone else’s feelings and thoughts are being respected.

It’s almost like we know in our guts that we have the right to think and feel what we think and feel. It’s almost like we KNOW what healthy self-expression is, whatever we’ve learned in the opposite direction. And of course we do know.

One of the smartie-pants that I refer to regularly in this writing and in my thinking about overcoming anxiety is a guy named T.I. Rubin. He’s the author of the brilliant and essential books about anxiety, “Compassion and Self-Hate.” It is his expert opinion that we have a natural wisdom, a strong innate sense of what healthy and self-caring looks like for ourselves.

He argues that every living creature on the planet knows what self-care looks like – how could we not know? We’re the survivors of a LOT of generations of life in the world, and living things that refuse to take care of themselves are much less likely to survive and make more creatures that take care of themselves. 🙂

Yeah, we know what we need – even if it’s buried down deep, even if we’ve spent years and years squashing what we want and what is healthy, even if we’ve learned one way or another that self-care and self-expression are selfish, or sinful, or even dangerous…

Having our own opinions (and expressing them) and having our own feelings (and owning them) doesn’t mean we have to blurt them out whenever, wherever. It doesn’t mean that we don’t also need to think about how to express them appropriately in whatever situation we’re in. But it does mean that we have the right TO express our preferences, express our thinking, take a position or stand, feel the way we feel.

Because here’s another problem with shutting away (from ourselves and the rest of the world) what we think and feel. It seems to be the case that we don’t think nearly as well, and don’t manage our feelings nearly as well, if we can’t be honest with ourselves (and to some extent with the world around us) about WHAT we think and feel.

Safety First 7

It’s like we enable better thinking and better emotional control when we can simply allow ourselves to think and feel what we think and feel. I know – sounds crazy, right? No. Not crazy. Healthy. Smart. Human.

This is going to take some practice. We will often find that once we start being honest about our thoughts and feelings a LOT of held-back thinking and emotion comes to the surface. We may go through a period of needing to say a lot to ourselves and other people…

And most of us will also find that we start, get in trouble from some corner of our lives, have our own fears surge and overwhelm us, and run right back to shutting down how we think and feel. There will be some real fights in our brains and hearts to take and keep this essential human right for ourselves.

Of course we’ll make mistakes. We’ll pick a bad moment to say something, share a feeling that offends or upsets someone else. THAT’S OK. This isn’t brain surgery, and nobody will die because we’re honest, finally, about what’s bubbling in our hearts and souls. I know it feels risky – but that’s anxiety, for the most part, warning you away from what MIGHT happen. Time to take a risk or two in the name of your own rights and health.

There’s one more advantage to making the decision to have our thoughts and feelings: it promotes a wonderful honesty and directness, in ourselves and in the people around us. It opens the door to deal with buried fears and assumed reactions, old injuries having a chance to heal, even the chance to forgive and be forgiven. Amazing what being honest with ourselves and our world can do, with practice and time.

Last note about this right: it means we have to allow other people the right to have and express their own thinking and feelings. But you already knew that. 🙂 That’s probably going to be scary too. LET IT BE SCARY. We can only get more skillful at something by practicing it… and letting others practice.

Four Rights you have…

Let’s review. So far I’ve made the audacious claim that we each have

The right to say NO
The right to ask for what we want
The right to make mistakes
The right to have and express our own thinking and feelings

Permit me to argue one more time that these basic human rights are HEALTH-PROMOTING. They are practical, necessary components of good self-care. Scary, yes. New to many of us – hell yes. That’s OK. We’re overcoming anxiety – and we can’t do that and stay there if we can’t practice these vital practices of self-care.

More rights coming in the next blog post…

Self-care 3

One of the tools I used to fight my way clear from anxiety (now 20 years ago – doesn’t seem possible that so much time has passed) was a program called CHAANGE. I’ve mentioned this program before here in my blog – it is a series of notes and cassette tapes created by two women, Anne Seagrave and Faison Covington, with the assistance of their therapist at the time.

One of the useful pieces I took away from that work was two sheets of statements about our rights as human beings. It was, at least for me at the time, fairly radical (and new) thinking – these rights they were proposing as common to all of us.

I’ve wanted for a long time to take the best of those two lists and talk about them briefly here, primarily because I feel very strongly that they represent what I might call advanced self-care. Self-care, if you recall, is one of the four basic skills I advocate as essential in overcoming anxiety. It is in some respects the platform upon which we can build much, much healthier thinking.

Rights 1

So here we go – let’s talk about some basic human rights we need to champion in our own lives.

We have the Right to say No

One of the things that struck me as I gained some distance from my long years of chronic anxiety was how willing I had been, during those years, to abandon something as fundamental as my control over my time and energy. More accurately I saw that in some ways I had NEVER LEARNED to check in with myself about whether or not I wanted to say yes or no to someone else’s demands on me…

I had a LOT of fear around saying no. (Sound familiar to you?) My justifications were many. Saying no was selfish. Saying no would hurt or upset other people. Saying no meant I didn’t care about other people. Saying no would stamp me as self-centered, mean, uncaring.

But 90% of that was me explaining away the truth that I was SCARED to say no. I had learned, from family and other sources, that I didn’t have the right to say no. Yeah, that sounds crazy – it is kinda crazy. And it is also one of the things that plagues way too many chronic anxiety fighters. Hell, it plagues lots of people that never slide into the struggle with chronic anxiety.

Rights 3

I could spend a fair amount of time describing how and why I learned to say no, but if this is one of the things you’re afraid of then you already have your own histories that can explain to you how you got to this place. The point of this section is to argue that we have the RIGHT to say no.

That’s what I said – a right. Every living creature on the planet has a right to draw this basic boundary with the other living creatures around it. Our very mental health and sanity need it. We have to learn to first begin to make contact with what we want, what we think, what we’re willing to do (by itself a whole process that we have to learn – we get very good at hiding those desires and needs even from ourselves if we learn that saying no isn’t something we are free to do) –

And then we have to start practicing actually saying no. That’s going to fire up Flight or Fight. That’s going to sound VERY scary to some of my fellow anxiety fighters. Holy crap, what if we say no and SOMEONE GETS UPSET AT US? That may have been a fear we acquired early and hard in our lives.

Yeah, this self-care/self-respect thing also has the power to rock our worlds. But it is also a GREAT way to address our fears, and a great way to start really listening to ourselves – something too many anxiety fighters are lacking in skill.

And for most of us it will mean some pushback from the other people in our lives – especially the ones that have gotten very comfortable with our lack of ability to say no.

Rights 5

Of course this doesn’t mean we turn into utter selfish blobs. It means we finally START at least addressing our own boundaries. It really isn’t a sin to say no, thanks, I don’t want to do that, or no, sorry, I don’t have the capacity or energy to do that for you right now.

And it’s amazing, seriously, what starts surfacing when we finally have permission in our own thinking to say yes or no depending on what WE want. It’s like we’ve been waiting our whole lives to listen, really listen to, OURSELVES – to treat ourselves at least as well as we’ve been treating other people, to start respecting ourselves at least as much as we respect other people.

Of course, this means that also have to start being OK with other people saying no as well. 🙂 That by itself is often a whole new gig for us people with no boundaries –we can expect other people to also not have boundaries.

It sounds odd to us, but good fences (i.e., the right to say no) do actually make good neighbors – and wives, and husbands, and sons, and friends, and co-workers…

We have the Right to ask for what we Want

In the last section I mentioned that, in order to be able to say no, we have to practice ourselves in the first place what the heck we want. In truth this is another right that too many of us don’t know we possess. We learn instead that we should ONLY want what other people want – and/or that we should be suspicious of anything we want as bad/selfish/wrong.

Rights 7

Yikes. What a terrible thing to have a person believe. Why the hell CAN’T we want something? Probably for the same reason that we learned we couldn’t say no. It was risky in our family or situation to have an opinion, have a real desire that opposed or contradicted another’s desire – a parent, a sibling, a spouse, you name it.

But we’re not, I argue, fully healthy or even human if we can’t be straight with ourselves about what WE want.

This has a lot of potential to shake our foundations. We can and sometimes do build a story about ourselves as selfless, other-centered, not really caring about the small stuff. Some of that might be true. But some of it is decidedly NOT true. Nobody walking the planet is without opinion, desire or need, and healthy, in-their-skin adults need to be able to identify, if only for themselves, what they truly want and don’t want, need and don’t need, deeply desire and really don’t care about.

Rights 8

And as I mentioned when it came to saying no, being honest about what we want and then actually asking for it can generate fierce anxious responses. It can also generate pushback from the people that are used to us always saying “it doesn’t matter – let’s do/eat/go to whatever you want.”

We’re best to start with baby steps. What do YOU really want for lunch? Is THIS the movie YOU wanted to see? Prefer to spend the afternoon cleaning the bathroom? It’s amazing what we find ourselves feeling and doing when we have the self-developed privilege of speaking up about on what want.

Let’s not forget that this right also comes with the truth that we need to allow other people to say what they want. Healthy living is largely a matter of negotiation. That doesn’t mean that if something deeply matters to us that we can’t wrestle for it and champion our cause! 🙂 It does mean that we need to get comfortable with other people wanting what they want, and sometimes living with the tension of the differences between you and them. That’s human – and healthy – too.

How’s THAT for a couple of Rights?

In case I haven’t made it clear so far in this post we have some very basic, human rights in our lives. We have the right to say no, and we have the right to ask for what we want. In case I haven’t made this clear either summoning the courage and the conviction to actually make these rights real in our lives is not always easy. Others may find it uncomfortable (and let you know loudly how terrible, selfish, inconsiderate it is of you to insist on those rights) –

And you yourself will probably kick up quite a fuss as you walk into this largely-unfamiliar territory that is self-care/self-respect.

Rights 6

After my last two posts on anxious thinking really being fossilized childish thinking I thought it might be useful to review the basics of treating problems AS problems. So many of us don’t ever get a good primer on something that might seem as intuitive as problem-solving –

But in fact we LEARN to treat problems as problems. And we learn to do it skillfully as well. So here goes – my discussion from 7/16/13 on the basic elements of problem-solving, or put another way, what we should be doing with the issues in our life (including our fears) since unless they are about to bite our heads off (literally!) they are NOT crises – just problems. Maybe serious problems – every very serious problems – but still problems.

And we’ll solve them best by treating them AS problems…

This blog spends a lot of time talking about not treating problems/issues/challenges in our lives as crises. And if you read this blog at all I’m pretty sure you have a good idea about what the definition of a crisis is to our brains and bodies – the threat of immediate physical danger that will likely result in injury or death.

That at least is the definition of a crisis as evolution defined it for us – the kind of thing that Flight or Fight evolved to deal with in the natural world. But how does that compare in detail to what a PROBLEM is – i.e., what most of us are afraid of and escalate to a crisis in our thinking? (And which is the primary cause of the fight with anxiety.)

My mission today is to lay out a clear definition and set of steps for what a problem looks like, in hopes of showing just how different it is from a crisis –

What Solving a Problem Looks Like

I wish someone had defined how a problem is actually managed and how we normally go about solving it a long time ago. It could have been stinkin’ useful at some points in my checkered past…

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Here’s a start: a problem is anything that isn’t a crisis. Not so helpful? 🙂 Think of it this way: a crisis, a real-world crisis, does NOT allow time for anything but instant action, and what thinking we do we do in crisis mode – i.e., rapid assessment of danger, plotting routes of escape (or plans of attack if we must fight), whatever it takes to end the crisis NOW and get away from danger. This is usually taking place in seconds or at most minutes.

Problems, on the other hand, are anything else – any other issue, concern, challenge, etc. that isn’t going to hurt or kill us this second, but which present some need for us to resolve at some point. Problems are, relative to real-world crises, issues that will take time and thinking to resolve. It might BE a crisis in 10 minutes, or next week, or next year, if we don’t take action now, but right now it is still only a problem.

That of course doesn’t mean that we can’t or don’t go about solving problems as crises – as I said earlier that’s the very heart of our fight with anxiety. That also however doesn’t mean that solving problems like crises is usually very effective, or even effective at all.

Let’s get specific about what solving a problem looks like operationally –

The Classic Steps to Problem-Solving

1. Identify the Problem. What is the challenge/issue/concern, precisely? What will not solving the problem potentially do to us? What WILL solving the problem look like?

2) What are some potential solutions to this problem? Which seem more or less likely to be helpful/effective?

Problems 3

3) What do I need to know to implement these solutions? I.e., what information do I need to gather, what research do I need to do, what resources will be necessary, who can help me with these solutions, etc.

4) Pick a solution.

5) Implement your solution.

6) Did it work? Great. Problem solved.

7) It didn’t work? OK. Let’s dance this dance again. That may be as simple as picking the next option on your list, or it may involve going back to the drawing board/ideas for solutions step.

As you have probably already considered this process could take 2 minutes (where are we going to lunch today?) to literally years (how will I afford to both eat bon-bons all day AND live at the beach?)

The thing to focus on here is that this is a PROCESS. It is a very different orientation to thinking about things than the mode that we get into when we’re dealing with Flight or Fight, i.e., when we’re treating a problem like a crisis.

There isn’t really a process when we’re under attack by danger. We first consider (at light speed) how to get away from danger or, if we can’t see a way to escape, how we can best take on this danger. Our brains have narrowed their focus, our bodies are geared to run or fight, and we need to do something NOW.

On the other hand problems have a much more analytical sense about them. Problem-solving is a very intellectual, abstract process, and it usually requires a cooler head and a calmer body. It takes time to follow the process, even if it is something as simple as deciding where to go to lunch.

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Great, Erik, Thanks for Sharing – How Does This Help Me Fight Anxiety?

Glad you asked:

1) Flight or Fight can (and usually does) make it damn difficult to think rationally or clearly – i.e., be in problem-solving mode rather than crisis mode. So one thing to keep in mind is that when we’re in the middle of a firefight with anxiety – heart racing, emotions boiling over, panic in temporary command – we can practice reminding ourselves that we’re not, in fact, in any danger at the moment, however it feels. IF we were in actual danger we’d either be running or fighting right now.

Nope, we’re dealing with a problem that FEELS like a crisis. And FEELINGS are trying hard to rule the moment when we’re anxious. But the truth is our feelings are wrong – completely wrong – and they really CAN’T help us solve this problem.

Yes, the problem we’ve converted into a crisis may be important – even critically important. Yes, we need to take steps to solve it. But that’s going to require a different kind of thinking than the one we experience when we’re in Flight or Fight.

So our mission becomes FIRST calming down, to any degree – powering down Flight or Fight to the extent that we can in those moments – THEN start reframing this little dilemma we’re frightened about as a problem, not a crisis.

That can sound very detached and rational, and we’re usually anything but detached and rational when we’re in an anxiety fight. So just hang on to these two thoughts – I’m NOT in a crisis (or I’d be doing something about it!) and my mission is to gear down my Flight or Fight reactions, THEN start problem-solving, to the degree I can.

2) Focusing on problems AS problems takes practice, especially for us anxiety fighters. So one GREAT way to combat our anxiety is to very deliberately take one thing that frightens us (after we do a little prep, get as cool as possible, have some breathing techniques and distraction tools handy to help us de-escalate if we get rattled doing this next step) and then –

Problems 1

Treat that scary thing as a problem. Pull out a piece of paper or your laptop and follow the steps I listed in this blog post. YOU DON’T HAVE TO SOLVE IT IN ONE SITTING!  That’s part of the practice, after all – treating the problem as a problem, giving it some time, gathering some data, doing some research, considering your options, etc.

The first couple of times will be scary, I’m betting. I know they were for me! By the same token this is right in line with the four skills I argue are essential to mastering our fears – identifying where we’re treating problems as crises, actively discounting our Flight or Fight responses when we’re anxious, converting those problems-turned-crises (in our thinking) BACK into problems, and learning the art of good self-care.

Practice really does change how we think, and how we approach problems as well…

3) We can use this (as we get more skillful with our anxiety tools) to even stop thinking from escalating to crisis mode in the first place. Doesn’t that sound good? As we develop the habit of pulling problems apart as problems we can begin to approach with greater confidence problems in general, and treat them as problems before we start to make ourselves crazy with anxiety.

Start Small

You don’t need to pick your biggest fear to get this practice going. I recommend a smaller fear or worry first. 🙂 Maybe we save world peace or resolving the problems with your in-laws once you’re feeling a little skillful.

Last note: the irony of this conversation is that most of us already have some decent problem-solving skills in one or more areas of our lives – work, dealing with kids, managing money, etc. We’re all different, but 99.9% of us already DO this treating problems as problems in one or more arenas of our lives.

So – what problems are you dealing with as crises? And where will you practice first? Problems are problems. You’re smarter than you give yourself credit for – and you have access to a lot of good information and thinking via the Web, your friends and/or family, your local library, etc.

And feel free to post a problem you’re treating as a crisis here at the blog! I and the other fear fighters will be happy to help…

Problems 6

If you’re an anxiety fighter then I have some news for you: you are the victim of too many horror films.

You know horror films, right? Those stupid, scary stories where some guy in a mask comes looming out of the shadows to stab or strangle or do some other terrible thing to a petrified, screaming victim. The stories vary, but the outcome is the same. The person meets some grim fate and the monster stumbles on, looking for the next victim.

Well, if we’re fighting anxiety, we’re the victim of horror films. We didn’t set out in any deliberate way to buy a ticket to this stupid movie, but here we are, glued to our seats, staring in fascinated, freaked-out horror at the stories playing over and over again in our thinking. And although we think our mission is to shout at the screen and tell the knucklehead that’s about to be attacked to get the hell out of there (or squeeze our eyes and cower in our chair) what we really need to do is get up and walk out of the performance.

The Movie

The people who study neurology (brain scientists) tell us that the left hemisphere of the brain is quite a little storyteller. In a sense that side of our brain is constantly interpreting the world, constantly telling itself what is happening and what it means to us.

Here’s another little interesting factoid: that story doesn’t have to have much to do with what is actually happening. Yes, it’s true – the story doesn’t have to match up with what is actually going on, not for the left hemisphere of the brain. The left side of the brain wants to make sense of things, put some structure around what is happening – but it is deciding what is happening more than it is clarifying what actually IS happening.

Horror Movie 1

In other words, it’s making a movie… a story about what is going on in the world and in our experience. You know how movies can be, yes? How they can suck you in, overwhelm your senses if you’re not paying attention, get you shouting at the screen or crying or laughing or whatever the movie is trying to evoke in you? Only when the lights go up do we start to realize that it was just a story, just a movie…

Well, that is happening in your thinking all the time! You and I and everyone else are responding to “The Movie in our Minds” (to paraphrase the song title from “Ms. Saigon.”) But unlike in the movies we can lose sight of the truth that we are interpreting the world, seeing it through our story – and it takes a bit more work to regain perspective, get clear on what is actually going on vs. what we’re telling ourselves about what is going on.

Let me say that again: we can easily lose sight of what is objectively true (what’s actually going on around us) because of the story we’re telling ourselves, by how we’re interpreting what’s happening in our lives. That’s not weird, or strange, or sick – it is utterly human, very, very normal, and everyone, anxiety fighter or not, gets caught in that thinking challenge.

We anxiety fighters just take it to an extreme…

Examples

So let’s say you are walking down the street and you see a friend. You smile and say hi to them and they look over at you, no sign of recognition in their face, nod uncomfortably and keep walking. It looks like they are upset with you, or like they don’t want to talk to you, and you’re offended. What the hell was that about?

You start reviewing the last encounter you had with that person. Did you say something they didn’t like? You think about your mutual friends. Did someone say something nasty about you to this person? You look at how your dressed. Did you make some fashion mistake and piss this person off?

Ghost 5

Most people spin this story out, usually by making some decision based on their experience and what they think happened. And that’s when the trouble REALLY starts, because now they begin acting on what they’ve assumed AS IF IT WAS THE TRUTH. In other words they’re telling themselves a story, creating a movie in their minds, and now they treat it as fact.

Let’s run with the they-must-be-mad-at-you-for-something-you-said notion. You come through your thinking until you find what they must be mad at, decide that’s the problem, then start being angry because of course you didn’t mean to say anything that would upset them, why can’t they see that, they’re really stupid and selfish to assume that… etc.

So what happens? You see that person the next day and now you’re hurt, or mad, or upset, or pissed off, and so YOU give THEM the cold shoulder. They say hi to you and you’re chilly, distant, barely acknowledging their presence. Or maybe you drop some scathing comeback like “well, NOW you have time to say hello to me!”

Why do we do this? Two reasons: 1) in creating these stories about our experience we begin to see the world THROUGH our story, and 2) as we tell ourselves those stories we have reactions to them – i.e., Flight or Fight fires up and makes them SEEM real, FEEL real.

That is, until, after our snippy comment, our friend says “what the hell? What are you talking about? Why are you so upset?” If we’re honest we say because hey buddy, you treated me like dirt yesterday. Then, to our chagrin, they tell us that they just learned their Mom is sick, or their son failed math again, or their company might be sold and they’ll be out of a job… and they didn’t even see you as a result.

Whoops. There you were, busy telling yourself this fierce and angry story, sure you were right, and… you were wrong. Don’t you feel silly now? 🙂

What If – the Ultimate Movie Maker

Anxiety is a result of what if thinking. That’s the first principle of this Fear Mastery work. We cannot be anxious unless we’re caught up in some what if thinking of one flavor or another. Another way to say that is that we’ve constructed scary movies about our lives, about our futures, and we’re running them, consciously or otherwise, on the movie screen of our thinking, over and over again – and scaring ourselves the whole time.

Horror Movie 3

How did it start? There are so many possible scenarios, but it comes down to this: at some point we each had to learn a story about making a situation, issue or problem into a crisis in our thinking. Let’s pick the topic of self-sufficiency for this discussion – how capable we see ourselves as being able to take care of ourselves in the world.

If we learned as younger humans that we had some capability to deal with life as it comes – that we can hold down a job, have friends, feed ourselves, etc. – then we see ourselves as capable, and see that self-support as at most a problem. Challenges will come, issues will surface, but we can deal with them when they do.

If, however, we come to believe that we are NOT capable (we get told that, we try some things and we don’t learn the right lessons about our ability, we are traumatized by some terrible experience that rocks our world and our self-confidence, or all of the above) then we’re going to see capability as a crisis for us. We’re going to construct a story that we’re not capable, that we’re going to be dependent on other people to get by, that it would be terrible if we were alone… in other words, we’re going to build “what if?” stories about our capability in life, wherever we doubt that.

Ugh. Without intending to you’ve hired a film crew, got some actors, rented a wardrobe and made yourself one hell of a movie. It’s in color, it’s dramatic and scary and horrible, and you run that movie a LOT in your thinking. You run it so much early on that you may not even be conscious you’re running that film – but it’s there, and it’s scaring you, and usually at the worst possible times

Horror Movie 4

What if I can’t make it on my own? What if I wind up alone and then I die because I’m alone? What if people see me as weak? What if people think I’m a failure? What if I can never have the life I want because I’m incapable of making it? And on and on and on…

Here’s the worst part about this: you are making this movie based ON YOUR ASSUMPTIONS ABOUT WHAT YOU’VE EXPERIENCED, rather than on what’s really true. Failure in the past doesn’t guarantee failure in the future. Lack of skill then (when you first started making that movie) doesn’t mean you can’t acquire skill NOW. Lack of training is just lack of training, not proof that you’re doomed to never be able to care for yourself.

But the story is STRONG, and reinforced by years of sitting in that movie theatre, watching it over and over again, interpreting your experience through that movie…

This movie could be about almost anything – relationships, money, physical health, coping with getting older, career, children, church/faith, success, you name it. And of course every anxiety fighter is watching more than one horror film at the same time in our theatre, i.e., we have multiple stories running in our thinking – this can get to be one noisy, scary moviehouse…

Time to Leave the Theatre

When we “what if?” in our thinking is when we get anxious. That means we have to start disrupting the habit of “what if?” thinking to get free of anxiety. One tool in our arsenal is to SEE that we’re very, very energetically (as anxiety fighters) engaging with our movies, our what if thinking, and to begin to develop a new habit – seeing the what if crises we’ve been feeding for so long in our thinking as problems we can address and find ways to manage.

Horror Movie 5

One vital way we can do that is to stop watching the damn movie in the first place. We have developed a nasty habit of engaging in the what if dialogues in our thinking, aided by the encouragement of Flight or Fight, in an effort to somehow solve these what if crises we’re conjuring in our thinking. We feel compelled to revisit them again and again, trying to not be the victim, to get away from the guy in the mask in our horror story…

When what we need to do is shut off the film in the first place.

That’s not easy. Habits are strong creatures, and we’ve been feeding these habits for a long time. Add to that how Flight or Fight makes it all seem so real, FEEL so real, and we’re pulled right back into the chair in that movie theatre in our minds.

The work starts by first getting conscious of our films at all. That’s work by itself – figuring out where we are turning issues/challenges/problems into crises in our thinking. It continues by see how Flight or Fight, reacting to our frightened thinking, feeds those scary stories and becomes, in our thinking, itself a scary thing. It means practicing a new understanding of what being anxious is about, seeing anxiety and our thinking clearly, and actively discounting the messages we’re getting from Flight or Fight.

It comes down to focusing what we actually know, what we’ve actually learned is true, rather than deciding to surrender again to what feels real, to what our histories and our thinking want to make us think is true. It comes down to letting go of the illusion that by constantly engaging our fearful thinking we’re going to get anyplace and do anything constructive about that thinking.

It means allowing ourselves to be scared AND see through the fear to what’s actually happening – that we’re scaring ourselves, habitually, in our thinking. That’s how we push ourselves up out of that chair and make our way down to the exit, leaving the horror films running in an empty theatre.

Time for a New Movie

Ever sneak into another theatre when you went to the movies because you didn’t like the film you paid for? It’s kinda fun. That’s possible with anxiety too. It’s a lot more work than just trying to avoid the usher, but it’s utterly something we can all do.

Horror Movie 6

The work is hard. It doesn’t just happen with one or two practice sessions. It means a rigorous self-honesty and a determination to get your life back, regardless of how crappy you feel on any particular day or in any specific hour. It means CHOOSING to be scared for a while in order to get free of chronic anxiety.

It means defying habit and refusing to review the what if thinking again – and not doing that very successfully while you begin to build a new habit and new skills. It means Flight or Fight screaming at you to sit down – you’ve GOT to keep paying attention to those stories. It means distracting yourself, occupying yourself with new thinking, even when it seems stupid and pointless, even when your what if thinking is insisting you focus on it again.

It means getting up from the chair and sitting down again. Hell, it means changing chairs in the theatre as you fight to get to the exit. It means stepping on toes and having people yell at you because you’re in the way. It means a lot of discomfort. It means getting a LOT more uncomfortable, for a period of time, before you feel less afraid.

But there’s nothing quite like exiting that theatre, getting away from that endless horror film in our thinking.

When we are thinking anxiously – when we are scaring ourselves in our thinking – we make it hard to think. That’s not news to most of us, I know. If you’re reading this blog (heck, if you’re human) then you’ve had that eager but, in the case of anxious thinking, not so helpful guardian of our safety, Flight or Fight, fire up – and in doing so make it hard to stay rational enough to deal with our fears.

Today’s post is about that challenge – the challenge of keeping our thinking functional enough to meet our fearful thinking, through the roar of Flight or Fight, and make some headway in taking back control of our thinking and lives from anxiety.

It starts with getting clear on what the hell is going on…

A Little Review for the Cheap Seats

It rolls like this: you have a thought that scares you/makes you anxious. The nano-second that happens Flight or Fight gets to work trying to prepare you for the danger you’re anticipating.

Lots of things happen in our bodies when we activate Flight or Fight. For one thing we get ready physically to RUN (or fight if we really have to.) Lots of the reactions we have when we’re anxious can be neatly summarized as just that – our bodies gearing up to take physical, right-now action.

Control thinking 1

Heartbeat jumps up, breathing gets faster and more shallow, blood pressure does funny things, stomach shuts down (hence nausea/butterflies) because we DON’T need to digest that donut right now, tingling sensations happen as the extremities get ready for potential injury, etc. That’s one big group of things happening with Flight or Fight.

Meanwhile our emotions are surging – because strong emotions are good motivators when we’re in danger. That sense of dread, that anxious restless feeling, anger, being easily startled, lots more besides – all of that is Flight or Fight as well.

But of particular interest in today’s post is what happens to our thinking under the influence of Flight or Fight –

Brain? What Brain? I don’t have a Brain right now…

When we get ourselves crazed (or even somewhat rattled) over our anxious thinking and Flight or Fight tries to take charge (note the use of the word “tries” here) our brains also have reactions, just like our bodies and emotions. Many of these scare us (they don’t have to) and some of them frankly get in the way of dealing with our anxious thinking.

Control thinking 5

One thing that happens is our thinking narrows and sharpens on the crisis we’re creating in our thinking. This is great with a real crisis, since that focus allows us to be totally present for the danger we’re facing down. Another thing is that, when we get really fired up, we can often detach or experience “disassociation” – we seem to float away from our bodies or detach from the world.

This is amazing to experience when we’re in a crisis, because it makes time slow down and gives us distance to see the crisis and have some capacity to deal with it.

Still a third impact of Flight or Fight is that it becomes challenging to take a strategic or problem view of the issue in front of us, mostly because we’re telling ourselves we’re in a crisis, and Flight or Fight only knows one time to solve a crisis – RIGHT NOW.

And this means that we can get caught in what I call the “spin cycle” of worry – i.e., we keep worrying and keep agonizing over the fearful thinking in our skulls, not doing anything useful with it, but definitely feeding our worry and fear, which in turn keeps firing up Flight or Fight, which feeds our worry… etc.

So Thinking gets harder – but it doesn’t get Impossible

Let’s review the thinking issues that can get in the way I just listed:
Narrow/sharpened focus
Detachment/disassociation
Spin cycle of worry

Construction 3

None of this means we CAN’T think when we’re anxious. It just means it is going to take more work. One thing that can seriously help is what might be called “assisted thinking.” All I mean by that is WRITE STUFF DOWN AND MAKE IT EASY TO SEE IT WHEN YOU’RE ANXIOUS.

Write what down, you ask? The thinking you want to be focused on when you’re freaked out with anxious thinking. Things like “this isn’t a crisis, however the hell I feel this moment.” Things like “these sensations are coming from my frightened thinking via Flight or Fight – I don’t have to take them this seriously.” Things like “disassociation isn’t me going crazy – it’s just Flight or Fight.”

Things like “I’ll never solve this worry by worrying about it” and “the only way to break the cycle of what if thinking is to shut down the discussion in the first place.”

I’m not going to promise it is easy. And I AM going to promise that when we seriously face into this specific aspect of the work we ourselves will fight it tooth and claw. Why will we fight it? Because we’re already tempted to believe, by Flight or Fight, that worry is doing us any damn good – and so it feels like we’re doing the right thing by worrying.

Incorrect. Worse than incorrect – utterly life-sucking and pointless. (Note – notice that I’m not talking about taking ALL your unpacking notes, as I recommend you do HERE to identify your scared thinking – I’m talking about taking summary notes, short notes you can put on a 3X5 card or on your phone.)

Control thinking 2

So assisted thinking is one tool. Another is getting other people to remind us what’s useful when we’re freaking ourselves out. Maybe we keep a couple of friends and/or family on speed-dial while we’re doing this work. “Hey, Fred, I’m totally in a twist about my damn nausea and my fears that I’m an utter loser – can you slap me around for a minute?”

After all, what are friends for, if not get us sorted out when we need it? 🙂 You’ll probably want to tell them what you need to hear in those moments – don’t leave it up to them to have to guess.

Still another way to work on this to deliberately sit with your fears when you are NOT freaked out and clarify, over and over again, that your fears are not crises, however they feel, but problems – and then tell and retell yourself what those problems actually are – and what you are working to do to deal with them.

Because it can help as much to deliberately face those fears down, again and again, as it can help to do it when you’re in the middle of a freak-out. Expect this to be scary. Expect to fight it and find any reason to not do it.

And, of course, a good therapist or coach can be a great way to help you think when you’re not thinking so clearly yourself. Take notes when you’re with that therapist. Add it to the notes you’re already creating. Get them to help you to practice better, clearer thinking when you’re anxious.

Control thinking 4

Because what you can expect, as you continue to do this work, is to slowly get some control over those racing, anxious thoughts. It won’t come fast, and it will be frustrating and scary at points, but it will come. But it can ONLY come with practice and refusing to run away from Flight or Fight…

An Apple a Day

Or, in this case, a thinking practice or three a day, and you’ll begin to see some movement, begin to get some traction in your anxious thinking.

Expect this to be a stop-and-start process. Facing down the thinking that scares us SCARES US – and we each move at the speed that works for us on any given day. And, honestly, most of us don’t learn this taking control of our thinking until we’re forced to by something like chronic anxiety.

But learn it we can. And in learning it we can finally bust free of the fears we’ve been nurturing in our anxious thinking.

So I’ve written 220 blog posts here at the Fear Mastery Blog as of this last week, so I thought it was time to indulge my inner nerd. Yes, this will probably come as a surprise to you my readers, but I am a nerd. A HUGE nerd.

(The next habits post I promised to you is still coming – after this one. Hey, it’s also my birthday, so I’m indulging myself. 🙂 )

Now I promise not to torment you with long Star Trek quotes or show you pictures of me in my Hogwarts t-shirt. No, the extent of my nerdiness today is to take something from one of the great science-fiction books, entitled “Dune”, and talk about its usefulness in our fight to break the hold of anxiety in our lives.

What, you say? A sci-fi book has something to say about anxiety?

Yes. Something really, really useful.

The Litany Against Fear

Litany 5

The book “Dune” is a big and complex book, and I won’t pretend to summarize it here. But among many themes the story addresses is facing our fear. Let me recite to you the Litany Against Fear:

“I will not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer,
The little death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

The hero of our story says this to himself when he’s facing something that makes him anxious at the start of the book. And believe me, there is a lot to mine out of this little gem, even if some of it sounds crazy to you, like the part that reads “I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” That sounded crazy to me too when I first read it…

Let me skip the first line in my little analysis here and go to “Fear is the Mind-Killer.” That’s a great line. The moment we are anxious we begin to activate Flight or Fight in our brains and bodies, and Flight or Fight has its own agenda with us once it is engaged.

As I have discussed HERE our critical thinking abilities are compromised, sometimes pretty seriously, when we are rolling around in Flight or Fight feelings and sensations. (And, for a basic review of what happens when we fire up Flight or Fight, go HERE.)
“Fear is the Mind-Killer” is a good reminder that we are NOT thinking clearly when we get caught up in our fears – and that includes what kinds of decisions we are making and what kinds of conclusions we are reaching about the future.

So much of this work of breaking anxiety’s hold is blowing up and rewriting our thinking about anxiety – what it is, what it means, why it is happening, what we can actually do about it. Fear being a “mind-killer” doesn’t mean that we are powerless in the face of fear, or that we CAN’T still do some lucid thinking in the face of our fears.

But we can, easily, if we don’t begin to reframe and begin to understand anxiety and how it works, let anxiety run away with us. And that’s a very easy way to “kill our minds” – i.e., let our fears run away with us, have us completely consumed in all the awful things that might happen to us, find ourselves living very reactively and timidly, wreaking havoc on our health, our relationships and our environments, and flailing for some quick fix that will make us feel less anxious.

Litany 2

Put another way we have to learn to take command of our thinking, even in the face of our fearful thoughts, and even in the face of the siren song of Flight or Fight. This is something we can do.

One VERY helpful notion is to get ahold of the notion that whenever we are anxious, whenever we are feeling the pull of fear in our thinking and bodies, to go right to the cause of that fear – our fearful thinking. We CAN’T be anxious or afraid if we don’t first THINK there is something we should be anxious about.

Repeating: anxiety is in our minds. If we want power over our anxiety – including shutting down the surges of Flight or Fight in our bodies and feelings, those surges that can scare us so badly – then we have to aim for the heart of the matter, our thinking. We don’t have to give in to or be overpowered by “the Mind-Killer.” The Mind-Killer IS our thinking – and there is no question that, with some good information and practice, we can gain control of our thinking.

“Fear is the Little Death that brings Total Obliteration…”

Wow. That doesn’t sound good. Nobody likes to be totally obliterated, I’m pretty sure. What does this sentence mean? It means that if we continue to let “the Mind-Killer” rule our thinking – if we continue to let problems escalate to crises, continue to believe we can and should run from our fears about the future, continue to scare ourselves with our fears about what might be or what might happen – then we literally obliterate our lives – one day at a time.

Obliteration sounds like this colossal event, this one-time disaster that leaves a smoking crater where we were sitting. But that’s only one kind of obliteration. We can obliterate ourselves minute to minute. We can obliterate joy, and hope, and internal peace, and physical health, in tiny bits and in daily focusing on our fears.

We can reverse this obliterating obsession. We can take the wheel back from our fears. It isn’t a one-shot deal. It is in part deciding that we are tired of obliterating our lives. It is in part getting frustrated and angry and determined enough to be uncomfortable – to be scratchy and scared while we turn and face down our fears.

We can face down “the Mind-Killer.” Its only real weapon is Flight or Fight, scaring us back into a place of passivity and trembling fear. We take away that weapon when we turn and face our fearful thinking! Think on that last line: we take anxiety’s ONLY weapon away when we turn and face our fears.

“Fear is the Mind-Killer” – but only as long as we let it. “Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration” – but only as long as we’re in head-long flight from our fears.

Litany 4

I will permit it to pass over me and through me.

That probably sounds almost as scary as “total obliteration” to most of us, but this is exactly right. As I’ve already said we have to turn and face down our anxious thinking. Let it come!

That doesn’t mean that you sit there and FEED that fearful thinking, allow it to fill you and take you over. That is definitely not what this means. It means just seeing the story for what it is, the drum-beat tedious retelling of “what if this happens? What if this happens? What if this happens?”

It means seeing THROUGH the story, seeing that we are creating crisis in our thinking around what can at best be described as a problem. Oh yeah, I understand that some of our problems (or issues that scare us, even if they are not problems for us at the moment) can seem VERY crisis-like.

What if I run out of money? What if I am left alone for the rest of my life? What if I get cancer and die a horrible, lingering death? What if I never achieve success? What if I fart in a roomful of people? (Wait, I’ve already done that – let me report back that nobody says anything because they’re all afraid they’ll offend someone.)

Sure those stories are scary. But they are JUST stories. It is in the feeding, the holding onto and poring over those stories, that we get completely fired up and freaked out, activating Flight or Fight and making ourselves sick with fear and worry.

If they are however not going to kill us in the next 5 minutes then they are definitely not a crisis. Which means our panicky response and Flight or Fight’s efforts are a grand waste of time. We have to instead see these issues for what they are: problems. We’ll be WAY more effective, we’ll do a whole lot more good for ourselves and we’ll have a much better chance of actually dealing with these issues IF we treat them as problems. (See my piece HERE on what problem management looks like.)

In the moment of our fears it means that we’ll begin to deescalate our fearful responses, begin to get some lucid thinking back. Scary as crap when we first start – no question – but completely something any of us can do. And we just get better with practice.

Litany 6

“I will permit my fear to pass over me and through me.” It’s just thinking. It’s just Flight or Fight reacting to our thinking. It can’t hurt us. By letting “the Mind-Killer” move through us this way we start taking control of our thinking and our fear.

And when it is gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Guess what happens when we practice this behavior and this thinking? We start to get control. We start to see through, and get better at seeing through, our fears. We begin to disrupt and break the habit of reacting to fear by running and hiding, and instead steadily create a new habit of addressing our fears.

Which brings me to the two lines I haven’t addressed in this Litany Against Fear:

I will not fear. I will face my fear.

We learn, inaccurately, that the best thing we can do in the presence of fear is to GET AWAY FROM IT. It isn’t like we understood what was happening back when anxiety first began it’s creep into our lives. We had, the vast majority of us, terrible information, and we made some less-than-useful assumptions based on the reactions of Flight or Fight.

We have been SCARED. For a long time. We have some bad reactive habits. We just want to not be afraid anymore.

Here’s the simple truth of this little litany: the way to not be afraid is to face down our fears. Face down the fear of Flight or Fight – all those physical and emotional reactions to fear. Face down the thinking that is causing that anxious reacting in the first place. Face down the habit of flinching back and running away. Face down the “what if?” litanies (talk about litanies!) that run routinely through our brain, consciously and unconsciously, and get them unpacked and decisively changed back to, at most, problems.

This is tedious and scary work. This is very uncomfortable work. We will have our Comfort Zones screaming at us to flinch back again, to step away, and to NOT confront our fearful thinking and reacting. But that way only takes us back into the box of our fears. And in the midst of all that shouting and discomfort and fearful thinking we can learn to face down our fears.

And when we do that we will find that we can say “only I will remain.” Fear will be reduced and returned to what it should be – a tool to help us with crisis, not a master that rules and ruins our lives.

Let the litany begin…

LItany 1

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