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Weekly 3: Make anxiety useful

Summary: You can use anxiety as a filter to identify what to work on. The first step is reframing you

Idea Journal Weekly 3

November 1 · Issue #163 · View online
We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: You can use anxiety as a filter to identify what to work on. The first step is reframing your understanding of anxiety itself.
(~4 min read)

#1. Anxiety's bark is often bigger than its bite
Neuroscientist and mindfulness expert Sam Harris says that shifting your perspective of anxiety can help you better deal with it.
He offers the following two tips:
1. Reframe the problem that’s making you anxious:
For example, many people are afraid to fly, and even those of us who enjoy flying can feel anxious in significant turbulence.
But ask yourself: Is it rational to worry that your plane will crash if you’re experiencing turbulence?
Given how relatively rare plane crashes are, flying might be the safest part of your trip.
During your journey, you should be more worried as you’re getting into a taxi, or as you’re walking in a crosswalk while fixated on your smartphone. These are the moments “when sweat should be beading up on your forehead.”
Once you take this perspective, you can simply experience the turbulence, and cease to interpret it as a sign of actual danger.
2. Reframe your view of anxiety itself:
The other perspective is to become mindful of the feeling of anxiety itself: What is it? What does it mean?
As Harris notes, anxiety is just “a pattern of energy and it actually doesn’t mean anything at the level of raw sensation.”
Your thoughts about that sensation might be negative, but the feeling itself is often indistinguishable from the feeling of excitement: How do you know the difference between being anxious about something and being excited?
For the most part, it’s your thoughts that frame how you feel about that same sensation.
Harris argues that the best way to respond to normal anxiety is to become willing to feel it, and to continue functioning even as it’s happening.
And once you become willing to feel anxiety, you can begin to use it to your advantage.
#2. Use anxiety as a "weather vane"
Author and marketing guru Seth Godin writes in his book Linchpin that anxiety can serve as a useful guide for identifying the work you most need to do.
For Godin, there’s a particularly insidious form of anxiety that can keep you from doing your best work and making a meaningful contribution: “the resistance,” a term coined by the writer Steven Pressfield.
The resistance is the voice in our heads that is afraid of change and the unknown, of standing out, of being laughed at. It favors immediate gratification, and fights against acts that involve long-term growth, health, or integrity.
Here are some examples of how the resistance expresses itself:
  • Procrastinating with claims that you need to be perfect.
  • Spending hours obsessing about data collection and research, and ignoring what’s essential.
  • Focusing on revenge or teaching someone a lesson, rather than doing the necessary work.
  • Embarking on a never-ending search for the next big thing, and abandoning yesterday’s thing as old.
  • Starting committees instead of taking action; joining committees instead of leading.
  • Making excuses for your inaction based on your gender, handicap, health, race, religion, or shoe size.
You know you’re onto something when you feel the fear and pull of the resistance: “Whichever way the wind of resistance is coming from, that’s the way to head – directly into the resistance.”
Godin himself nearly succumbed to the resistance as he was completing Linchpin: “I stopped writing this book a dozen times … I realized that my lizard brain was afraid of this book, which is the best reason I can think of to write it.”
#3. “A lifetime of mediocrity is a high price to pay for safety.”
Author and creativity expert Todd Henry writes in his book The Accidental Creative that making something new always involves some amount of risk.
Fear often causes us to project negative consequences onto our efforts and limit our engagement, no matter how likely those consequences are.
Henry suggests that there are 2 types of fear that could be stifling your best work, and he offers the below guidelines and questions to help you identify them:
1. Fear of Failure:
In order to succeed, we have to reach beyond our current circumstances and take chances that our work might fail.
Ask yourself:
  • Where are you refusing to take risks in your work?
  • What are the perceived consequences that are holding you back? And do you think they are real or imagined?
2. Fear of Success:
If we don’t stretch ourselves, we don’t grow. Growth can be uncomfortable, but without that discomfort, our capacity doesn’t simply remain the same, it shrinks: “If we’re not growing, we’re dying.”
Ask yourself:
  • Have you ever held back an idea because you were afraid of the consequences?
  • Are you withholding yourself in your work because you’re afraid that you won’t be able to sustain the pace of your success?
In dealing with both types of fear, Henry recommends that you get to know your comfort zone, and then work hard to stay out of it.
Quote of the week
“Anxiety is the handmaiden of contemporary ambition …”
- Author and philosopher Alain de Botton in his book Status Anxiety
Idea Journal
Idea Journal
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