Are you afraid of everything?
I don't mean fear of spiders, needles or things like that.
But rather, do you spend a ton of time feeling afraid of "what ifs?"
You worry about feeling anxious.
You worry about feeling weak.
You worry about feeling stupid if any of the things you fear should happen. And sadly, this dictates your happiness and well-being.
As an example, let’s say you have to attend a work meeting, and you have to travel by train. As the date draws closer, you get bombarded by a thousand “what ifs.”
What if you miss the train or get on the wrong one?
And if you get the correct train…
What if it speeds right pass your stop?
What if you get lost and you’re late for the meeting?
Will you look incompetent?
Will you get told off?
Could you lose your job for this?
Round and round it goes like a rat zipping through every corner of your brain.
And though you know that you don't really need to fear any of these things...
You’ve been late before and all your work colleagues and even your manager have been more understanding than you expected.
Even though you know this, you still can't switch the "what if's" off.
Gets infuriating, doesn’t it?
You see, if you expect negative outcomes most of the time.
This tendency soon becomes a habit.
And the result…
Your mind drives you to feel vulnerable automatically and you'll have no control over it.
In this case, the reason you feel vulnerable is not because there’s a real threat but because you've become an expert at feeling defenseless.
You’ve developed the nasty habit of negative prediction.
Your initial goal for worrying was to protect yourself. But the more you protect yourself like this, the more you’ll feel defenseless.
How do you overcome this habit of negative prediction?
Step 1: Recognize the pattern within the negative prediction habit
If you struggle with anxiety, look closely at what you do and you’ll discover the following pattern.
You spend a ton of time imagining the potential worst-case scenarios. And then you spend countless hours planning how to avoid these worst-case scenarios.
Once you pinpoint your pattern, move on to step 2.
Step 2: Break the pattern using a system that works well with your brain.
How do you do this exactly?
You break the pattern by planning for things to go well as opposed to planning for things to go wrong.
Going back to our train journey example, let's imagine that you just knew that you could make it on time. How would this influence your planning and your experience through the journey?
Perhaps you'd check google maps to figure out the best time to leave in order to get to the meeting. And you’d only need about 10 minutes to plan your journey.
The whole journey would feel a lot easier. You'll feel a lot calmer. And you’d be comfortable to just focus your mind on getting other things done whilst you’re on the train.
Why would you feel this relaxed?
Because you wouldn’t be so engrossed by what could go wrong.
So, by planning your trip as if things would go well, something scientifically magnificent happens. Your behavior tells your brain that it does not need to feel threatened.
Now you’re thinking…
“This is silly…
Pretending that things would be fine is setting yourself up for nasty shocks in life. There are so many unknowns. Anything can go wrong. And you wouldn’t be prepared to protect yourself.
Isn’t it better to plan and avoid any heart aches that you could encounter?”
Yes, it's true that there are many unknowns here.
But think about it this way.
You've got as much chance for things to go well as for things to go bad.
Focusing only on what could go negatively only trains your brain to feel vulnerable.
Honestly, ask yourself...
How often do you assume that things will go well?
If you struggle with anxiety problems, chances are that you don't really do this.
What’s my point?
You see, if your brain is never given that opportunity to think about what could go well, your brain will have no reference for feeling safe. Your brain would only ever know a world of vulnerability.
And there’s science to back this up too.
In a well-known study on using imagination in sports, Russian scientists compared four groups of Olympic athletes in terms of their training schedules:
The results showed that Group 4, with 75% of their time devoted to mental imagery training, performed the best.
It turns out that mental imagery helps strengthens the brain neurons you use for successfully carrying out an activity.
Surprisingly mental imagery exercises like this have been found to strengthen physical muscles as well.
(Robert Scaglione, William Cummins, Karate of Okinawa: Building Warrior Spirit, Tuttle Publishing, 1993, ISBN 096264840X.)
Putting this in context of our train journey…
If you imagine every step of your journey going well, you would be exercising brain neurons that will help you carry out your journey effectively.
But the opposite is also true.
If you only imagine things going badly, you would be exercising brain neurons that trigger fear. This naturally obstructs your effectiveness.
Would you like to stop feeling like a ticking time bomb because of your anxiety?
To stop feeling like you could spiral into panic every single day and not be able to get out of it.
To stop dreading normal day to day things like housework, because you feels so unstable that you fear you won’t be able to survive?
Then you got to incorporate positive future imaginations into your daily routine. You’ve got to repeat this so much that it becomes second nature.
This is how people who don’t suffer from anxiety problems deal with stuff.
If you’ve spent a lifetime only imagining what could go wrong in your life. Then you give other people, other events and other things control over you. You give them control over how you feel.
But this control is an illusion that’s solely constructed by you. You construct it by focusing only on what can tear you down instead of on what can build you up.
Yes it would be naive to totally ignore the threats in life. But it’s equally naive to ignore all the positive possibilities in your life.
You’ve got to allow both perspective in.
That’s the only way to feel fully balanced.
That’s is the only way to feel fully resilient.
That’s the only way to feel fearless, calm and in control regardless of what life throws at you.
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