The Truth About Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are indications of your current mindset. They grow in proportion to the amount of attention you give those thoughts. Like the warning indicator lights on the dashboard of your car, feelings of fear and anxiety tell you something is not right. In the same way that you wouldn’t want to ignore your dashboard indicators, you don’t want to ignore negative emotions. In both cases, they help diagnose bigger problems.

Some people believe you must “conquer” your fears by doing the thing that triggers the fear over and over until the feeling dissipates (public speaking, for example). That is the equivalent of continuing to drive your car with warning indicator lights flashing and expecting them to just go away. This strategy might work for some, but for most people, the fear and anxiety do not dissipate. Your sensitivity to them does. You learn to live with the flashing indicators as you continue to drive.

Here’s the secret: fear and anxiety point to the misalignment of your thoughts regarding a particular experience. Negative thoughts equal negative feelings. Therefore a change in thought can change your feelings, even subtly. We all know this at our core, but when our feelings become so overwhelming, it’s difficult to remember this simple truth. Instead when feeling fear and anxiety, most people try to change their external situation: job, finances, another person, etc.

I’ll give you an example from my personal experience. While writing this blog, my fear and anxiety indicators were flashing. The thoughts beneath included: “I’m not a good writer” and “Writing is hard work.” I tried to “push through it” and began writing with the hope that the feelings of anxiety would eventually dissipate. But inside I knew my truth: I would never continue writing if I had to feel this dread every week. And that’s what most people do—they continue to do the thing that causes the misaligned feeling and try to “get used to it.”

So I decided on a different approach: to meditate first and to choose the thoughts that gave me a sense of peace and fulfilllment. Then I began to write. Now the words flow out of me because I am feeling good, not because I’ve gotten used to feeling fear.

You probably noticed that the title of this post has the words “fear & anxiety” in a much smaller size. I formatted it as such to emphasize my point: fear and anxiety can only be as large as you make them. Choose thoughts for the purpose of feeling good first, then feelings of confidence and peace will replace any fear and anxiety.

Writing from my core,

Mike

Advertisements

Finding the Purpose in Problems

At the end of our street, facing a road with heavy traffic, sat a dilapidated eyesore of a house. Abandoned by its owner, the paint peeled and the window shutters dangled. At one point, the owner was fined by the city for the overgrown, weedy front yard. Whenever we drove by, I looked away, sad that this little Cape Cod house was dragging down property values for the rest of us.

Life’s problems are like this house. As long as we remain blind to the potential and purpose behind them, they appear like unwanted eyesores that deserve to be razed to the ground. Often we choose to complain about them. However, the more negative attention one gives to a problem (even in trying to eradicate it), the more the problem persists. Weeds in a property owner’s yard only cause strong anxiety if that person chooses to see them as a problem.

One day I saw construction crews working on the dilapidated house. Over the course of several weeks, the siding, roof and windows were replaced. Landscapers planted new grass and bushes in the front yard. Finally, a tall wooden fence was erected to block the house from the busy traffic. What was once an eyesore became a shining gem. I was tempted to peek inside the windows to imagine myself living there.

A real estate investor took inventory of that house and saw potential. Many people pass right by their problems without taking the time to look for the hidden potential.

The main purpose of our problems is to help us decide what we want by providing contrast to it, plain and simple. When an ongoing problem triggers strong negative thoughts and feelings, you can choose to complain, or you can choose to say: “Okay, as a result of this problem, I am thinking these particular thoughts and feelings, and this is not how I want to be thinking and feeling. But what do I want to be thinking and feeling? And how do I “think my way” there?”

Problems are a necessary part of life. They help us figure out what we need to be fulfilled and happy.

There is a Buddhist parable in which a farmer asks the Buddha to help him and begins to recount his many problems. After listening for a while, the Buddha says “I can’t help you.”

Aghast, he farmer snaps back, “But why?! You are the Buddha!”

The Buddha responds, “There are a number of basic problems that everyone has, but you have an extra one.”

“What is that?” the farmer asks.

The Buddha replies, “You think there should be no problems.”

Last week, I drove by that house and saw a family moving into it. The dilapidated old house at the end of our street had become a wonderful home.

Writing from my core,

Mike

Change Your Life With Just One Question

I sat in my office listening to a client talk about his usual topics: watching television and taking care of his elderly parents. He was doing well in his drug recovery, so I decided to “redirect” him with a simple question.

“What do you want?”

“Huh?”

“What do you want?” I repeated.

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, you’re doing well with your recovery and lately you’ve come in here to talk about The History Channel or the news. What do you really want in life?”

“You’ve never asked me that before…”

“I’m sorry if it seems sudden, but I ask again: What do you want?”

He knew immediately. “I want what you have: I want a wife and a child. I want to be married.”

“How long have you had this desire to be married?”

“Since I was seventeen.”

“You’ve had the desire to be married since you were seventeen, yet the energy you are spending toward this goal involves watching The History Channel for four hours a day? Are you working towards becoming a husband or a history teacher?”

“Oh, I never thought of it that way. But what do you want me to do—walk into a bar and start hitting on people?”

I then explained to him that the achievement of our dreams begins first with getting clear about what we want, and making this mental vision as specific as possible. I therefore asked him, “What is she like?”

“Who?”

“The person you plan to marry. What is she like? Her personality…”

“Oh, I never thought about that.”

“Would you like some direction on how to achieve your dream of being married to the Love of Your Life?”

“Why yes, of course!”

“When I asked you about working toward your goal, you thought of going into a bar. What would be better is time spent shaping your goals and dreams. Think of the personality traits of the kind of person you would like to marry and write them down. Once you do that, ask yourself this question: Do I have these qualities myself? Because here’s the secret…”

He leaned over intently.

“…You attract to yourself the kind of person that you are.”

Many of us are like this client. We know what we want, but spend most of our time doing things that do not work towards achieving those goals and dreams. Or we spend our time complaining, which is focused on what we don’t want.

The laws that govern this Universe are very specific, so it is best to use the power of your thoughts to paint a clear picture of exactly what you want in life. Write down your list of goals, then daydream your future, bringing up all of the excitement that goes with it. Because everything you see in this world, especially everything that humankind has created, began first with a single thought.

Writing from my core,

Mike