When a young man in his early 20s tells me, in a moment of deep honesty, about an anxiety he has, I pay particular attention to the degree to which he identifies himself with his anxiety. He won’t do it explicitly, of course, but conspicuously.
I won’t go into the details here because this is no fucking therapy session (and none of this here is medical advice!), but I’ve found three questions you can ask yourself that help you disengage your mind from what you may call “anxiety.”
1. How long have you been waiting?
Imagine you’re on a train, looking for a seat, and your eye catches a stunningly beautiful women sitting all by herself. The seat next to her is vacant. You greet her and take the seat. Everything’s cool. But then you’re silent.
You haven’t been socializing in a while, so instead of introducing yourself and starting a conversation immediately, you act all busy, look at your phone, open a book, or simply relax. The longer there’s silence, the more awkward it will be when you do make up your mind to give her a compliment. Resistance builds up.
Just don’t tell yourself that you’re anxious. You’re indecisive. End of story.
Stop pondering! Don’t hang in between decisions like a fly in a spider’s web. Get over it and decide not to take action—that’s still better than dwelling on anxiety. If you’re a coward, at least be a decisive coward. And promise yourself that you’ll never behave like that again in the future!
The same dynamic applies to many areas in life. Two people could have the exact same genetic and experiential proneness to anxiety: one hesitates and becomes anxious; the other immediately jumps into the cold water and is fine—he, too, would have built up anxiety, but his decisiveness made the difference.
The lesson here is simple: focus not on overcoming anxiety and beating your fears, but on becoming more decisive. If you go through your day with a mindful spirit, you’ll find thousands of opportunities to empower your mental muscle to say, “Go!”
2. How much do you want it?
That’s what you must ask yourself when you shy away from taking action out of fear. Will that action bring you closer to your goal? And how badly do you want to achieve that goal?
Your willpower is an attentional function of your true pride. If you want something really bad, it’s because you expect to gain a lot of pride from it (or because the shame of not taking action would be too devastating). If you still don’t do it, still don’t go after it, although you know that you’d be doing your True Will, then you’ve been held back by a lack of focus on what you truly want (again, willpower is an attentional function).
Therefore, what’s holding you back is either impaired attention to what you want, or not wanting it badly enough in the first place. Don’t you ever believe that your “anxiety” is holding you back! Anxiety is a mind-enslaving emotion that obscures your True Will. Once you know what you truly want, your actions are a pure matter of pride and focus.
If you fail, don’t think about how you can alleviate anxiety. Rather, revisualize your pride and conceive a new plan to manage your focus. You can’t do multiple things that are hard at the same time. If you do, failure will build up, making way for weakness, worry, and fear.
So know what you want and how much you want it, and then give your all to get just that—that one thing. As long as you’re focused on an ideal state (= what you want), what you must do to get there, and not on what might happen along the way, anxiety won’t be an issue.
3. How often have you done it before?
Anxiety is a natural reaction to a novel, stressful situation. Feeling anxious doing something for the first time is normal. The more experience you have and the more exposure you’ve had to various stressful circumstances, the less anxiety you’ll feel. Being anxious while others are cool simply means that you’ve been less exposed to comparable situations.
You’re not an anxious person, you’re just inexperienced. The solution here is obvious: always do what you’re most afraid to do. This decision principle will give you all the experience you need to keep your mind cool and your emotions in check. Again, it’s not a matter of fighting against your fears, but of blunting your automatic affective responses through action, through exposure, through practice.
Put your anxiety into perspective!
You are not an anxious person. Sure, there may be some situations you’ve had less exposure to than others. There may be a feeling of unrest trying to distract your focus. And there may be trifles you’ve let heat up your mind and stir up your emotions for so long that they drive you crazy now. But it doesn’t matter how you feel.
Cool your fucking mind. All that matters is that you know who you are, know where you stand, know what you want, and take action without hesitation.