Maybe it’s the heightened anxiety of the times we are living in, but the theme of the last month has been talking clients out of the tree – helping them restore centered calm as they explore next career steps, engage in active job searches, and build their dreams into reality.
I am a born worrier. (It’s a sign of a very active imagination!) I can think of the most infinitesimal possibility and reach to the stratosphere to grab it and pull it through space into my reality as a spoken fear or a temporary hysteria. Truly, if there were such a thing, I’d win the gold in the Catastrophic Thinking Olympics.
How is that possible when I’m known for championing the reduction of thought pollution and helping people see their way to the “land of positive outcomes.” Circumstances wired me that way, and the habit is a well-worn path in my brain. It took years to tame it, but these days, more times than not, I can have the worry, see the imagined negative outcome, and move on pretty quickly.
My worry-basher of choice is one I learned from the man who trained me to become one of the first credentialed coaches in the US – Thomas Leonard. The powerful distinction that disintegrates the worry is this:
FACT vs. INTERPRETATION
What is a fact, and what is the meaning we attach to the fact? Separating the two calms the reptilian brain that otherwise desperately tries to feed on your calm and sabotage your efforts.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t some very real things to be concerned about, whether it is our political climate or the prospect of leaving a good job to have a go at your own business.
However, worry does not cause forward motion and solution. It does just the opposite.
A few people I’ve been coaching over the last few weeks have been making great progress on job searches, building new businesses and even securing a book deal. However, success, instead of building confidence, unleashed anxiety and worry.
One scenario, for example: the client landed a contract with a major publisher for her memoir she had been struggling to write for years. Instead of celebrating the win, she became imagining that having the book published would lead to wild success that would ruin her life.
Let’s look at the facts:
1. She finally got what she’s wanted for so long.
2. There is a deadline to finish that book.
THAT’s it. Those are the FACTS. The rest is projection into a future that is not here yet.
Surely, there are certain facts that have proven outcomes (favorable or not), but for the most part, the art of worry is imagination run amuck.
For our writer, focusing ONLY on the facts is allowing her to buckle down and finish her manuscript. There is no guarantee the book will be a bestseller that would change her day-to-day life. There is no evidence she’ll fail, either. The antidote to worry is to be where you are in THIS moment. In the “now,” not in the “then.”
If you’re running the worry track in your brain, STOP. Ask yourself what the FACTS are. The worry is only serving to keep you stuck, paralyzed, or overwhelmed.
How do I it? I let myself think the outrageous thought, imagine what I’d do if that crazy thing happened, and then I let it go.
It is said that worriers are good to have around. They think of the worst case scenario, come up with a plan, and they are ready if the worst happens. The key is to prepare for the worst, but PLAN for the best! Don’t invest in the worry!
“What about the people who have never had a dream about what they wanted to be when they grew up?”
I occasionally stop by the You Tube page where my TEDx Talk lives to reply to any comments. The majority are very positive. There are a couple of complete trolls who probably question and heckle everything, and then … there is this burning question repeated time after time.
In the talk, I mentioned people who don’t dream or can’t remember having a dream from childhood about what they wanted to grow up to be. I mention that even those that can’t even daydream now may have come from a childhood that forced them to grow up faster than appropriate.
Kids who were scared for any reason (maybe losing a parent and fearing the other would die or go away, not being allowed to be themselves for whatever reason or fearing for their safety) will tend to be adults who don’t have a dream. While it is possible to dream if you grew up with these circumstances, when someone can’t, I have found they typically have lived these scenarios.
I apparently left a lot of people hanging but twelve minutes only allowed one through line of solutions.
“What do I do if that is me?”, you might ask.
If this is you, here’s what you do:
Get thee to a therapist — Really. I’m not kidding. If you shut off your dreaming mechanism because it wasn’t safe to check out temporarily, you have to go back and revisit the trauma. What caused the erosion of your sense of safety?
Let’s say you’ve already been to therapy or you just won’t consider going. OK – try this:
Re-sensitize your self — The connection that seems to be missing for people who don’t or can’t dream or imagine a desirable future for themselves is the distance between the body and the mind. You may be desensitized to your own feelings. Not the extremes like anger or elation, but the subtle ones like what you like, what you want, or even what brings you joy. If you feel like you don’t really even know what you want on a daily basis but decide things in order to avoid the pain of NOT making a decision, you are desensitized to your own body.
Your body has a lot of information for you.
How do you re-sensitize? Start or revisit a hobby that involves working with your hands or that requires full-body engagement. For example, knitting, painting, pottery wheelwork or other building/making activity is tactile and preferable. If there is nothing like that you used to do or would like to do, think of something that engages your full body like dancing, running or cycling.
After a couple of weeks of doing one of these activities four or more times per week, notice if you are feeling more sensitive and more aware of your feelings and subtle preferences.
Practice WANT days — Whether you can devote one-hour, three hours or a whole day, take time out to have no agenda whatsoever. Don’t even carry the responsibility of walking the dog or feeding a child. Just give yourself blank space. In that space, notice. Notice your gut. Notice what you want. In fact, keep asking yourself “What do I want?” What is the answer? What do you want?
Do you want to go for a walk? Read? Paint? Sleep? Eat a particular thing? Just practice hearing and responding to what you want. This isn’t about indulging yourself in stuff that’s not good for you. It’s not about masking your emotions with a substitute for feeling like food, alcohol, drugs or other forms of numbing yourself. Feel what you WANT!
Practice WANT days as often as you reasonably can until you can start to FEEL the difference in your body between a true want and a bad habit. When true wants are fulfilled, you will feel a sense of satisfaction. If you’re feeding a bad habit, you’ll ultimately feel negative emotions like guilt, anxiety or anger.
NOW WHAT? — Some feeling should be restored now which means an ability to see in your mind’s eye and/or dreaming should be coming back. See if you can see yourself in a role that brings you joy when you simply think about it, whether it be a specific job, career or life role.
Can you imagine yourself in a new future? Can you daydream about other possibilities for yourself? How does it feel as you envision these possibilities? Whether you are going to take action on them or not does not matter. What does matter is that your dreaming mechanism is now turned back on.
NOW, go back to the TEDx talk, and listen to it for the next steps. Welcome back.
Let me know how I can help you see what’s next.