I remembered starting my first business when I was 22. I dropped out of accounting school and started a website. In, three months, I gave up and told myself: I’m not cut out for this. This isn’t for me. I had too much anxiety and froze up, not knowing what to do next. If you see an attractive stranger walk by us on the streets. You look at them, faintly hoping they’ll look at us. They might even you a hint or two and even if so, we freeze dumbfounded there with anxiety running through us, unable to make the next step.
Studies show that fears, anxieties, traumas are imprinted on our brains in similar ways that our physical habits are. They are hardwired into us and never disappear. They are our emotional habits, just like all our other physical habits. If you can build a habit to study hard for examinations, it’s the same ability to build an emotional habit to feel less anxious during social or sexual situations.
Here’s the thing about anxiety. Everyone has a degree of social and sexual anxiety, no matter how rich, handsome or beautiful they are, it’s part of being human.
The good news is that although anxieties can’t be removed, it can be replaced with higher order behaviours. You can build a habit of acting against your fears.
The people who perform well in a high pressured situation as compared to those who flunk is not due to the lack of anxiety, but how well they managed their anxiety. They both experience similar anxiety, however, one is trained to harness it rather than to be crippled by it. People who are confident in their abilities become more energised and assertive with their anxieties. Their nervousness even goes to help them perform.
I asked myself: How can I look forward to my days? How can I be excited about going to the examinations, and feeling competent instead of seeing it as something that is a pain in the butt. How can I be excited to head out with friends on a night out to potentially meet a new romantic partner? Can it not be a non – stressful event? Can it not been as something to be competed and fought against, and something that’s collaborated and enjoyed? This is why I looked into research on how anxieties are formed and how to overcome it.
Someone can be rich and popular but still don’t feel any more secure in their day to day confidence. There are deep rooted beliefs about ourselves that we aren’t willing/able to let go of. Our past pains contribute to our present pain and this may hurt us in all areas of our lives.
One way to overcome anxiety is to understand why you’re feeling anxious in the first place. This is to question our own thoughts and beliefs about ourselves. This requires self awareness. It’s helpful to take a step back and ask yourself whenever you’re feeling anxious about something. You can ask myself if it’s that really true that if you perform X desired behaviour, you’ll get a negative Y result.
The other thing you can do is to attempt to understand if a past experience or trauma contributed to your current anxiety. If you’re afraid of start business, could it be because you failed with money in the past and you convince yourself that you’re just not cut out to be an entrepreneur. The process peeling one layer back and another can be emotionally painful whilst doing so, but necessary in the long run.
When I lost money in the stock market. I convinced myself for a year that I merely sucked as an investor. However, that wasn’t the case. Bad trades don’t make me a bad investor. That one horrible trade that I made just mean that I failed at a trade when I first started out. It doesn’t say anything about my identity.
Secondly, instead of believing what’s ‘true’ why not believe in something that’s helpful. Psychological research shows that our human psychology is at most times, biased and unreliable. We often convince ourselves of the ‘truth’ to ourselves and others, whereas, in plain reality, it’s often far from actual reality. So at the end of the day, there’s actually no final ‘truth’. Hence, it’s better to believe what’s helpful, rather than what’s ‘true’, since what’s true is often what we merely convinced ourselves.
Now, let me get to our excuses. It’s what I call: defence mechanisms. It’s the lies you and I tell ourselves day in and out when you fail to approach that girl, hit the gym or start a business. You and I all have defense mechanisms that run rampant when it comes to different aspects of life. The common defense mechanisms can morph between apathy, blame, avoidance and procrastination, depending on your life circumstances and different past experiences and upbringing.
Some of the common ones that I get from myself and people around me: my parents fuck me up, I’m just born like that naturally. I mean, it’s society’s fault, all women are haters. It’s easy to blame something and be angry at someone or something, paint yourself a victim than to take responsibility for something in your life.
When I started improving my dating life, on some nights, I’m completely avoid about social situations by convincing myself that I don’t care. I somehow convinced myself that I don’t want/need to talk to girls and I’m perfectly cool about it. Yeah right Marcus, you’re full of crap, you’ve been talking about this the whole week, now that you’re in the club you’re not going to talk to a single girl?
Intellectualisation is also another form of avoidance. However, in this case, instead of completely avoiding doing that action, you convince yourself that you can learn more about that subject. Hence, instead of actually performing that action, you end up reading, and watching videos or tutorials on how to do that action.
There’s nothing wrong to get a more insightful perspective on how to approach a girl, how to write a press release, how to build a business. However, if you find yourself reading one book after another without doing anything about, then you’re probably using knowledge as an excuse.
Sometimes, behind these defense mechanisms are emotional truths and realities that we’re out of touch with. The trick here is spotting the excuses you give yourself, and acting despite these excuses.
When it comes how to overcome anxiety, many are going to teach you a lot of nonsense. Some say it’s a purely a matter of willpower and hustle. Some say that anxiety isn’t real. Others say to focus on the positive and ignore the negative. Some say: just man up the fuck up, grab your balls and just do it.
This strategies work in the short run. However none of these are sustainable and it can actually harm you more than help you in the long run. These solutions only create short term gains, they don’t create permanent habits over the anxiety. Remember, anxiety is an emotional habit wired into your brain and to overcome it, you must hardwire a different, more positive habit on top of it.
Through my experiences as a dating coach for men, I noticed that many of the guys from the community were hyping themselves up before going into the club to meet women. This isn’t really a sustainable strategy in the long run.
One of the most reliable methods of helping you overcome your anxieties is referred to cognitive behavioural therapy, often known as CBT. CBT is based on the concept of progressive desensitization and gradual exposure to something that makes us afraid.
This is effective on two fronts: 1) It slowly develops our willpower over the course of time instead of overwhelming us at once, and 2) Builds a strong base of confidence in our ability to handle a situation, makes us less likely to freeze up.
If you’re afraid to start a conversation with a stranger at the library, you can start by asking strangers for the time and directions, to build you up, to get some social juices going. Nothing else. Then once you can do that comfortably, you build up to asking strangers for directions and then inserting a compliment. You can get creative with your exercises here. The trick here is this: You continue to progressively push yourself until you’re comfortable with the action.
Willpower is a muscle that can be depleted, and also can be built. If it’s not exercised, it becomes weak. The longer someone becomes a couch potato, the harder it is for them to get up and hit the gym. On the other hand, people who have a lot of discipline and positive habits are able to adopt new habits and push through uncomfortable situations much easier.
What you resist, persists. When it comes to fear and anxiety, don’t you notice that the more you focus on it or fight it, the stronger it becomes.
When I was in an academic setting, the more I was afraid of failing my exams, the more I was afraid of picking up my pen and doing some practices to score. Hence, I ended up failing, despite investing an enormous amount of mental effort stressing out over the examinations. It almost felt as if I put in the effort, and yet had no results.
The times where you accepted that the fear is there, and things may not go how you’d like them to go, you decided that you were okay with whichever outcome that is going to occur, you relaxed and performed fine.
Instead of focusing and spending a huge amount of mental effort on how to beat your anxiety, you can just say to yourself: “You know what, I’m a nervous guy, and this isn’t going to go away or get any easier. I am just going to live with it and act despite it.” This relieves the pressure of not forcing yourself to not feeling anxious.
Till this day I still feel anxious when speaking to someone new. On some days, I still convince myself that I don’t want it, or I don’t need it. Despite writing hundreds of blog posts, I still feel anxious or avoidant when publishing an article. Our emotional habits don’t go away, they merely get replaced by higher order behaviours and habits.
Self development, at the end of the day is changing how you feel about others, and yourself. It ties into concepts such as anxiety, our attachment system, self esteem and etc. The bedrock of acceptance commitment therapy is to go with, instead of against your negative feelings and thoughts as opposed to challenge it.
On the other hand, taking the ACT approach, If I were to just accept these negative thoughts, and be non judgmental about it, I wouldn’t spend the mental energy ruminating over those thoughts in my head.
In acceptance commitment therapy, whether a thought is true or not is not that important. It’s far more important if that thought is helpful or not.
Thoughts are also stories we tell ourselves. The mind never stops telling stories, not even when you’re asleep. It is constantly comparing, judying, evaluating, critizing, planning, pontificating and fantasizing.
We all have beliefs, the more we tightly hold on to them, the more inflexible we come in our attitudes and behaviours.
Fusion happens when you’re blending with your thoughts.In a state of fusion, it seems as if our thoughts are our reality. What we’re thinking is actually happening, here and now. Our thoughts become the truth, the truth of our reality.
Now, how do we defuse from this ‘self created truth’ to the actual reality of things?
To defuse your thoughts, it’s first to bring to awareness an upsetting thought that takes in the form of ‘I am X’. For EG. ‘I’m not good enough’, or I’m incompetent’. Preferably a thought that often recurs and that usually bothers or upsets you.
Now, take that thought and insert this phrase in front of it: ‘I’m having the thought that….’
Now, this time, phrase it longer ‘I notice I’m having the thought I am X’.
This practice gave you distance from the actual thought as if you “Stepped Back” from it.
You’re no longer making your thoughts your identity, you’re no longer making it your truth.
One part of acceptance and commitment therapy is to take valued based action. Your values are different from goals. A value is a direction we desire to keep moving in, an ongoing process that never reaches an end. You can make the analogy that a value is akin to heading west, no matter how far you travel there’s always farther west you can go. Getting married is a goal. Being loving, honest and empathetic. These are values.
One of the revelations in the book man’s Search for Meaning, written by Viktor Frankl, who was a Jewish psychiatrist who survived years of unspeakable horror in Nazi concentration camps reported that the people who survived longest in the death camps are those who are connected with a deeper purpose in life. The deeper purpose if often rooted in values. One of Viktor Frankl’s values is in helping others, and so, throughout his time in concentration camps. he consistently helped other prisoners to cope despite the atrocious conditions. He also helped them to connect to their deepest values. Taking values based action gives our lives meaning and a powerful antidote to give your life purpose.
The more we struggle with or against these feelings, the more trouble we create for ourselves. When these negative emotions show up, the thing is not to struggle against it, but to just let it be. Our anxiety levels are free to rise and fall. Some times, they’re high, some times, low, more important, you’re not wasting your time and energy struggling against it. Initially, you can willpower through your issues. However, willpower is going to run out.
When we beat ourselves up over our own thoughts and emotions, then that’s when the struggle switch is on.
‘This can’t be good for me.’ ‘I’m such a crappy friend’ ‘I shouldn’t be doing this.’ ‘I’m acting like a child’.
You end up feeling guilty about being angry. You might feel angry about feeling anxious. There are secondary emotions that might come a long with the primary emotion. It’s a vicious cycle. There’s no avoiding discomfort. However, there’s no need for additional suffering. This struggle switch is like an emotional amplifier. When you switch it on, we can have multi layer emotions such as anger about our anxiety. You can feel guilty about our your depression.
When it’s turned on, we’re completely unwilling to accept the presence of these uncomfortable emotions. Not only you’re unable to get rid of them but you’ll also do whatever it takes to get rid of them: this may be through pornography, binge eating and etc.
These are control strategies. Instead of avoiding or struggling against these feelings, it’s better to ‘expand into it’. Expanding into your negative emotions is similar to the defusing technique. It is to step aside from your thoughts and observe your emotions. By allowing these sensations to be there, two things might happen. Either your feelings will change, or they don’t. It doesn’t matter either way because this technique is not about changing your feelings but accepting them.
There’s no fool proof technique to overcome anxiety. It’s going to take practice and effort to practice. Now, I believe that not all negative emotions or thoughts should be merely ‘accepted’. Negative emotions can push us towards value based actions during times of need. Furthermore, it’s not enough to just accept all your negative thoughts or negative feedback. If you see a clear pattern in your life and you’re feeling upset about it, then perhaps you got to do something different.
Lastly, these techniques shouldn’t be used as control strategies. When you’re throwing your arms in the air and being frustrated and pissed off at why ‘defusing your thoughts’ isn’t working as it should be. You’re probably using it as a control strategy. There’s nothing to control here. Just a plain awareness of your thoughts, accepting them, nodding at them. With no judgement. Our anxieties don’t go away, you merely form better habits on top of them.