Anxiety can be a real BITCH huh? My oldest son Zach just began his senior year in high school. For years, anxiety has been a prominent feature in his experience of life.
Last night we had a conversation about how his first few days of school have been. He said, although he enjoys being back at school, he also feels very anxious about being there. This is not an experience he enjoys and wanted to change it.
Anxiety, I explained, is fed by a belief. That in a situation that contains unknowns, those unknowns are likely to be dangerous. Therefore, your mind and body go on alert so you’re ready to defend yourself against those dangers.
Allow me a moment to call BUTTSHIT on this kind of thinking. I also want to disclose, that there was a period of my life, when I was the most negative person you ever met. I could be depressed on a sunny day, on the beach, with ten naked supermodels dancing in front of me. I was that negative. But I found a way out.
What I shared with Zach is an insight I learned that transformed my thinking.
As each of us take in the experiences of life, your mind strives to assign meaning to it all. Now, the primary goal of the most primal part of your mind is to survive. So it is inclined to look for danger first. It’s like a monkey, chattering all day long with the message, “LOOK OUT” bombarding your thoughts. Here’s how this part of your mind lies to you. It tells you the story that things are dangerous until proven otherwise. WRONG!
I can’t emphasize this enough. Experiences are NOT inherently dangerous. They are inherently neutral until we assign meaning to them. I’ve seen parents freak out when their child gets a cut on his arm. I’ve also heard stories of soldiers who lose part of a limb and keep fighting. We are absolutely in charge of the meaning folks.
All day, every day, your mind invites you to buy into a story about what your experiences mean. That’s where conscious choice comes in. The conscious choice to anticipate experiences with a sense of wonder. An “I can’t wait to see what happens next” kind of attitude. Sure, life will throw in a healthy dose of Assholes to keep life challenging. You can respond once again by choosing your story about that encounter. What I often say to myself is, “I’m glad I’m not telling myself the story you’re acting out.”
The we can choose is a story of adventure. A journey of discovery. Zach said, “I don’t know how you stay so positive with all the stuff that’s thrown at you.” I told him, “First of all, I have a few decades more experience that you. I’ve spent that time disciplining my mind so I have complete mastery over the quality of my self talk.” I went on to explain that the revelation of needing a wheelchair was not something I embraced smoothly.
I reached out to friends and my wife Cathy for support and reassurance. A key point to understand, is that as I processed this reality of my life. I was on the lookout for a story that would empower me. I wasn’t looking for a, “Yea Bri, that sure sucks. I’d be pretty pissed off if I were you.” That’s the monkey mind talking.
I know, that I’m in charge of my story and I want one I can use to keep moving forward. My story is still a work in progress. But when I find it, watch out.
Thanks for being you.