Dear Why Team member,
I hope this week’s message finds you well and excited about your Summer.
This week we consider:
It is human to fear, actually, there is a special section in our brain that generates the feeling of fear and the response to situations that may harm us. But besides fear, we humans, also feel anticipatory fear (anxiety) or in Lehman’s terms: Worry
It is also human to not like the feeling of anxiety, to want to avoid feeling anxious, or to get rid of the feeling as soon as we feel it.
Anxiety looks for a Reason.
Because unreasonable anxiety can create more anxiety. It may help to know that at the source of all anxiety is the prospect of death, not necessarily our physical death, but the “death” or the “end” of a situation as-we-know-it.
We all live with some anxiety mainly caused by the certainty of uncertainty. Some people of course have more anxiety than others, but what I am inviting you to consider this week is what I call Anxiety Attribution.
Anxiety is the opposite of reason. When we feel anxious, it is very uncomfortable for the brain to not have a reason, so it moves quickly to find the reason Why. The mind searches for the reason WHY to give us a feeling of control. Fear can continue to rise if we continue to feel out of control. When we fear, we naturally seek more control as a path to addressing our fear. The mind’s tendency to jump to conclusions when seeking to understand events and the people around us is very comforting, even when the conclusion to which it jumped to is absolutely untrue. It really doesn’t matter if the conclusion is reasonable, true or not - to the mind, it just matters that we feel in control of the situation- and fast! Blame is often our brains fastest easiest fix; I am anxious because of you or I am anxious because of this circumstance. However, from this vantage point, there is no personal responsibility and thus no personal power. The responsibility has been shifted away from the person to another, or to a circumstance. While this can be momentarily comforting, it ill prepares one for the next attack of anxiety- often creating a more defensive relationship with the world.
Taking responsibility for our anxiety is hard work, requiring self reflection, ownership and mindfulness. The payoff, however, is immeasurable as one moves from victim to victor, from fearful to fearless.
Anxiety stirs up our amygdala, deep in the oldest part of our brain, separate from the prefrontal cortex directly behind our forehead. In the prefrontal cortex we find our ability to reason and apply logic, but interestingly enough, in the heat of the moment, the amygdala shuts down access to the prefrontal cortex and it is here that we can behave in a fashion described as being “Out of our Mind” - and we are - we are out of our rational mind and functioning on our older primordial mind, sometimes referred to as our lizard brain or monkey mind. When this older area of the mind is excited into action, it can react with fight, flight and freeze.
When our anxieties arise, often in situations where we feel little to no control - we can move quickly to fight that which we have attributed to the cause of our anxiety. While circumstances can light us up, never forget that it is our beliefs that flip the switch.
In my earliest days of working with a therapist/life coach - now going back over 15 years - I learned the importance of extreme ownership.
Dr. Curt Spear, who I still enjoy meeting with and learning from almost every other week- taught me early on that while I may receive anxiety triggers, it is I who am 100% responsible for my own behaviors. So easy is it to blame another for our behavior. The beauty of extreme ownership, however, is the path to extreme personal growth. From this mindset, the person/situation that presented the trigger can be seen as a gift. As hard as that gift may be to receive- if we choose not to resist, we have been given a path to greater understanding of ourselves- learning the WHY that we have allowed to cause us discontent. Consider that Happiness is always present, but that we have been programmed to believe happiness is dependent upon circumstances and other peoples behavior.
Co-dependency: the necessity for situations to be a certain way for us to be happy, is a formula for a living hell - I know it as I have lived it.
What is anxiety really, but a fear towards an unknown response we’ll receive regarding a certain event. I bet, however, that each one of us found ourselves in a situation where you were anxious the person we were engaging with would feel a certain way about an event just to find out our anxiety had no warranty. Remember the relief? The “ease of heart”?
When we come to notice the attribution our brain automatically seeks and applies to an anxiety we’re experiencing, we can more ably observe the pattern with less judgement toward ourself - AND less belief in the attribution. In these moments, own it all 100% and ask yourself, Why am I afraid or discontent? What is it about this situation that is producing anxiety within me? Is it true? Am I really dependent on outside forces to be okay? What new thinking or loving action may I take toward myself and others to move beyond this anxiety to regain a sense of peace? Can I just sit in this anxiety without attribution?
Why sit in the anxiety? To learn what the feeling has to teach. It is in this very place that we are prone to addictions. Our desire to avoid difficult emotions can have us running to the Mall, Starbucks, YouTube, or any other fun satisfying distraction. Not that there is anything wrong with this occasional response, we all enjoy a pleasurable distraction, but when distractions are used to avoid feeling, we can find ourselves less grounded and less capable of enjoying all that life has to offer. To get to the roots, can often require digging and yes there can be dirt, but what blooms from the effort can make life all the more enjoyable and rewarding.
The next time you feel anxious, notice any jump to attribution, don’t allow your mind to go for that automatic response to blame a person and/or a circumstance. Just notice, and then take ownership.
See if you can identify the thought, in the moment, remembering if you can, that thoughts are not permanent, and therefore neither will be the anxiety.
Consider living the mindset that all is happening for you, that nothing is happening to you or will ever happen to you. This reset to Mindset alone can set you free to live a life more abundant, a life filled with more excitement for what will happen than fear of what might happen.
Consider Anxiety Attribution the next time you don’t feel quite right. And try if you can, to remember that it’s all-right despite how you feel. As long as your mind is clear, your brain will start looking for a reasonable way to deal with the event.
Clouds come and go and this too shall pass.
It is always within your power-
I hope you will choose to make it a great week!