Lao Tzu wrote, “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
I have never experienced depression, but I have friends that have real challenges with theirs. Because I have never experienced depression, I am unqualified to make any remarks about what one should or should not do when it comes to depression, other than to suggest they get professional help.
I have wrestled with what may be the lesser and more ubiquitous monster that is anxiety, which for me exactly resembles Lao Tzu’s “living in the future,” a future that is almost always worse in my mind than it is in reality. One of the amazing attributes of our brain, and particularly the neocortex, is its ability to imagine scenarios in advance, allowing us to make adjustments before our decisions harm us. That power comes with the downside of also providing a vision of the dreadful future that must surely await us, a prospect that rarely manifests as such.
Of all of the self-help books I have read, there might not be any that have provided the tactical and practical advice of David Allen’s Making It All Work. You aren’t likely to find what I learned from the book, because Allen doesn’t provide the lesson the same way I will here: Control and Perspective.
Anxiety comes from a lack of control and perspective. To reduce your stress, it helps to increase your control and improve your perspective. I have found the following recipe works to alleviate my anxiety, and while your mileage may vary, it might be worth a try.
First, get a legal pad and a pen (don’t do this on any screen). Write down what has your attention, what concerns you. Write down everything, large or small, without regard for the order in which these things appear. While I do this work, I imagine all of these things leaving my mind and my body and capturing them on the page. They are no longer inside me; I have transformed them into objects on a page.
Second, next to every concern, write down all the things you might do to resolve an issue in a way that, if not favorable to you, at least limits any real harm. Make sure that these are actions you can take, like “Call client to apologize and to correct my mistake.” There is something about the decision to act that gives you a sense of greater control over your future.
And then there is perspective. I met with a group of people once who shared with me their fears about engaging their clients in the way that I prescribed. When I asked them what they feared, they told me they were concerned about alienating their clients. When I asked them what would happen if the client was a little miffed, they shared their belief that the client wouldn’t work with them in the future. I followed up by asking what might happen if the client didn’t work with them. They suggested they would lose business, they would no longer be profitable, and would eventually have to shut down the business.
For effect, I added that they would surely be homeless, eating only dog food, and would die penniless in the streets. They laughed and said, “That isn’t going to happen. We’re going to continue to get new clients.”
A healthy perspective sees things as they are, but not worse than they are, and not better than they are. Then, take whatever action is necessary to try to produce an outcome that is favorable to you.
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Filed under: Mindset