1. a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.
- uncertainty with regards to the future
- worrying about what people think of you
- fear of authority
- lack of control in life (or perceived lack of control)
- unconscious thought patterns
- lack of self-confidence and contentedness
All these things could cause anxiety, so, to us, they provide attack angles for the destruction of anxiety. This is what we will do to it, so let’s meet the enemy.
We will systematically go through the key components of anxiety, going in detail with every one and we will discuss what it is most people do wrong, why it is important not to do it wrong and we will see what we can do to stop doing these things wrong.
1. UNCERTAINTY ABOUT THE FUTURE
It is a very pervasive thought pattern – people get very stressed because they just don’t KNOW what’s going to happen in their lives. And this uncertainty can happen because you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next five minutes or next five years. The problem with this whole thing is that it’s based on a flawed premise – that you should be certain about the future.
There is no reason that we should believe that future is something we should be certain about. History shows us, century after century, year after year, generation after generation, war after war – that changes are inevitable in every society and every culture. Change is the only constant. These changes don’t have to big social or cultural swings, they can be little personal things – ask your parents about their lives and try to count all the unpredictable changes they had to make, all the deviations from a plan they might have had.
You see, we tend to have this outlook on life that things have “closure”, that at some point you achieve “security”. You follow a script – you go to school, then to college, then you get a job, then you find someone to marry and have children with, then you buy a house together, then you go in retirement and then you die. You get a job and you feel like you have “security”… Your life is now safe. You have closed a chapter in your life. You did what you were supposed to do. You bought a car. You sent your kid to a good school. Secure. Safe. Untouched. “Just living your life.”
I hate to break it to you, but that’s bullshit. It’s a story plot, and you don’t get any true wisdom in life if you just follow story plots instead of trying to figure out how the world really works. And how it works is this: we survive.
You do what you need to do to survive. That’s it. Some do it smarter, some do it stupidly, but we all essentially do this one thing. The survival of the species, the highest imperative. Yeah, some get lulled into this sense of security because, to them, there is no danger. But the danger is always there, lurking somewhere in the distance – or at least it seems to be in the distance, and then you find your whole world upside down when you finally understand that the danger wasn’t that far away.
You see, if you were a gazelle or some such animal, you would understand the frailty of your own life and the web of uncertainty around it. You would know that you could die at every moment. You would understand that there are lions. If you were a smart gazelle, you would take precautions about this, but this feeling would still be lurking somewhere. And you would have to accept it as a normal, everyday occurrence – the prospect of dying a violent death. Lions would be your reality.
We humans have through the ages been trying to build buffer nets so that we don’t feel this danger. And the difference between humans from 600 years ago and the humans now is in the quantity of buffer nets we built. Today, we have two worlds: the “developed” and the “developing”. (I mean, both are developing actually, it’s not like the West is like “done, we did it, great job, no need to see any more progress”, but that’s another thought and probably not for this blog.) The people of the developed nations enjoy this buffer net – they face no lions. For that reason, and for that reason alone, they seem to think that there really are no lions. And yes, it is perfectly plausible that they won’t face lions anytime soon, but is it wise to act as if these lions were not there at all?
I mean… Can you IMAGINE a fucking gazelle just acting as if there were no lions around it? Can you imagine that shit? Of course you can’t. It seems absurd. Well, it’s equally absurd if you swap gazelles for humans and lions for any of the myriad of possible dangers man can face.
But many of us live in these buffers and we forget. Some are more protected, some less.
I mean, there’s nothing bad about being in a buffer. The buffer means protection. The bad thing is when you forget that you’re in a buffer. The bad thing is when you start assuming the buffer OUGHT to be there and that you DESERVE it. You don’t deserve anything. Life is danger. Life is lions.
If you’re not sure how this helps your anxiety – after all, I’ve just increased your uncertainty about the future – this is what I am trying to say:
It’s a stupid idea that we have to be certain about the future. What we need to do instead is embrace the uncertainty and learn how to live with it.
This is important, because a certainty-mindset will always get you anxiety and you will not change quickly in face of changing circumstances. Life is not a certain thing, its standard mode of operating is continuous change and just throwing you around. Think about it like an ocean: yeah, there are certain rules to the ocean, and you have some predictive power over some things in the ocean, and you know that there are hot and cold currents, and you know what species live in the ocean. If you happen to be floating in the ocean, your knowledge of it might help you get somewhere, but you won’t for one second intend to predict how the ocean is moving. It will seem too chaotic, too overwhelming. You’ll float around, try to orient, make a mental plan of action, try to catch a current and you’ll jump at opportunities to save yourself, to survive. You’ll just kinda float and flow with the opportunities the ocean – that is, life – provides you.
Now, let me give you some practical, actionable material so that you may learn to live with uncertainty, instead of fearing it and closing yourself in a bubble and hoping for the best:
This is the best article I’ve ever read on the topic of living in uncertainty. Read it, bookmark it and then read it again every now and then – I know I do.
2. WORRYING ABOUT WHAT OTHER PEOPLE THINK OF YOU
One big source of anxiety is simply having a feeling of being judged by the tribe. We humans are pretty much hardwired social animals and our drive to belong to a group is very strong. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective – that is precisely the reason we survived danger in early technological and social stages. You keep with your group and the chances are you’ll survive. That’s why even highly rational people sometimes seem to blank out and just do what everybody else is doing – it’s a very strong pattern of behavior in humans, coded somewhere deep under the layer of consciousness.
Now, it maybe makes sense to ask the question: “Well, if it is what served the species to survive, is it really a good idea to discard it now? Have the circumstances of the species changed so much?” I don’t know what would happen if everyone on Earth suddenly went full individual and quit worrying about the tribe, but I’d wager it would be like a big festival, instead of an extinction event.
The first resource you need will be this: an in-depth, well written and humorous article on how and why this tribal anxiety comes up.
Now, the second resource is Tim Ferriss’ book “The 4-hour workweek”, specifically the comfort challenges he proposes in it. Why is this a valuable resource? Because by doing these uncomfortable things repeatedly and revisiting them every now and then, you insure yourself against your “mammoth brain” taking over. If you want to feel more free, less judged, less caring about the tribe around, do these challenges. They are also important because they actually make you DO something and this is a type of problem people usually only reflect upon, but don’t act upon. You act.Some of the comfort challenges are as follows:
- For two days, say no to any and all requests. This one is very powerful in that you learn to deprogram yourself from the very automatic “Yeah, sure!” and then wondering why you accepted. (Answer: you accepted the request because you probably want to please others and fit in.) Saying no to every request (job-related or personal) is going to teach you to be strong and to set boundaries. Of course, you won’t be able to say no to all requests; after all, there are some job-related requests that will result in you getting fired if you refuse them. However, the majority of requests forced upon us is by no means resulting in immediately getting fired. Say no even though it’s uncomfortable – remember, it’s a comfort challenge. Don’t try to explain yourself too much – the shorter the more powerful. These are some of your options: “no”, “sorry, no”, “I can’t”, “Gladly, but not now”. Remember: the point is not to do or not do a specific task; the point is to say no to whatever. When you’re training to box on a bag, the point is not to destroy the bag, but to get in enough good reps in your muscle memory. That’s what you’re doing right now: training yourself.