“A friend of mine was learning how to swim, when he suddenly felt he was starting to drown. He began splashing wildly about when his instructor told him to stand up. Much to my friend’s relief and embarrassment, he discovered he was okay.”
Anxiety is based on primal fear, and primal fear is based on the idea of not having enough. Not having enough of your basic needs met and perishing before you reach a ripe age, not having not enough social support and being vulnerable, and the list could go on. The point is that when we are struggling with anxiety our mindset operates on the idea of scarcity. When we think from a place of scarcity, we are fearful, we are timid, we are excessively selfish, we are desperate and hurried in our decision making. The mind of the anxious person is irrational, like the story of my friend learning how to swim and pessimistic, picture yourself at noon in the middle of any desert during the summer months with less than a quarter of warm water left in your canteen.
The anxious person does not take any risk, because he operates from a place of what he might lose as opposed to what he might gain. This leads to a self fulfilling prophesy, where like the unfortunate hiker in the middle of the desert, the anxious person is careful about not exerting too much energy, least they might end up losing the little they have left.
By now the answer may have become obvious to you, to rid anxiety visualize yourself having enough of what you need. So once my friend learned that he was in the shallow end, he exercised more courage in his swimming lessons. So in essence, his level of safety was enough. Or you can also practice imaging yourself as a hiker with enough water to last you to the next well or tap.
How the mental practice of visualizing yourself easily getting your needs met, is not enough. This is because people who struggle with anxiety, have experienced anxiety for most of their lives. This means that for most of their lives, their brains have become wired to think in regards to scarcity. So they have become habituated to thinking in regards to timidity, desperation and primitive survival instincts. The good news is that our brains are malleable, meaning that it is never too late to learn new ways of thinking and doing.
There are cognitive behavioral strategies you can learn and implement which would make your practice of visual exercises fruitful. Here’s one, start small. Visualize yourself engaging in a small challenge, which you have passively dreaded due, to your perception of the risk to reward ratio, or your lack of confidence in yourself. Create a plan to follow through with this small challenge in which you create a narrative which consists of the best possible scenario and outcome for this challenge. Then when you are done engage in the challenge.
The mere process of your creating a plan for the challenge, rewires your brain to how you see the situation and increases your motivation to make you overcoming this challenge a reality. It is not uncommon for people to experience some emotional difficulty when practicing this exercise. These are usually due to past traumas. If you are experience difficulty completing this exercise due to difficult feelings you can’t get past, a therapist can help you process these difficult feelings and get you back on track.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and a professional life coach.
In the early two thousands, I worked for a residential treatment program. This program provided treatment services for youth offenders who had been convicted for various offenses through the juvenile courts. One day the program director, summoned me into his office, he was making me a job offer, specifically, he wanted me to take over the resident director’s job. I found two problems with this offer, this first was that the resident director was still in that position, the second was that it was not a therapeutic position. My primary issue with the offer, was that he had just had a heated disagreement with the resident director, in front of witnesses and his gesture in offering me the job was a power move. I knew that he would be offended if I did not accept the offer, and that he might see it as a political strategy of sorts on my part. Perhaps he would think I was aligning myself with the resident director against him. I simply did not want the job, because I enjoyed being a therapist and I also considered it immoral to accept a job position that was already filled. I did not want to walk around the facility engaging with the resident director, knowing that he was soon going to be fired and that I would take his place. I also did not want to lose my job.
So I took a deep breath, said a short prayer in my mind and politely declined the offer. To no surprise he gave me a look of surprise and annoyance. I happened to understand that if he could so easily throw the resident director under the bus, my acceptance or decline of the offer would not protect me from similar treatment.
This is my understanding of what courage is, understanding that there are no guarantees or shortcuts in life. Courage isn’t necessarily about sacrifice, this is because without realizing it, most human being put their lives on the line in certain everyday activities. Most notably would be driving. Courage is the recognition that challenges or struggles in our everyday lives are inevitable and that avoiding them or putting them off only makes these challenges more difficult to overcome in the long run.
Most of us have been led on to believe that if only we would submit to some type of lifestyle or entity that everything will end up being okay. From cultural beliefs, attending institutions of higher learning to being employed by certain employers. We surrender beliefs in our personal powers to buy into the illusion of an easier life, all the while failing to recognize the role we play in maintaining the illusion.
As a therapist, when working with clients who have difficulty in making what may seem as a risky or out of the ordinary courageous decision; I guide them through an exercise designed to help them recognize how much of their personal power goes into maintaining the current situation that they are currently unhappy with. It is after they have come to understand and accept this revelation that the conversation shifts into how they can use their personal power into creating the new type of life they desire and deserve.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.