It pains me a little to use a baseball reference to explain a concept but some things just fit. Not everything can be about soccer! Can it? Regardless of the reference, my intention is always to help people. So if it takes a baseball analogy to get the idea across, then so be it!
Anxiety seems to be all around us at the moment. From the pandemic to more personal issues, people are beset on all sides by things that could cause anxiety. While the ingredients are lurking about, I’m going to venture the idea that staving off the feeling is like fighting off a strikeout. It may not always be pretty but keeping yourself in the batter’s box is crucial to possibly hitting a home run or even getting the walk to obtain that bit of progress.
The three F’s of anxiety are “feeling future failure.” While none is particularly debilitating on their own or even in a pair, the three together are the recipe for anxiety. Regardless of the individual word or even the duets, they do not need to be feared in any way. “Feeling failure” is a necessary component to moving forward. It may hurt but that pain is instructive. “Feeling the future” is not a problem on its own either. Actually one of the most important keys to any visualization practice is that you emote on the idea inside your head. “Future failure” is out there for all of us. We are not going to succeed at everything that we do. This is just a fact of life. So that concept should not be fear inducing.
So the idea is to drop one “strike” from the count! The most potent one to drop is the feeling because that is the action that leads to the anxiety. While this is far easier said than done, remember that you are the one that creates your feelings. That future failure is only a projection that you have inside of your head. It’s not any more real than the winning lottery ticket or any other moment in your future existence. Choosing to feel that failure before it shows up makes as much sense as celebrating that lottery win before buying the ticket. You’re the only link between the thought and the event. Don’t buy the ticket to that future failure and definitely don’t buy into the emotion before necessary. Maybe that thing will happen but you don’t need to live through it multiple times!
All of this is said with the utmost caring and desire for positive outcomes for people. Lots of people are struggling at the moment, I’m well aware. Bottling up and denial are not the best strategies for coping with things. Each of us is playing our own internal game. Perhaps you’re facing a set of circumstances that seem to be “Hall of Fame” pitcher. They have your number and it seems like you can’t do anything but swing blindly. You can step out for a second and gather yourself for another at bat. Plenty of people in the crowd cheering for you. Keep that in mind as you step up.
Whether you’re Christian Pulisic breaking through the lines at Stamford Bridge to score or a U9 goalkeeper defending a corner, the penalty area or 18 yard box can be a place of high anxiety. That’s why the best strikers are worth their weight in gold at the highest levels and goalkeepers who are consistently good play until they’re almost 40 years old. Proximity to the thing that you want or that which you want to defend raises the stakes of the moment. The people who cope with that pressure well are considered special or talented. The truth is that like almost anything else it is a skill that can be trained. Also, the players who cope well have just compressed the penalty area.
A few weeks back I blogged about the relationship between the lines on the field and daily life. There’s also a video but more people read than watched. I guess I need to hire an actor or an editor. Regardless of my video issues, the 18 yard box at each end represents anxiety. At the defensive end, the anxiety linked to something that is going to hurt your self-esteem. It could be anything from fretting about a poor grade on a test, denial of college admission, the negative opinion of a boss or a multitude of other situations that might cause a dip in your self-esteem. Recognize, this isn’t the thing actually happening. It is just the anticipation of it. At the other end it is a similar situation. The 18 yard box represents anxiety around something that you want, a goal of some importance. Again the examples are numerous but a few might be college acceptance, a date with a special someone, a promotion and the list goes on. Notice at both ends, the goal represents the actual event happening. The box just represents the anxiety around it. So I suggest that you compress the box.
The idea that I’m suggesting is that you develop that same skill that world class strikers and keepers have mastered: being calm under pressure. This is not easy!!!! However it is also not impossible. Each of us have a different sized penalty area of anxiety. For some it is the tradition 18 yards. For others, it reaches all the way to the center circle (read about it) or beyond. The people who are best at dealing with their anxiety compress it down to 6 yards or less. How? Like any other time when dealing with emotions, I go back to the triad.
Physiology – The way that you use your body is going to influence how you feel immensely. Breathing is a great place to start. Building a breath practice into your day can be a game changer. Habitual movement patterns are another place where huge changes can be made. Your body sends signals to your brain and vice versa. It is possible to move yourself in and out of emotions. If you’re feeling anxious, how are you using your body? You can train “calm states” into your brain by doing particular movements. It just takes practice. Don’t expect it to just happen.
Focus – The things that you focus on become your reality. In this particular case, I suggest trading anxiety for excitement. It’s not a huge step. Each emotion has the same basic component pieces of anticipation, desire, uncertainty, etc. but excitement drops the negative connotation around the possibilities. I can hear you now, “That’s great when going to goal (a positive) but what about when I’m anxious about something bad about to happen.” Excitement can still work because just like the field, being under life pressure allows for acres of space to move forward after the crisis. Once this attack has subsided, the event will have happened or not. At that point, you can move forward with renewed possibility. There is also value in reframing the situation. It is more than likely that you are not going to die from this situation. So actually deal with the worst case scenario mentally. If this bad thing happened, how could you get past it with letting it damage your self-esteem?
Inner Dialogue – The words that we say to ourselves inside of our own head are extremely important. I just finished Trevor Moawad’s book “It Takes What It Takes” and his points about neutral thinking could be game changing for many people. However one of the key things that he talks about is not saying negative things out loud. Although I suggest working on your focus, everyone has messed up thoughts from time to time. It is crucial that you don’t say those things out loud because saying it amplifies the message to your brain by 7 to 10 times. Keep those negative thoughts out of your mouth!
None of these things are easy but they can be practiced and therefore improved. Compress your penalty area as small as you can. That way no matter what comes at you, the ability to stay calm will be at your fingertips. The astronauts who are thrust into space go through all kinds of training on keeping their wits about them in pressure situations. Their lives truly do depend on keeping an even keel. Most likely you’re dealing with something that you’ve seen in the past and you can handle it!
This video explains the “boundaries” of the defensive half as they relate to life. The dimensions of a soccer field matter. While there are parameters for the boundaries in soccer, the parameters in which most of us live are determined by us. Showing up to a field that was too short or too wide or too narrow would cause an uproar by players and coaches. We all set up the field that we are playing on. Many of us do so in a way that guarantees that we will struggle and/or lose. If you want to understand completely what I’m talking about, check out the video below. Or read the description. Both have their value but the video has the visual representations of the content.
The life that each of us leads has boundaries. A standard life does not exist. We all have advantages or disadvantages based upon our organization or lack in our life. There are places that some people can reach that others cannot. With that in mind, each of us can do things to make our playing area to our advantage. This particular set of boundaries deal with the “Defensive Half.” These are adjustments that can be made to your personal “field” that will help protect your goal.
Breathing – It’s a concept that I cover with individuals quite often. The question “What is the most important thing that you’re going to do today?” get s a variety of answers but it is the same for all of us. Breathing is the most important part of our survival. Yet we overlook it regularly. This is not a call for people to start paying more attention to their individual breaths. It is a call for a breath practice. Most of our maintenance oriented activities are done, once, twice or thrice per day. The same should be happening for a breath practice. My personal preference is the Wim Hof technique. It’s not for everyone and NEVER DO IT AROUND WATER! But it gives you a place to start. Once or twice per day for about ten minutes is all that it takes. The benefits of a breath practice are multiple but the main component deals with your ability to bring yourself from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system. Getting from your “fight/flight/freeze” response to “rest/digest” is a skill that needs to be developed rather than hoped for.
Hydration – YES! I am aware that these first few are simply survival necessities. Unfortunately (or fortunately) due to our overwhelming success as a species, we rarely have to consider our survival. Therefore we need to consider these for their optimization. Getting more out of your body and mind is completely dependent upon the ingredients and predispositions that you give your body to work with. In the realm of hydration, you are looking to consume half your body weight in ounces. The math is not overly difficult. It is simply about finding the right container to use for measurement. The 8 glasses per day rule is a bit too arbitrary. A 12oz glass x 8 glasses would be 96 total ounces. This is fine for someone around 190 lbs but might be a bit much for a 140 lbs kid. Finding the right container in order to track your hydration is really almost half the battle.
Diet/Fuel – The word diet has been mangled for decades now. It does not mean a weight loss program. More than anything else it is the food that you habitually eat. There are so many possibilities out there that could work for you. The only suggestion that I will make on this subject is to see what actually works for you, not what you want to work. I’d love for an ice cream and pizza diet to get me into optimal shape but it’s just not going to happen. So find something that balances both your nutritional needs and the reality of your life. Choosing to be a vegetarian could be the answer but if it is only going to make you miserable, don’t do it. Fuel your body with food, don’t feed your cravings at all times. The food industry has spent decades making things delicious with barely a scrap of nutritional value. Craving those foods is not an indication that you are a bad person. Give yourself a break and take time to figure out what truly works for you.
Shelter (Mental Safety) – The list of basic human needs continues with a slight twist. Very few of us are likely to succumb to the environment because of a lack of shelter/housing. However in a modern context we live an increasingly large part of our existence in the mental space. Therefore the ability to have mental shelter from “elements” is a crucial part of our boundaries. Much like food, water and oxygen, having a daily practice within this space that sets us up for success is important. Unlike the other survival needs, this is less apparent. Many people live in an unsafe mental space due to their focus or lack of control of that focus. Journaling is just one of the many techniques that can be used in order to get the mind to focus on things that are advantageous to the individual rather than the outside world. My suggestion would be to have a practice of not using any electronics for at least 30 minutes in the morning. That time can be used to establish a focus on the things that are important to you rather than others.
Sleep – This is another area that is of supreme importance but the needs of each individual vary greatly. So I am not going to give many suggestions here other than to say that your sleep should be regular. Length may vary based on the individual but having a regular bedtime and wakeup time can be a game changer. Also try as best as you can to avoid electronics for at least 30 minutes prior to falling asleep. It can help with falling asleep and also gives you time to set your intentions for the next day.
If you didn’t watch the video first, you might be wondering, “what is the goal that I’m protecting?” You’re protecting against drops in self-esteem. Having all of these boundaries set up correctly can create a space where it is unlikely or even impossible for the world to make you feel bad about yourself. The most important relationship that you have is with yourself. All of these daily practices help to keep others away from your goal – the way you feel about yourself when you’re by yourself.
Hopefully this discussion has been helpful. Leave a comment below with any thoughts or additions. This concept is not done. There is another half of the field to go but let me know if I missed anything on this side.
Parents are preprogrammed to be proud of their children. It’s only natural that there should be that bias. At one point or another, we have all listened to a parent gush over their child’s big or small accomplishment. It may be annoying to people on the outside but it makes perfect sense. The scale between pride and disappointment is naturally weighted toward a parent’s pride.
Conversely our own pride and disappointment scale seems to be weighted in the other direction. It is often easier be disappointed in ourselves rather than proud. Since we spend every moment with ourselves and know our every thought and shortcoming, it makes sense that our “pride scale” might be weighted toward disappointment. This doesn’t mean that it’s helpful or the way that it should be. So it is your job to TIP THE BALANCE. This does not mean that you should feel proud of yourself for everything you do. Sometimes disappointment is exactly what the doctor ordered. My suggestion is that you celebrate your successes just a bit more. Allow yourself to get on a roll because the other option is a little scary.
We tend to avoid actions that are associated with negative emotions such as pain, embarrassment or disappointment. Generally speaking to reach even the most modest forms of success, some pain, embarrassment or disappointment is necessary. So avoiding the actions that create negative emotions and having a scale tipped toward them is a recipe for disaster.
So celebrate yourself when you do something good. We’ve each got our own level. Getting out of bed and showing up to work on time may be your success for now. Or maybe you’re trying to break the world record for pull-ups and have failed twice. Give yourself a break because most people aren’t even trying that. The internet and social media have plenty of people for you to compare yourself to in order to undermine what we’ve just talked about. F$%& THEM! You’re you! Measure yourself based on your own standards. If you were still 5 years old, your mom would be bragging to everyone about how you stopped wetting the bed. So look at yourself through the most caring eyes that you can imagine. Get out there and start doing things. Some of it will work out and some won’t. Regardless, you have the potential to be one hell of a person. Just give yourself a break if you’re not yet!
I didn’t realize before I started writing this that it was a drinking game. For me it’s actually just a concept that I’ve been thinking about recently. Under normal circumstances, the game of Jenga (even the drinking kind) is played with some form of wood blocks arranged in a tower type construction. A player must remove a block and put it on top of the stack without causing the entire thing to collapse. It takes some concentrations and manual dexterity.
As I have been thinking about people and their problems recently, I imagine that many people would love for life to work something like Jenga. Identify the problem, remove it and put it someplace/discard it. The mental image works to a certain extent but our lives, problems, fears, and anxieties are not firm and solid things. They are much more fluid and unstable like jello. So imagine the tower of jello rectangles, wobbling and shaking, as you try to remove one of the blocks. Although it may be possible to get it out, it’s not going to be a neat and tidy operation. It will probably take several attempts. Half of the block may remain stuck in the space and require a different angle of approach. In addition to the extraction, there is the eventual sagging into the open space. It may have been one block that was removed but it affected all of the blocks around it in some way. The ripple effect may be felt throughout the entire structure.
My point here is not to create a very messy new game for people to try. Quite the opposite, it’s a game that you’re already playing. My entire point is to give a framework for dealing with some of the issues that people have. Quitting smoking, overcoming anxiety, dealing with depression and so many other extractions are going to be messy but they are possible. Humans were never intended to work like the machines that surround our world at the moment. We are fluid, ever-changing and imperfect structures that require a high level of care.
So as you go out into your life today. Survey your situation and see if any wobbly and sticky situations need to be removed. Using this idea as a framework, start to dislodge them. Just remember, that it’s not always going to be simple or pretty but you can figure it out even if it requires a spoon.
In about a month and a half, I’ll be moving to Virginia. It’s an exciting time! Filled with all kinds of possibilities. While we’re looking forward to that future, we must first deal with the daunting task of moving all (or most or some) of our stuff. The process of packing is a necessary evil where you must decide what is going with you and what things just need to go! Some people have trouble letting go of the things that they’ve accumulated over the years. For better or worse, we get attached to things from the past and have trouble letting go.
The same holds true for the events from our past. Some are vital and need to be packed in bubble wrap to make sure that they never get damaged. While others should be sold at a garage sale or taken to the dump. It’s difficult though. Somehow the events of our lives feel like part of us and letting go of anything seems like a mild betrayal to who we really are. Much like the physical moving, the weight of carrying the past into the future is a consideration to be made.
Since we are talking about emotional weight rather than the physical, the process for unloading or putting old memories into deep storage is different. It is actually the process of making the memories that support the new future bigger/more important or re-purposing those unhelpful memories. Talk about, envision and feel the stories from your past that you want to carry forward with more intensity and belief that it is who you are. Let the less than helpful ones fade or flip them to support where you are going rather than where you’ve been. That breakup or firing does not need to be a scar on your self-esteem. It can be a rallying cry for better performance in the future. Those “small” accomplishments that you overlook when you discuss what you’ve done can be made larger and more vivid. It is simply a process of focusing on it in a different way.
So regardless of who you are or what portion of your life you are in. You’re always packing for the future. What are you going to bring with you? Are you going to allow yourself to be weighed down by things that are probably insignificant to where you want to go? Or are you going to be selective about the “baggage” that you carry with you? It’s all your baggage but you don’t need to carry it all.
“It’s my industrial strength hairdryer. AND I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT IT!!!”
I just wept in front of a room of teenagers. It wasn’t part of the lesson plan but every once in a while, you just have to go with it. Whenever I talk about a particular former student, it is bound to happen. It has almost gotten to the point where the waterworks start before I even tell the story. That’s because I’ve let it happen. The memory does not have to be painful. It is a combination of factors that make it so and they’re all within my control.
It seems as though many of us have a very hands off relationship with emotions. They are things that happen to us rather than our creation. Emotions are the effect of some cause outside of ourselves and all we can do is point the finger at the guilty party. As we become more tethered to technology it seems to be getting worse. Rather than the local humans and situations that can impact how we feel, there is now a virtual world that can impact us day or night, instant by instant. So we deflect, deny or deliberate on why we feel this way regularly. But as is usually the case, the answer is all inside.
The chemicals coursing through our brains are there to make the feeling happen. So in a sense, you are in bio-chemical warfare at all times. Bringing out the big guns of oxytocin and serotonin to combat the overwhelming attack of cortisol. It’s not the stuff that they make movies about but it is the reason that we watch movies. Our brain and body are in a constant feedback loop with each other. The secretion of these chemicals are what makes feelings happen but we have our hands on the release valves and need to pay attention to these things in order to influence them: physiology, focus and inner dialogue.
Physiology is the way that you use your body. It includes movement, food, sleep and many other factors but movement is crucial. Exercise, facial expressions, posture and any other movement that you can think of influence your feelings through your physiology.
Focus is the things that you pay attention to. At any given moment, there are thousands or possibly millions of stimuli coming in through your senses. We can only pay attention to a finite number. So we either pay attention to the obvious things or we need to take control of our focus.
Inner dialogue is the things that we say to ourselves inside of our head. For good or ill the consistent things that we say to ourselves affect how we feel. Being mindful of habitual self-talk is extremely important.
These are the ways that we can turn the tide of the chemical warfare that we have going on inside. It is by no means an easy fix. Each of these component pieces takes diligence and practice but we are not by any means helpless.
My first car was a 1977 Chevy Nova! I inherited it from my great aunt and it was the perfect first car. It had holes in the floor boards where you could actually see the road below you. It had an 8 Track tape player in it that never really worked. It was pale blue and covered with rust spots, as you can tell from the description, I loved it! There were plenty of reasons to love it that had nothing to do with how looked or how it ran. And now looking back on it, I understand even better that it was the perfect first car exactly because it was a piece of junk. At no point did I ever have to worry about messing it up. I learned how to change the oil, replace the bulbs and change tires on that car. At no point did I think, “If I mess this up, I’m screwed!”
Fast forward to the present day and I don’t even change my own oil anymore. Cars have become computers and more complicated, therefore the idea of doing my own maintenance while possible is much easier to outsource. There are so many things like that today. Complexity of many systems within our world have changed us from capable amateur mechanics to people in the waiting room in anticipation of someone else fixing our problem.
While this may be helpful or even necessary with many of our possessions, it seems to have become pervasive to the point of a cultural norm. Day care, personal trainers, landscapers, etc. are all examples of outsourcing things that used to be done by the amateur ‘owner’. While these services can be helpful and possibly ‘necessary’ in a modern context, there is one thing that we can never turn the complete management over to someone else: your mind.
The best therapist in the land can be employed for multiple hours each day and still, it is on the individual to get their hands dirty and do the work. No one can change you without your conscious or unconscious consent. Recognizing this fact, I am amazed at how many brain owners keep waiting for the world or their life to make them happy. That is like expecting your neighborhood to take care of your lawn without ever communicating with them about it. And even if you did make that request, I’m sure that you’d get some raised eyebrows or questions like “why is that my responsibility?” So in this area, we need to realize that that amateur mechanic ethos is absolutely necessary. Help is not only desirable in most cases, it is necessary but it is on each and every one of us to maintain, diagnose or even overhaul our mind at times. With the amount of anxiety, depression and other mental concerns that seem to affect most of the population, it is time for all of us to recognize that we are all broken in at least a small way but we are also the mechanic. Learning about yourself, your habits, fears, triggers and so many other components of your mindset is no longer an option. Developing the tools to navigate this complex world is not only your job, it’s integral to your survival. So remember, you’re broken (but so is everyone else) and you’re the mechanic.