Saurabh, a subscriber to my mailing list, asked if I can share my thoughts on facing our anxieties and fears.
The Lever Theory
I have a theory that we all have that mental lever that we get to use multiple times a day.
We can either look at something from a long-term or a short-term view. A lot of our problems come from misusing this lever. Anxiety, procrastination, perfectionism, stress, and lack of creativity to name a few.
We obsess over things that don’t have any significance in the future while completely ignoring the things that will have the highest impact in the future. We misplace the sense of urgency on the things that are not important while procrastinating and delaying things that are truly important.
My theory is that anxiety is one of the problems that occur as a result of this lever mismanagement. We obsess over the issues that will be irrelevant 5 years from now while not having enough clarity on the things that WILL matter in 5 years.
Use this lever correctly
Ask yourself a question – “Will it matter 5 years from now?” You’ll quickly find out that most of your fears and obsessions fade away when you adopt this long-term view of things. Very few things in your daily life are truly that important and impactful. Even that important project or client at work is not that important in the grand scheme of things.
A few weeks ago, I shared a thought that a lot of you found very helpful. It doesn’t matter what goal or habit you choose to pursue first. Yet, we tend to obsess over this so much.
5 years from now, it won’t matter if you decide to clean up your diet first or establish a solid exercise routine. Most likely, you won’t remember the order in which order you did it. Whether it took a month to clean up your diet or four won’t matter. Yet, we obsess over the fact that’s taking us a few months longer to build a habit. Who cares? As long as it’s built and it’s a habit that WILL benefit the future You, does it really matter if it took one month to build it or four?
Should we serve steak or chicken at our wedding? Won’t matter in 5 years.
Should we move to a new city? Will matter in 5 years.
Should I start looking for a new job? Will matter in 5 years.
We spend more time obsessing over steak over chicken questions vs. thinking about moving to another city and changing jobs.
What is occupying your mind?
What are you obsessing over?
Anxious about posting your first YouTube video? “What would people think?” Guess what.. no one will watch your first video. I’m 100% sure it will NOT go viral. I’m ready to bet real dolares on it. Maybe there will be some views after the first 10 videos (hence the Rule of 10)… maybe… Maybe it will take 50. Or 100. In 5 years from now, it won’t matter if you’ve made a mistake in your first video or didn’t have the perfect lighting. However, it WILL matter that you DID post that first video, and then the second, and a third…
I find that our fears come from obsessing over things such as perfect lighting, improbable scenarios (e.g., first video going viral and everybody leaving negative comments), all the what-ifs, etc. All these things will not matter in 5 years. Yet, we don’t spend nearly as much time thinking about the things that WILL impact our life 5 years from now (posting that first video or not).
Once you clear out some mental space from obsessing over irrelevant minuscule details of your life, you can start introducing activities, goals and habits that WILL impact your life in the future.
Easier said than done, kiddo
I know. Anxiety can feel like a closed loop that you can’t get out of, no matter how rational you are trying to be.
That’s where I find the “outside-in” approach works best. Putting ourselves in new environments will impact how we feel on the inside.
This a good picture to illustrate the transition we are trying to make when working with anxiety:
These are some of the things that worked for me in the past. Remember, we want to shift our focus from the immediate future and its perceived dangers to a long-term big-picture mindset.
- Consuming timeless content. Ditching social media and news channels in favour of classical literature, classical music/radio, and reading works of people who had a long-term view on things. The easiest way to do it – find a classical radio station and make it a default radio station in your car. They have great talk shows discussion interesting timeless topics. (Side note: It helps that their guests often have a British accent. It always calms me down.)
- Engaging in old forms of exercise. Yoga, martial arts, running vs. current fitness trend.
- Spending more time with older people. They usually have something reassuring to offer. They’ve been around for long enough to understand that most of the things we obsess over are frankly irrelevant in the end.
- Curating the podcasts you listen to. Avoiding the hustle culture bros. Focusing on long-term, light-humoured intellectual conversations without gloom and doom (sorry, Joe Rogan).
- Engaging in the local arts and history scene. Go to museums, art shows, and theatres. Arts is something that’s been around for a long time and you can gain valuable perspective when looking at art that was created a century or two ago.
- Embrace the Cathedral Effect. Spend more time in buildings with high ceilings or better yet – outdoors. Higher ceilings = bigger-picture perspective.
- Get a massage. I’m yet to meet an anxious person after a massage session.
Intentionally placing yourself in these environments will allow your stress hormones to go down. Then you can step out of the anxiety loop and calmly analyze your to-do list, the things that worry you. You can then gently apply a long-term lens and ask yourself “Will it matter 5 years from now?”
This post was inspired by a reader’s question.
If you want to submit your question, feel free to send me a message via Contact Us page.