I recently had my book on anxiety published. In collaboration with a wonderful group of people that make up a tremendous publishing company, we landed on the title: Anxiety Disorders Made Simple: Treatment Approaches To Overcome Fear and Build Resiliency.
The book "Anxiety Disorders Made Simple" is inspired by many who courageously face their fears head on. I have three sisters who have inspired me in many different ways. Sadly, we all live so far away – two in Colorado and one in California. Each of them have amazing husbands and wonderful children! Each of my sisters are fearless and great mothers. And, each of them inspire me in their willingness to face their fears directly, to do whatever it takes for love, and to do it fearlessly.
My book contains a number of vignettes and stories to inspire individuals wrestling with fears and anxieties. One of my favorite sayings that I quote from the Marriage Doctor in the Twin Cities – Dr. John Buri, is, “If you go against your reinforcement history, you are in for a fight.” It is not easy to go against one’s own programming. If you are used to withdrawing from others, making the phone call is anxiety producing. One of the keys to overcoming fear and anxiety is going against one’s own reinforcement history. You see this from veterans returning from combat who have to face the fireworks this 4th of July as their bodies experience visceral reactions and serve as sharp reminders of IED explosions.
I just watched a movie that centers on young adults falling in love and learning to fight for love. In a key moment, the young woman yells to her boyfriend, “You’re a coward. You don’t fight for love. You are terrified of it.” Her exclamation was timely in that her boyfriend was tempted to withdraw after he heard the woman’s father proclaim “you are not good enough for my daughter.” After encouragement from his own father, the young man learned to overcome circumstances to fight for love. In the story, he had to overcome and go against his own reinforcement history.
My book is written for counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurse practitioners, physicians, and psychiatrists who provide treatment for individuals struggling with anxiety. It is also an easy read for anybody interested in learning some of the key psychological (AND LIFE) principles in taking life head on fearlessly, courageously, with resilience, and to establish more freedom in life.
Some of my favorite quotes come from Yoda in Star Wars. Yoda said, “Train yourself to let go of everything you fear to lose.” One of the leading interventions for dealing with worries is learning how to LET GO. But, there is more to it than just the simple words. Taking it head on has to do with the feelings of being afraid of letting go. College counselors and marriage therapists know that one of their difficult tasks is helping people cope with their anxiety around LOVE. For some of us, love brings up past hurts. Another Yoda quote fits well here (a comment to Obi Wan Kenobi), “If into the security recordings you go, only pain will you find.” Sometimes looking back, pain is in our reinforcement history. But the security recordings of our history should not keep us where we are. The life of resilience and overcoming fear involves leaving our comfort zone and not letting the pain prevent us from loving again.
This video suggests that anybody can have access to the same info that therapists and experts have.
ANXIETY DISORDERS MADE SIMPLE
"A wealth of practicality and wisdom that makes it a 'must-read' for anyone interested in dealing with the challenges of anxiety and its complex manifestations." - Dr. Riggio
Most anxiety is managed by four things -- exercise, nutrition, and good sleep hygiene. And, the fourth thing is finding someone to talk to about your problems.
A few weeks ago, I gave training seminars in Arizona to a variety of counselors, therapists, nurses, psychologists, and substance use counselors. We explored the facets of treatment for complex anxiety. Some problems are treatment resistant, like generalized anxiety disorder when the person experiences secondary gain from their worries. They don't know what to do without worrying. Worrying is their linus blanket. Many anxiety problems can be alleviated by exercise, nutrition, good sleep hygiene, and therapy -- talking to someone about your problems. On the latter, evidence based treatments such as exposure and response prevention for OCD is a type of specialized talk therapy, as an example.
I recently ran into a client with multiple emotional problems with anxiety -- fears of being humiliated around others, panic attacks, social avoidance, fears of her own bodily sensations, and chronic worry. She also suffered from years of clinical depression. She reported experiencing 10 years of medication therapy and talk therapy. She gained some insight with different therapies but has never experienced significant relief from her symptoms. A great referral source for clients with these types of difficulties and with minimal symptom relief is www.abct.org. This is the association for behavioral and cognitive therapies and therapists here specialize in treatments designed to help these types of individuals get relief.
Back to the first three - Exercise, Nutrition, and Sleep Hygiene. These are the big three that we all deal with in life and stress management. When executives attend business conferences, it is inevitable that these three are mentioned by a wellness person and sometimes linked to increased profit.
To increase emotional profit, and to make gains in one's EQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient), and to improve the quality of our relationships, these three areas alleviate or intensify stress.
A few tips:
Exercise 5-6 times a week. It becomes a burden when its 2-3 times. Make it a lifestyle.
Stop Eating CRAP:
C - carbonated drinks
R - refined sugars
A - artificial food
P - processed food
Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Maintain regular cycles. Avoid watching TV or reading in bed (encourages bodily memories and associations of wakefulness in bed).
One of my favorite things about great people is their ability to harness anxiety toward a goal. I recently got an up-close view of my wife Sarah who courageously and incredibly harnessed anxiety. She sacrificed short-term pain for long-term gain. My wife, Dr. van Ingen, recently achieved her Ph.D. in Math Education Curriculum and Instruction. For obvious reasons, there is a lot to the story having to balance marriage and family, including a pregnancy which consisted of contractions before and after her dissertation defense. But, here are a few snippets to give you a window into her determination on the Ph.D. journey. On many nights, she was up until 3 or 4 a.m. writing and researching. To stay awake, she used some of these strategies at 2-3 a.m.: sucking lemons, doing handstands, and icing her feet in large buckets of ice water in order to stay awake.
Performance anxiety is a common aspect of goal pursuits. Some people are able to harness their anxiety and perform with exceptional preciseness. Others become flooded and overwhelm inhibits their abilities. In gymnastics, performers train for 100s of hours but can fall off the beam with an inability to harness their anxiety. Of course, experts in that area will tell us there are other things like a small step here. But, when a move that is mastered over 1000s of practice hours, the pressure of the moment certainly becomes a variable. Why do some players on the world’s biggest stages outperform or underperform? The answers and research on sports psychology are beyond the scope of this article. But, harnessing anxiety is a component.
Interestingly, talented individuals often struggle with anxiety. When I worked at a Big 10 University, many of the clients involved in our anxiety management groups were graduate school musicians. For some, it was dealing with the pressures related to performance.
In anxiety treatment, harnessing anxiety is one of the goals. For a person with social anxiety, the goals are learning conversation skills (or relearning them) and harnessing anxiety toward positive social situations. For an individual with obsessive-compulsive disorder, the goals include learning to tolerate uncertainty and to refrain from rituals. This involves harnessing anxiety toward replacement behaviors, new goals, and healthy relationships. I have great admiration for those great individuals who struggled with anxiety but then got help and learned to harness their anxiety in a beneficial way.
Serious or casual sports fans remember fondly some of the great moments of harnessed anxiety. How about “The Shot” by Michael Jordan in the 1989 playoffs, which really started an amazing playoff run over the next 10 years! As fans, we all have our favorite moments. As a college student, I had great admiration for our St. Thomas team that went to the final four – Karnell James in a defensive stance, John Tauer setting a screen and then efficiently moving his feet behind the three point line, or Mike Bergan going back door to Brent Longval (after he rubbed his chin as a signal to the playmaker) were all examples of great individual and team focus.
In life, we are challenged by the discipline of a combat marine. Ask them if they are scared, and they will tell you they don’t have time. Their focus, determination, and harnessed anxiety saves lives. Electricians know full well the risks of injury; they have learned to master their craft and they certainly don’t forget “that one time it was close.” It leads them to make each moment decisive in their work.
Then there is family ……………………………
During the upcoming holiday season, a very real problem is family anxiety. It can get suppressed with alcohol or other substances. Family get-togethers can trigger old feelings, unresolved anxieties and problems, unprocessed shame, guilt, rejection, and other negative emotional states. Rather than enjoy family, these unresolved issues lead people to relapse to their addictions. Some families don’t promote healthy communication, acceptance, tolerance of each other’s mistakes, and unconditional love. So, when families reunite during holiday time, genuine laughter is instead cynical and sarcastic. True joy is buried under old resentments and harsh criticisms.
Tips for harnessing anxiety for the holidays:
Have a sense of humor
Use anticipation to plan for conversations that you want to have (rather than ruminating over all the conversations you want to avoid).
Get perspective. No matter how challenging your family may be, there are other families with even more challenges.
Be realistic. Be aware of the impulse to expect perfection. The family gathering will not be perfect. The food won’t all be hot at the same time. Someone will make a rude remark. A child will have a meltdown. Remember that you don’t need a “perfect” holiday—a real holiday will involve some measure of joy and some measure of pain. Try to accept both as they come.
Use your drive to the gathering to list all the things that you are thankful for.
As uncomfortable as you feel, there are others who are feeling just as uncomfortable or maybe even more so. What can you do to put others at ease? Plan to be generous and welcoming to others.
Anxiety may increase physical problems. Consider obsessions over heart palpitations. A person can be dreadfully afraid of panicking, thus they avoid exercising to prevent an increase in an accelerated heart rate. Without exercise, the body can increase stiffness, not to mention weight gain. Of course, always consult with your physician when starting a new exercise program.
Somatic delusions are often elevated due to anxiety. Some people perceive the pain to be worse. Some perceive physical problems to worsen. On the other side of the continuum, people avoid their routine physicals or medical exams due to anxiety. The stereotype of men avoiding medical appointments is common. And, it is hard to research this because people may distort their views on surveys. It is also not surprising that in these instances, people change their own views and reframe their own experience and memory. But, for those men (and women) with health insurance who avoid medical appts, anxiety is often the culprit.
On the one hand, you have the obsessive-compulsive type or the "responsible" and "overly planned" individual who searches the internet to confirm or disconfirm their diagnosis or problem. On the other hand, you have complete ignoring and suppression of problems. In both cases, anxiety influences action in medical care.
How about dental anxiety (odontophobia)? Relaxation exercises, reconditioning (pair a chocolate covered cherry with the dental waiting room; warning - if anxiety is severe the cherry may become a source of avoidance), gradual exposure with an encouraging friend/family member, and challenging catastrophic thinking are some of the antidotes. In this example, anxiety won't worsen your teeth. But, anxiety may cause delay which can result in future dental problems.
And, to use this as another chance to talk about my basketball exploits, or lack there of. During college tryouts my sophomore year, my anxiety resulted in decreased appetite, dehydration, and a week-long hospitalization with pneumonia.
Rituals are commonly seen among basketball players’ visits to the free throw line. Fans might say these rituals are NOT as agonizing as baseball players making their routine visit to home plate 3-5 times a game. I recently heard a broadcaster ask “Does the player need to adjust his batting gloves on both hands several times after a ball that he didn’t even swing at?” When they aren’t doing it for show, athletes perform rituals as a way to bring structure and organization to their implicit memory, emotional energy, and motivation. While some rituals can be annoying or gross (like chewing and spitting tobacco), these rituals actually help the mental faculties of the athlete. In some cases, sports psychologists encourage developing rituals.
It is not uncommon for married individuals who rely on rituals to remind their spontaneous spouses to do “the same thing each time” in order to not lose the keys. Of course, how this is communicated determines the extent of whether or not this becomes a source of conflict in the relationship. Rituals prevent overwhelm and multi-tasking from causing emotional flooding, or simply prevent distractibility to the point of losing track of the keys. By the way, educational researchers have shown that people just don’t multitask well. In interviews, asking about multi-tasking may be a common general question (perhaps, a soft ball question), but the bottom line is that multitasking is really a myth. Cognitively, it just doesn’t happen in a smooth way. It is actually better to not multi-task (contrary to popular belief) and just focus on one thing at a time. Rituals help with focus and concentration in the midst of distractions.
One of the essential treatment tenets for helping individuals with ADHD is actually helping them to develop rituals. ADHD encompasses a wide range of problems including hyperactivity, restlessness, and difficulty solving problems. In children, ADHD is commonly associated to relationship problems and learning problems. In adults, ADHD is associated to depression and increased alcohol consumption (among other things). Rituals actually help ADHD. One of the things that happens in cognitive behavior therapy is that therapists help clients with ADHD develop appropriate rituals.
In contrast, rituals only reinforce problems for individuals with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD has become common household nomenclature and has become popularized in pop culture and media. According to research (Antony, Downie, & Swinson, 1998), the most common type of ritual is checking (80.7%). The next most frequent compulsive behavior is washing and cleaning (63.7%), followed by repeating (55.5%), ordering and arranging (40.1%), counting (35.2%), and then hoarding (28%). These rituals help individuals relax, but they actually increase anxiety.
It is interesting to see how depending on one’s unique personality, disposition, and sets of problems, rituals can help or hurt (particularly long-term). Generally speaking, anxiety treatment usually involves reducing ritual engagement.
Antony, Downie, & Swinson, (1998). Diagnostic issues and epidemiology in obsessive-compulsive disorder. In: R. P. Swinson, & A. M. Martin (Eds.), Obsessive-compulsive disorder: Theory, research, and treatment (pp. 3–32). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
Linus Van Pelt: This blanket is a necessity. It keeps me from cracking up. It may be regarded as a spiritual tourniquet. Without it, I'd be nothing, a ship without a rudder.
Eliminating Safety Behaviors - Linus’ Blanket
I like to spend a lot of time emphasizing a healthy thought life in place of an unhealthy thought life. For example, a 39-year old dependent woman whose chronic worry is about the bad things that would happen if she was on her own. The thought “if I’m left on my own, it would be terrible” is at the root of her emotional problems. The remedy (though a lot of hard work) is something like “I’ll be ok if I’m on my own.”
A lot of anxiety is also eliminated or reduced through behavior and not just thinking. And a critical thing that maintains anxiety is what is often called SAFETY BEHAVIORS. Safety behaviors are those things people do because “they make us feel safer.” The truth is, these actions don’t actually protect us from any danger.
Consider Linus’ blanket. This classic example from Charlie Brown is a reminder that holding a blanket doesn’t actually reduce anxiety, it actually allows anxiety to thrive. Combat Veterans often tell me that knowing where all of the exit signs are is critical for them to be in a crowded restaurant. People with panic disorder will often bring with them a bottle of pills (even if it’s empty). People with agoraphobia often study maps of malls, or even memorize their preferred food aisles at the grocery stores.
Exit signs, empty pill bottles, and the use of maps are examples of safety behaviors that actually reinforce anxiety. These various forms of Linus blankets also result in increased dependence on these safety behaviors. One of my past mentors, Dr. Dave Novicki, an anxiety specialist from Michigan State University, used to make the comment “when you are ready” with clients practicing exposure therapy for their anxiety. So, when Lisa was ready, driving again was going to help her overcome her anxiety about driving since the car accident.
It is the same with safety behaviors. When a person is ready, they can expose themselves to situations that are anxiety producing AND eliminate their safety behaviors.
There are two mental remedies: positive psychology principles (PPP’s) and cognitive therapy principles (CTP’s).
Consider a 48-year old single male (let’s call him Frank); he is waking up 12 times a night due to an enlarged prostate. His worry is dominated by whether or not he has cancer.
Consider a 29-year old married female (let’s call her Mandy) whose anxiety elevates when she leaves the house to drive. She “catastrophizes” and imagines worst case scenarios whenever she leaves the house. Her worry about getting in another car accident leaves her powerless and stricken with anxiety.
Both Frank and Mandy have different problems. But, they have some things in common. Frank’s health worries and Mandy’s catastrophic worries heighten their anxiety.
Positive psychology principles (PPP’s) are helpful because they simply offer perspective. One of the therapeutic modalities done by counselors is perspective broadening. The idea is to help the client gain perspective. PPP’s such as building resilience, discussing perseverance, talking about courage, and instilling hope are ways of thinking about things that involve metaphorically flying up like an eagle and broadly looking down at life’s road and journey. Many can be reminded of things like “What a journey you are on - this amazing life full of challenges and victories, ups and downs, and wins and losses. Life is hard.”
Perspective often results from talking with the “wise uncle,” a “good friend,” or your trusted therapist. “Take heart, I know you can get through this. You’ve done it before, you’ll do it again.” “Your resilience reminds me that you’ll be ok.” Or, for cancer survivors, they say that “fighting cancer with the support of loved ones gives perspective.”
In addition to discussing strengths and getting a fresh and enlarged perspective, both Frank and Mandy are also helped with cognitive therapy principles (CTP’s). Consider some of the key principles helpful for anxiety.
Reframing probability overestimates: What is the perceived danger? In some situations, people like Frank and Mandy generate an exaggerated probability estimate of their anxiety. The estimated probability of the worry is near 100% in the mind of the anxious. Car accidents feel like they “are happening again” and/or “will happen again.” In actuality, the likelihood of Mandy getting in another car accident is .01% based on her past years of driving.
Reframing catastrophic misinterpretations: when people worry and then experience anxiety from the worry, they have a heightened attention to a threat. Their heightened attention leads them to interpret their own anxiety as catastrophic. “I’m going to die.” De-catastrophizing involves systematically recognizing that the stressor, while inconvenient or undesirable, is not a catastrophe.
In plane language, stress from problem watching leads us to magnify the problems. Opportunities or possibilities are hard to see.
Anxiety and Resilience
There are two mental remedies for anxiety. Much like a swim on a hot day, a long awaited letter sent from a relative from Nigeria (remember letters before emails and texts), or a pay raise, mental remedies can bring relief. But, relief can easily be confused with happiness, which is different. More than relief, mental remedies can enhance understanding, increase happiness, and reduce anxiety.
There are two mental remedies: cognitive therapy principles (CTP) and positive psychology principles (PPP).
Example of a CTP = Normalizing can help you to stop catastrophizing danger. In the past, you believed a panic attack would lead to death. This never happened. You got yourself out of the panic attack. Panic attacks are difficult, but not awful.
Example of PPP = The Resilience factor is in your life. The experience of your recent adversity actually producing a “buffering effect” in you; you are more likely to handle future life challenges and anxiety producing situations. Embracing adversity can build resilience.
I have seen firsthand the resilience required in overcoming adversity. It is interesting to see people on the verge of building resilience and it is interesting to see individuals who have already built resilience.
A few years ago, I spent time with a professional athlete who injured himself in 1990. Following the injury, he played with pain for several years but became addicted to opiates. By 1998, his anger ruined some of his close relationships. His life led to legal problems. Now, more than 15 years after his professional playing days ended, he is fighting for understanding. His adversity has been both external and self-inflicted. Now, he suffers from an anxiety disorder and is strongly seeking an ability to recover from his adversity - resilience.
Those who spend time with the poor, homeless, and individuals from the inner city, know how hard it is for teenage mothers to consider adoption for their newborns. I recently marveled at the resilience of a young woman who walked through an open adoption with a European couple (who flew here to meet the mother and adopt). She shared with me about how praying helped her know she made the right decision. In this woman, through her anxiety, I could see the resilience that buffered her decision-making skills at a young age.
Resilience, the ability to recover from adversity, is a critical positive psychology principle. Resilience is like a muscle, it needs to be worked out through life experience. But, life with its ups and downs, will do that for us all.
Anxiety and Regrets: Embrace Regret
I wasn’t a good enough basketball player to play college ball at the University of St. Thomas. I wasn’t recruited and came from a small town in Colorado. While I was the starting point guard at our high school and won most valuable team player, our team was awful. So, I had no credentials and had to prove my game on the court. At the end of the third week of tryouts during my sophomore year (I was cut my freshman year), I ended up in the hospital for pneumonia further complicated by dehydration. I had lost over 30 lbs of water weight. This may sound crazy to a normal and healthy thinking athlete; but, I was so consumed by the goal that my food and water consumption decreased. The cause? Anxiety.
I was so anxious about failure that I failed. As I’ve written in a previous blog, I remain grateful to my friend Rene Rodriguez and my mentor Von Sheppard for pushing me and encouraging me (and Rene helping me to fix my jump shot) to get all I could out of my skills.
Since that time of not making it (and subsequent ankle injuries prevented trying out my third year), I’ve been able to embrace this failure as a great learning experience. And, I gave my goal everything I had without regret, well with one small exception. In general, I view my failed but passionate and determined effort combined with my love of the game a great success.
Is living without regrets a way to live a healthy life? Actually, NO! I have some regrets and not drinking enough water during college basketball tryouts is one of those (albeit, a very small regret compared to the bigger and more important regrets of life). On aside, I wasn’t good enough to play even if I was fully hydrated (and free of ankle problems), although my love for the game has always remained.
There tends to be two schools of thought on regret. On one side, you have the idea of valuing regret. People have thoughts such as: I regret a lot (or some) of my actions. I wish I could live parts of my life over. I think “if only” a lot (or sometimes). And, then there are those thoughts for people who are determined to not have regret. They might think thoughts such as: I prefer to focus on the future than the past. I rarely think what “might have been.” I like to approach life with “no regrets.” In a study of 370 adult Americans who responded to these types of items (regret versus no regret), regret was strongly associated with increased anxiety and arousal (Roese et al, 2009). This partly explains why people avoid owning their regret, it can be anxiety producing. This is why Step 4 in 12 step groups (AA, NA, GA, etc), taking an inventory of our lives, is so difficult. Facing our own demons can be a daunting dilemma. Do I dig in or do I distract myself in the technology of today?
So, regret is accompanied with anxiety. And, an important facet of anxiety treatment is embracing anxiety in order to build tolerance. Embracing regret has that same effect, but it builds another valuable strength -- it builds wisdom.
People who have lived life know that there are psychological benefits of regret including learning from experience (Epstude & Roese, 2008). If you have 16 minutes, check out one of my favorite TED talks by Kathryn Schulz who gave a talk in November, 2011 titled Don’t regret regret.
Regret is often expressed as a desire to go back and change a past experience. I’ve talked with husbands who abused their wives, registered sex offenders, and 90 plus year olds who reflected on their many decades of life. Regret is a consistent aspect of life experience that is either owned with honesty or ignored and suppressed. Those who own it come across as authentic.
People with different types of anxiety reveal different types of regret. It is common for individuals with PTSD to have survivor guilt, and it is usually related to some form of regret. I’ll never forget talking to a man in his early 20’s whose fiancé died in his lap after they were hit by a semi truck. He had regret about his driving that he was convinced could have resulted in a different outcome. Or, a Vietnam Veteran tells his story of how his peer was shot by a sniper when he left his guard post to smoke a cigarette. Individuals struggling with social anxiety regret “not being the friendly one when I was in high school, reaching out to those who could be friends with me. My avoidance started a pattern.” Individuals with generalized anxiety disorder regret “not finding a way to manage my worries earlier.” These types of regret are real, rich, authentic, and meaningful life experience.
You have all heard it, “live life without regret.” The behavioral aspect of that phrase is true- don’t do something you will later regret. However, the cognitive aspect of “no regrets” gets de-emphasized. I say, embrace regret! Live a life with regret!
Epstude, K, & Roese, N. J. (2008). The functional theory of counterfactual thinking. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 12, 168-192.
Roese, N. J., Epstude, K., Fessel, F., Morrison, M., Smallman, R., Summerville, A., Galinsky, A. D., Segerstrom, S. (2009). Repetitive regret, depression, and anxiety: Findings from a nationally representative survey. Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 6, 671-688.
Anxiety and Decisions
Have you seen any examples of before and after pictures by a person who participated in a fitness program such as P90X? My favorite pictures are the individuals missing a body part (like a leg) and the caption says, “What is your excuse?” Check out this link http://www.buildahardbody.com/whats-your-excuse/
Now that is inspiring!
I have a similarly inspiring psychological story. I recently provided talk therapy for a person well over 100 years old. This person wanted to work on areas of anxiety and problems with relationships. This person was not inhibited by memory (i.e. dementia) or verbal abilities. In a way, it reminded me of those pictures of people who overcome adversity and ask the question, “What is your excuse?” Here was a person who remains motivated to improve the quality of life by trying to solve problems.
If you have problems with anxiety or some other types of issues, make the important decision now to get help. See my page on referrals for licensed professionals in your area trained to help you.
Many decisions we make are influenced by anxiety. This often results in avoidance. The remedy to avoidance is to take action.
In general, there are so many decisions that are made during a lifetime. Life is the sum total of decisions. Should I join the military? What should I do after high school? What should I do after college? Where should I go to college? What should I major in? What occupation should I choose? Should I choose this partner? Would he make a good husband? Should I change jobs? What job should I take? Should I move?
How decisions are made is as or more important than the actual decision. Let’s take a closer look at the process of decision-making. If you’ve lived a little, you’ve heard of the pros and cons list. When I was transferring graduate schools, I wrote out a similar list. I wrote out the advantages and disadvantages of transferring and the advantages and disadvantages of not transferring.
However the decision is made, I am a huge proponent of deciding and not sliding. Sliding involves sitting on a canoe and just going wherever the current takes you. It is sort of dependent on the momentum of life. Deciding is not based on momentum.
In college, one of my professors said there are three types of people: (1) people of impulse, (2) people of deference (those people who don’t decide), and (3) people of impetus. People of impetus are those who make tough decisions and sacrifice for others.
Anxiety impairs our decision-making in a variety of ways. Let’s take a look at some of those ways.
1) “Moving away from” cognition. Many people when considering a decision tend to make the mistake of moving away from something rather than moving toward something else. I have a lasting memory of former colleagues asking people to meet them at a bar to celebrate finally leaving a job because of “disagreements.” It was always striking to me that the celebration was based on leaving a job but they had no replacement job. So, now what? The remedy is “moving toward” and not “moving away” in a life decision.
2) Emotional reasoning is a cognitive distortion that affects decisions; this involves believing something is true because it feels true. Change often brings about elevations in serotonin that naturally increases visceral pleasure. Consequently, people can make a decision to change something (i.e. a relationship, a job) because it “feels right” without carefully considering the consequences. Of course, on the other hand, people also avoid making changes and stay in their comfort zone (i.e. staying in a job rather than moving toward college). In this case, it is easy to get stuck (i.e. like in an unhealthy relationship). In both cases, decision makers have to be careful of emotional reasoning.
3) Overwhelm; if you listen to my parenting podcasts, one emotion often seen in parents is overwhelm. Parents who can balance life reasonably well are able to be aware of those times when making a decision is smarter than other times [and they fully know when they should wait on a decision]. Sometimes, “Let’s sleep on it” is wise!
In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.
A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers.
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