You’re missing golden opportunities to reduce your anxiety
Something feels amiss, and it’s eating away at you. You try to reassure yourself that everything will be all right, but it’s not working. Other people tell you everything will be all right too, and it sounds tinny and disengenuous.
Why can’t you just convince yourself?
Because convincing yourself demands gullibility you don’t want. You want to be a realist, brave enough to be honest with yourself. If you define “be all right” so broadly that it includes dying a horrible, unnecessary, young death, it becomes meaningless. No, not everything is going to be all right.
Still, more things are going to be all right than you realize. Because worry is distracting and debilitating, it’s important that you figure out how to use “Everything is going to be all right” right.
Say you’re worried that you’re going to lose your job. You have three options:
Convince yourself that it’s all good—everything everywhere is always going to be all right, including losing your job. Doing this requires dismantling your BS detector entirely. Not a great option.
Define all right as keeping your job and not all right as losing it. Then be distractingly obsessed with losing it, which could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Not a great option.
Think realistically about your best fall back position. Visualize losing your job and then meditate on how to make the best of that disappointing situation. If you finesse an OK loss, you’ll gain a realistic sense that in your situation everything will be all right—not as great as keeping your job but still OK. This is the best option. A realistic sense that you’ll be OK.
Option three is not always available to us, but it’s available far more than we notice. We get so tunnel vision about what’s immediately at risk that we shun consideration of acceptable alternatives.
Fear that your partner will leave you? Think through what you’ll do if they go. If it’s not the end of the world for you, you’ll relax.
Paradoxically, by accepting the risk you’ll actually lower it, because people don’t want a partner who’s always anxious they’re going to leave.
Losing your cool in an escalating argument? Think through what you’ll do if you can’t convince your opponents. Will you still be able to hold to your opinion? If so, then what would it really cost you if you don’t convince them? Probably less than you think, in which case relax.
Paradoxically, by accepting the risk that you won’t convince them, you become a tougher, more credible, charismatic debater. Fear of losing smells like weakness. Looking desperate to convince them gives them all the power. By knowing you’ll be OK, you take back your power to determine how you feel.
We admire sports teams that fight hard when they’re down. They fight better when they’re calm than when they’re anxious. They have calmfidence.
It’s not going to work to face failure only after you’ve lost and then pretend that you’re OK with it. If you were anxious to win and then losing say, “Hey, I’m fine with that. I didn’t really care,” no one’s going to believe you. It will sound like sour grapes.
Minimaxing is central to negotiation strategy too. The best negotiators know their “BATNA,” which is their best alternative to a negotiated agreement, basically what you end up with if you can’t strike a deal. If you know that you have a good BATNA, you can negotiate hard. You can say, “Take it or leave it,” knowing that you’ll be fine if they leave. If, instead you have a bad BATNA or just haven’t thought yours through, you’ll come across as desperate, and they’ll eat you alive in the negotiation.
We don’t always have OK alternatives. As a realist, you want to be honest about that. But we have them more often than we notice. Sometimes it really isn’t the end of the world, and the better you get at figuring out that you have decent enough options, the more true resilience you’ll have.