In my last post, How to Maintain Your Enthusiasm When Things Get Tough, I started answering a question from a comment on my post 5 Reasons Why Enthusiasm is Better than Confidence. Ludivine wanted to know what to do ‘when worrying about practical and financial issues stifles enthusiasm’.
I began by suggesting that:
- Maintaining enthusiasm is key to overcoming such difficulties, particularly for creative professionals.
- In order to maintain your enthusiasm, you need to stop worrying.
Worry is a many-headed beast, like the Hydra – it’s hard to stop it at the first attempt, but if you are persistent and try several different points of attack, you can overcome it in the end. It will probably take a few of the following techniques in combination – so experiment with them and see which ones work for you.
1. Physical activity
A few years ago I was dealing with a series of financial, work and emotional problems that I won’t bore you with here. My typical emotional state veered between anxiety (“What am I going to do?”) and depression (“It doesn’t make any difference what I do”). One of my ways of dealing with the situation was to run round my local park every day. I made myself do the run because afterwards I would feel significantly better than before it, and found it much easier to stay present and centred in my body. Because of this, I was much less prone to get lost in worry.
Physical activity is a great way to get ‘out of your head’ and recover a feeling of calmness and mental clarity. You’ll get most benefit from a really good workout, but any physical activity that engages your senses can make a difference – washing the dishes, walking down the road for a pint of milk, enjoying a hot bath or making something with your hands.
If you want a calming physical activity you can easily incorporate into your daily routine, here’s a walking meditation exercise I learned a few years ago from the monks at Amaravati:
- Choose a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Early morning or last thing at night are good for setting you up for the day or a good night’s sleep.
- Pick two spots, from 6 to 15 feet apart, and clear the space so you can walk between them.
- Stand on the first spot, close your eyes and focus on your feet. Notice how they feel right now – warm? cool? tense? relaxed? Feel the floor pressing against the soles of you feet. Don’t try to relax, just notice how your feet feel right now.
- Gradually sweep your attention up your body – up your legs, your torso, down the arms and lastly up to the crown of your head. For each part of your body, just notice the physical sensations you’re experiencing right now.
- Once you have your whole body in your awareness, from head to foot, expand your awareness to listen to all the sounds around you, near and far – while still keeping your attention on your body as well.
- Lastly, open your eyes and notice all the colours and shapes you can see – while still listening and sensing your body.
- Very slowly walk towards the other point you chose at 2., noticing how your muscles feel as you move them.
- Don’t worry if your mind wanders! It happens to everyone. Each time you get lost in thought, bring your attention back to your body.
- Keep walking up and down as long as you like. Doing this for even a couple of minutes a day can have a noticeable calming effect on you. The more often you practise it, the better you will feel.
2. The ‘Parrot on your shoulder’ technique
Worry is like a parrot sitting on your shoulder – jabbering on about all the awful things that could happen to you, how dreadful they will be and how little you can do to prevent them. Spend too long listening to the parrot and you start to believe it. (The parrot is an excellent hypnotist!) But worry is only a small part of your mind, and not the most resourceful part either.
So next time the Parrot starts jabbering away in your ear, stop and listen to it for a moment – don’t try to block it out, just listen to the anxious Parrotlike voice, and recognise that it’s not you and it’s not telling you the truth about you or your situation. Look around you, move around and reconnect with your body – all the while keeping the Parrot’s voice in your awareness without getting caught up in it. A bit like when you have the radio on in the background, but you’re not really listening to it – the sound goes in and out of your awareness, without capturing your attention. The more you practise doing this, the more worry will fade into the background, the clearer your thinking will be and the calmer you will feel.
3. Reclaim your imagination
Creative people can be particularly prone to worry, because when you think about it, worry takes a lot of imagination. It’s as though your ‘inner film director’ is running amok, churning out paranoid thrillers or ghastly horror movies about all the awful things that could happen to you.
Instead of trying to ignore these internal images, why not ‘re-direct’ them as different genres (comedy? adventure?) and add a happy ending for you to look forward to? There were enough ghosts, ghouls and monsters in Lord of the Rings for a whole series of horror films, yet the overall tone of the films is upbeat, emphasizing heroism rather than horror. At one point, Frodo and Sam get themselves through a particularly dispiriting and threatening stretch of their journey by jokingly imagining the epic tale of ‘Frodo and Sam’ that will be sung by future minstrels.
Imagine your current situation as just one chapter of an inspiring story about overcoming challenges – how does that change the way you feel about it?
4. Distinguish areas of concern and influence
Here’s a well-know stress-management technique. Have a look at the two circles below. The big circle includes everything you are concerned about – i.e. everything that has some impact on your life. It includes ‘practical and financial issues’, your work, your personal and professional relationships, as well as things like the weather, events in the news, global warning and whether an asteroid is or isn’t going to collide with the earth in 2029.
Now have a look at the smaller circle. This one includes everything you can influence. Chances are it will include some aspects of your practical and financial issues, but maybe not all of them. The same goes for aspects of your work and relationships, and your share of global warming. The small circle will probably exclude things like the weather, major news events and that asteroid, since for most of us, these things are outside our sphere of influence.
The bad news is that the smaller circle will always be smaller than the bigger circle – i.e. there will always be more things you care about than you can influence (let alone control). The pessimistic conclusion is that life is inherently stressful; the optimistic conclusion is that life is inherently unpredictable and exciting – take your pick.
The good news is that you can influence your level of influence: the more you focus your attention and efforts on things within your circle of influence, the bigger it gets, and the fewer things you have to worry about:
Conversely, the more you focus on things outside your circle of influence (but within your circle of concern) the more disappointed and frustrated you will get – meanwhile you are neglecting the things you can do something about, your circle of influence is shrinking and your worries are mounting up:
So, when faced with a problem, financial or otherwise, ask yourself “Is this within my circle of influence?” If so – start planning and taking action to solve it. If not – if it’s something that concerns you, but you have absolutely no way of influencing it – then stop worrying about it, however important it is – worrying will only make your situation worse. If you’re having difficulty getting it off your mind, try the Physical activity or Parrot techniques above.
5. A problem shared is a problem halved
Financial problems are bad enough without all the guilt and self-blame that usually goes hand in hand with worrying. Don’t be too proud to ask for a bit of support and understanding from those around you. Talk to someone you trust about your situation and how you feel about it. The chances are they won’t be nearly so hard on you as you are on yourself. They may not have all the answers, but it will be a relief to get your feelings off your chest, and help to put things into perspective.
6. Get some specialist advice
Worry loves a vacuum – in the absence of facts, it creates all kinds of dire scenarios. So whether your worries are financial, professional, medical or otherwise, get some advice from a trustworthy specialist, who can give you an informed opinion and help you devise some practical options. They may surprise you with unexpected solutions or they may confirm the worst – but either way you’ll be dealing with facts and concrete options, and you should come away with clear ‘next steps’ towards a solution.
7. Make a plan – and take action
Worry is fuelled by inaction, but once you’ve assessed your options, got some practical advice and devised a plan, you’re in a position to start taking action. And once you do that, it becomes much easier to stop worrying. The Chinese say that the journey of 10,000 miles starts with a single step – and once you’ve taken that step, you’re on the road to a solution, even if it’s a long and difficult one.
If you start putting your plan into action and don’t feel any reduction in your worry levels, then the chances are you’re not very confident about your plan – so it may be worth getting some more information or advice to revise the plan.
Have a read of this post by John Eaton about Anxiety. John is a friend and long-standing colleague of mine, and really knows what he’s talking about.
Tapping into Enthusiasm…
Once you’ve cut down on worrying, you’ll probably find your enthusiasm starting to bubble up again of its own accord. There are also some specific ways you can deliberately tap into your enthusiasm – I’ll write another post shortly about How to Tap into Your Enthusiasm.
What about you?
How have you managed to control worry and maintain your enthusiasm under pressure, financial or otherwise?