Seven Ways Anxiety Helps You Win
Don’t avoid, reject, or smother anxiety. Use it to help you win.
Dark emotions have been slandered way too long. Fear, anger, frustration and anxiety all have useful purposes.
Use emotions. Don’t let them use you.
I feel anxious when I face new challenges, prepare for meetings, give presentations, and deal with tough situations.
Writing this post raises my heart rate. To be honest, I love it.
Right now, I feel uncertain, alert, and alive. How will this post turn out? Will readers find it useful? Will I embarrass myself?
Anxiety is anticipation coupled with uncertainty.
Anxiety is a gift. Leadership without anxiety is predictable and boring. Leaders who lack anxiety are doing what they’ve always done.
Anxiety says you care about outcomes when results are unpredictable.
7 ways anxiety helps you win:
- Elevated energy.
- Heightened awareness. Spiderman’s “spidey senses” tingle when danger is near.
- Sharpened focus. Unexpected events lift heads and open eyes.
- Careful preparation. Anxiety motivates the pursuit of clarity and certainty when outcomes are unsure.
- Increased boldness. Great success requires boldness. Small doses of fear make you do things you otherwise wouldn’t do.
- Expanded curiosity and exploration. Anxiety says, “Open your mind and expand your thinking.”
- Greater agility.
Useful anxiety motivates; harmful paralyzes.
Too much anxiety:
- Drains rather than energizes.
- Paralyzes rather than motivates.
- Confuses rather than clarifies.
- Frustrates rather than frees.
Anxiety asks, “Will I be respected?”
You’ll end up controlled by others if you can’t manage harmful anxiety.
7 ways to alleviate harmful anxiety.
- Clarify outcomes. What do you want?
- Make a list of the worst things that might happen. Face fear by naming it.
- Ask, “What can I do to prepare, right now?”
- Take action. Action answers anxiety.
- Take a walk.
- Talk things over with a friend.
- Lift your head and breathe deep.
How has anxiety served you well?
When has anxiety been harmful to you?
Once again, great post Dan!
You have too much equity and have already helped so many people with your insights and wisdom, I do not think you need to worry about embarrassing yourself! But if a little anxiety keeps you on your toes… its all good!
I think one of the challenges for leaders is to maintain and model optimism for the team, in the face of their own anxiety- so that the leader’s anxiety does not become organizational anxiety.
Preparation, like the list you propose, is critical to enable the leader to mobilize him or her self and the team- to a healthy, satisfactory place beyond the anxiety.
One of the planning strategies I have found helpful to mitigate or manage harmful anxiety is to anticipate the worst case scenario(s) and plan for it/them. Sometimes being explicit about the uncertainty that is feared- can help contain and frame the fear/anxiety, in a perspective that can then be planned for and managed.
It reminds me of an acronym- FEAR is False Evidence Appearing Real
Anxiety is often a reaction to a feared assumption about the future-
I think when leaders name the assumption they fear- they are in a greater position to problem solve around it- rather than fall victim to the fear.
Anxiety is a signal that there is or may be a problem lurking.
And identifying and solving problems is invariably a leadership opportunity!
Thanks for sharing!
Thanks Lori. I’m so glad you brought optimism to the conversation and I love the idea that we can be BOTH anxious and optimistic. You explain exactly how I feel before important meetings, presentations or, even writing my daily posts.
Thanks for this, Dan. Your list of 7 ways to remove harmful anxiety is very good. They are effective.
There is another powerful means of reducing worry and anxiety, as described by Paul the apostle. He was a man who was often in danger, imprisoned, beaten, slandered, shipwrecked – yet accomplished his life’s mission as few have. Paul wrote, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known unto God, and the peace of God that passes all understanding shall keep your hearts and minds…” This was a man who could truthfully say, “I have learned in everything to be content”.
Paul’s counsel for anxiety was more than the current “mindfulness” movement, more than methods of relaxing or meditation. It was simply to share the anxiety with One who could understand and share the burden, provide solutions above “all that we can ask or think” while giving peace. There is great peace in communing with the Person who according to the Psalmist wrote down every day of our lives in a book before we existed, and whose Son lived on earth for 33 years experiencing life as we live it. There is great peace in knowing that when our words are lacking due to internal anguish, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us “with words that cannot be uttered”
Prayer does not substitute for preparation, but it surely removes anxiety. Nehemiah recounted how when asked by Artaxerxes why he was sad (something that could be a capital crime in the Babylonian empire) he was filled with fear. He “said a prayer to the God of heaven”, and proceeded to ask the emperor for his support to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls. That prayer must have been very short, but it was effective in removing Nehemiah’s fear. Nehemiah’s preparation as a leader shows in the following verses, as he outlined a plan that was workable and pleasing to the king.
I’ve personally experienced both the anxiety of going it alone and the reassurance of having God’s peace from prayer. Even when His answer is “No” or “Wait”, His peace is wonderful. I’ve experienced that peace in the face of sickness and death of loved ones, when faced with a crisis as a leader, and in many less dramatic circumstances.
Thanks Marc. I’m delighted that you shared part of your own story.
One of the key lines for me is, “Prayer does not substitute for preparation…” I have little tolerance for the passivity approach to life. Do what you can, even if it isn’t much.
Hey Marc: I’m overwhelmed, profoundly moved, and simply blessed by your writings. You make God proud and happy. God loves you. You not only know the “Psalm”, as they say, you
know the “Shepherd.”
Years ago while on my way to college, I used to take several buses to and from. In the
afternoon, one bus would leave me in front of a Jew Synagogue. One day I decided to go in and I sat in the back and one of the men at the podium asked for two volunteers to come up–and he pointed to two persons: a person with a gorgeous Hickey Brother’s-like suit; and the other was an older man who was dressed like a gardener. They both got up and walked to the stage.
The younger guy with the suit was asked first to recite the 23rd Psalm. And, boy, he said it with a RESOUNDING voice much like a professional orator: “The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not want…” and the audience gave him a standing ovation and were yelling out “Encore” even. But he sat down.
Then the old man stood up slowly, and I even thought I heard his bones creak a bit. He got to the podium, and solemnly said, “My brothers and sisters, the Lord is also my Shepherd, and I also shall not want, for as I’ve walked in green pastures…” And he went on and paraphrased the entire Psalm, walked back to his seat and sat down. There was no applause. Just quiet. Absolute stillness amid the audience.
A couple of minutes later, the younger guy with the beautiful suit gets up and says: “My brothers and sisters. I’ve learned something here today. I know the Psalm; my brother here (and he pointed to the old guy), he knows the Shepherd.”
That’s what YOU, Marc, remind me of. Thank you.
A rose by any other name is still a rose. The sense or sensation of feeling anxious is anxiety no matter what we call it. At the same time, Kay Redfield Jamison, the famed professor of psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD., calls and describes anxiety EXUBERANCE–much like what you say here, Dan.
What’s in a word? It’s how we see anxiety and how we use it. Anxiety has a negative connotation, while EXUBERANCE is absolutely positive. Jamison goes on to elaborate that while anxiety might be simply “unbridled energy,” EXUBERANCE is directed and focused energy with an eye on the love of life, living, being and doing…accomplishment, service, others.
Ultimately, Professor Jamison claims, EXUBERANCE is love, and love conquers all.
Thanks Books. I sure love the term exuberance. Great! It reminds me that someone said the difference between fear and excitement is breathing. 🙂
Right after I reported to a friend how anxious I am as I prepare for an important upcoming presentation, your new post appeared in my inbox. Why should I be surprised? This is a perfect lesson on how to “Make Anxiety a Friend.” Your recommendations echo the “Checklist for a Great Presentation” I found earlier this week: http://scottberkun.com/2011/speakers-checklist/ And, your comments echo the words of Shane Burkaw: “fear is necessary. It pushes me to be the best version of myself day in and day out.” http://touch.mcall.com/#section/-1/article/p2p-79957511/ I propose a revision that I will keep in mind today: “Anxiety is necessary. It pushes me to be the best version of myself…” Thank you! Happy Saturday!
Thanks Eileen. I’m so glad you extended the conversation.
““fear is necessary. It pushes me to be the best version of myself day in and day out.”… KaPow!
I started memorizing a famous quote/mantra last week from “Dune” by Frank Herbert that I think encapsulates this duality of anxiety (helpful vs harmful) in a way I didn’t realize until you gave us this gift of your words. It’s a comfort to now be thinking of anxiety as a possible driver as long as it doesn’t paralyze against action and clear thought.
“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
~ Frank Herbert
Note the phrase “I will permit it to pass over me and through me.” So don’t push back in the anxiety, but embrace it , even revel in the primal energy of it, and THEN, take positive action not negative flight or fight.
Powerful James. Love the quote. Frankly, I love the anxiety of not knowing what’s going to happen, as long as there is confidence that progress can be made. I think the confidence often comes from a track record of having made progress in the past.
I gotta say that today’s comments are amazing.
My favorite part of your post today is “Action answers anxiety.” We are most anxious before we begin. Beginning puts you half way to your goal. Thinking about beginning will drive you nuts. That is when all the doubts rule.
Once I step into it, I realize…oh yeah… I can do this.
Thanks once again for making us think about what helps us perform. Anxiety is only the enemy when it paralyzes you and keeps you from moving toward your goal.
Thanks Dauna. Oh so true! Love that little line.. “Beginning puts you half way to your goal.”
I suppose the other half is finishing. 🙂 Cheeers
preparation helps assuage anxiety – I am reminded of the old saying “We promise according to our hopes, and perform according to our fears”
Thanks billgncs. I hadn’t heard that saying. It rings true. Cheers
Just conversed about this very thing with my wife yesterday morning. You are absolutely correct about the nature and function of anxiety. Life would be enervated without it!
Thanks Citizen. Enervated = great word. 🙂
Simplified, caused one to feel energy to move forward.
More painful not to something than to try something and fail.
Thank you for your post and to all of you who have shared. I have been on vacation this week, and have been searching for some answers for myself in order to diminish some if my own anxiety that had slipped from positive into negative energy.
I originally thought I needed to rid myself of all this anxiety which feels like an overwhelming task. I have relaxed, done things that are uplifting to me, taken time for self-reflection, created momories with my children, yet still felt I had not accplished my goal of leaving behind my anxieties/ stressors.
I thank you all because this has been exactly what I needed…..a reminder of what makes me successful with whatever I am tackle. My anxiety is what has prompted my past successes by prompting me to clarity, action, and planning for the worst while remaining optimistic.
I needed this reminder to help me get back to my truest self.
Thanks Tracy. Your transparency is instructive. That little word optimistic carries so much weight. It doesn’t erase anxiety but it seems to give us the attitude to face it. Best wishes for the journey.
Much needed post today. I’m ready for Monday now. Thank you Dan!
Thanks Lee. Here’s to a great week.
Great Dan! We seem to be sharing the same wave length. I go through these pangs of anxiety every time I need to conduct sessions with this feeling whether everything will go alright, how will audience will like it etc; This Anxiety make me prepare differently every time by creating something new to engage and hold attention. I agree anxiety can be harnessed well if used properly.
Thanks P.G. You made me think about harnessed energy.
What you say is correct- use anxiety. If you let it use you, then you are screwed. Who was the wise man who said that only the paranoid survive?
Thanks Rajiv. I’d forgotten about that Andy Grove quote. Glad you added it.
I have a memorized foundational statement that I use almost weekly to reground myself. It helps give clarity to what I am doing and why I am doing it. Thank you for this post.
Great post! Really enjoyed this… Timing is great for me.
This post reminds me so much of a recent post on my blog about “Italian Guilt” — the heightened awareness I feel makes me that much more likely to listen to the voice in my head that wants me to triple-check my work. Great post!
I’ve had a luve/hate relationship with anxiety so far this year. On the one hand it’s spurred me on to do things I’ve never thought possible, including finally starting to write my book, but on the other hand it’s had me wanted to crawl under the covers and stay there for extended periods of time. I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that anxiety is a part of growth in life, and too much anxiety may mean that I’ve been stagnant for too long. This was a great post & a great reminder to everyone that anxiety is natural and you’re not less a leader for experiencing it.
Dan, this topic fits in the catagory of “thanks I needed that”. I am in the process of beginning something I believe I’ve been called to do, but I am terrified and tempted to quit before I start. I needed to hear this today. Thank-you.
I personally think this post is helpful, I’m not sure if other people dealing with anxiety would say the same thing though. I just recently experience an anxiety attack for the first time in my life which is why I’m researching on how I can deal with it. I find this post helpful in the sense that what triggered my anxiety is the fear of uncertainty, I am not a risk taker that’s why when I made a huge risk all the worries overwhelmed me. I know that in life there will be a time where we have to take risks,The next time that I’m in that situation again I’ll remind myself of what was written here “Use emotions. Don’t let them use you.”