There are a lot of hacks for dealing with anxiety. You can try deep breathing, meditation, or positive self-talk, for example. But let's be honest--all of these steps are just useful Band-Aids. What most of us really want is to rip anxiety out at the root so we have the confidence to project our true selves and chase our scariest dreams.
Is that sort of freedom from anxiety a pipe dream?
In some sense, yes. Humans are animals, and, like all animals, we have automatic, evolved responses we'll never get away from. In the old days, your anxiety about lions kept you from being eaten by one. You can't turn anxiety off completely, and you shouldn't aim to, as it's sometimes a useful red flag for danger.
But most of our anxiety today isn't directed at threats to our survival or health. Instead, it's about fear of judgment. In these situations, anxiety is largely unhelpful. Thankfully, this is also the kind of anxiety you can turn off (or at least turn way, way down).
The ultimate anxiety killer: self-awareness
On HBR.com recently, psychologist and coach Michael Gervais explains the key to getting over your fear of other people's opinions (aka FOPO). Here it is in just four words: develop a personal philosophy.
"If you really want to conquer FOPO, you'll need to cultivate more self-awareness. Most of us go through life with a general sense of who we are, and, in a lot of circumstances, that's enough. We get by. But if you want to be your best while being less fearful of people's opinions, you need to develop a stronger and much deeper sense of who you are," he writes.
In other words, if you have a clear standard to judge your own actions, you'll be far less worried what other people with other values think of what you do. So how do you develop something as powerful but nebulous as a personal philosophy? To get started, answer the following four questions:
When I'm at my best, what beliefs lie just beneath the surface of my thoughts and actions?
Who demonstrates characteristics and qualities that are aligned with mine?
What are those qualities?
What are your favorite quotes? Your favorite words?
"Once you've answered these questions, circle the words that stand out to you and cross out the ones that don't," Gervais instructs. "After studying what's left, try to come up with a phrase or sentence that lines up with exactly who you are and how you want to live your life. Share the draft with a loved one, ask for input, and fine-tune your philosophy from there. Then commit it to memory and return to it daily."
It sounds simple, but it can be life-changing, he insists. "Working with NFL players and coaches, extreme-sport athletes, and senior leaders at Fortune 50 companies, I've noticed that, beyond a relentless pursuit of being their best, what makes these high performers great is their clear sense of the principles that guide them. Because of their clarity, they're more willing to push themselves, learn more, and embrace discomfort," Gervais says.
What's your personal philosophy?