We are both complex creatures and waaay too simple for our own good. For the sake of time, I’ll skip the complexity and jump right into the simple stuff. More specifically, the simple stuff around our anxiety. And for that, it all drills down to our mental model.
A mental model is the framework we use to understand the way things work, make decisions, and conceptualize challenges. We create them as we grow up and they become just “who we are”.
When life is going great we don’t seem to have reason to explore our mental models or question them. We pretty much just rock.
However, when life stinks we still don’t explore them…
That’s a problem. Mental models offer the key point of intervention for creating good things in our lives and extinguishing the bad things in our lives.
Let me show you how to get started exploring your mental model around anxiety. And changing it.
Take a moment to think about these questions.
- What happens when you start to experience that panicky feeling?
- What are the negative thoughts that your mind has when you are feeling anxious?
- What do you remember being your worst time with anxiety and what are you fearing is going to happen next time?
- How much do you hate having that anxious pit in your stomach and racing mind?
- How often do you avoid certain things to try to avoid feeling anxious or get that impulsive feeling to bolt from situations to feel better?
The answers to these questions contribute to your anxiety mental model. They make up how you view your anxiety. Plain and simple, without changing things within your mental model, it’ll continue to fuel your anxiety.
To create change in your anxiety do these 3 things to start altering your mental model.
- Question your lynchpin underlying assumptions, the driving forces that perpetuate your anxiety. It’s frustrating, often we can’t figure out why we have anxiety. But frankly I think spending a lot of time trying to uncover the why is a waste of time. Better, start with identifying the main thoughts that perpetuate your anxiety. Do any of these sound familiar? “I’ve always been anxious, that’s just how I’m wired”, “I can’t help it”, “I don’t have time to do anything differently”, “I shouldn’t be like this”, “I’m weak.” Those underlying assumptions that you’ve subconsciously taken in as “facts” and built your anxiety upon, need to be changed and replaced. Manually. As in saying to yourself, “I no longer believe that I’m hard-wired to be an anxious person.” Period. Don’t fall into the trap of trying to support that statement with examples. You will lose that game. In order to change your lynchpin underlying assumptions you just need to declare to yourself that you no longer believe that to be true. And repeat the new assumption when you feel your anxiety rise.
- Seek out individuals and information that offer a different interpretation of anxiety. It’s human nature to want to surround ourselves with people who think like us. It’s comfortable and takes little mental energy. Two high priorities for humans! It’s such a natural way for us to operate that we’ll even subconsciously discount or reject opposing opinions in our effort to find others that confirm what we believe. Psychologists call this ‘confirmation bias’. So in order for you to make strides in eliminating your anxiety, it’s important not to fall into the confirmation bias trap. Read from different sources of information than usual, listen to different interpretations about anxiety and it’s treatment than you have in the past. If you find you’re just hearing what you already knew or suspected…look for something that totally contradicts it or suggests something different. Talk to different types of professionals. The point here is if your anxiety isn’t going away on its own or with the strategies you’ve tried, it’s time to figure out a different mental model. The only way to do that is to expose your thinking to new ideas AND notice when you are clinging tightly or looking to confirm your original beliefs.
- Pay attention to novel experiences. In order for us to deal with the amount of information and stimuli we are exposed to each day, our brains consolidate things and opt for the most energy-efficient strategies. This is the reason why we have confirmation bias so badly. Our brains don’t want to invite anything that is going to be a drain on its energy. As a result when it comes to our anxiety, we fall into the practice of glomming all of the times we feel anxious into one known quantity. When x happens then y happens then z happens… Our brain’s think “Here we go again!” and don’t have to give it any more thought or energy. In order to change our anxiety we need to disrupt this ‘autopilot’. We need to pay attention to the times and things that are different. We need to be curious about how long our panic attack lasted or the fact that we didn’t get a tight chest like last time. When we pay attention, even though it takes more energy and sometimes more uncomfortable, we get a more accurate and undistorted view of our experience. It is in this place that true opportunities for effective interventions lie!
Our mental models pretty much dictate how we see the world and how we are in the world. The good news, they’re not set in stone. It’s in disrupting these previously held frameworks that new and improved ones can take hold and our anxiety can finally start taking the backseat.
Do have any mental model busting strategies you’ve tried? I’d love to hear about them.
If you’re the DIY, super busy, dip-your-toe-in-before-diving type and would like to overcome your anxiety in the comfort, convenience and privacy of your own home, check out my 4 week online mini-course.