Recently I screwed up big time at work and panicked. It’s been a while since I experienced such anxiety when your heart races, you get tunnel vision, beat up yourself endlessly and your mind is engaged into a negative thought loop, and you just can’t stop it. The worst part is that after talking to my boss I realised it was not a major catastrophe, but rather a minor hiccup which I should not have dwelled on for so long.
I was unpleasantly surprised and even shocked. Years of meditation and work on making myself calmer, more balanced, thought watching and filtering, working to attain peace and lightness of being – and I spiral into anxiety so easily and over so little? I was determined to never do it again so I created a one pager that summarises the key learnings about failing better and changing your mindset and that I can use next time anxiety rears its ugly head.
First tip is to stop thinking you are special in some way or better than others – this is the root of your anxiety because ‘special’ people don’t fail – only idiots do. Tied to this is acceptance that you are an idiot. We all are. Once you accept that you will make fool of yourself, fail inevitably and often because you are an idiot, you remove pressure to be perfect which you can’t be. You have to stop thinking and being afraid of what ‘others’ think – research shows they don’t care. The ‘others’ are in your head – self imposed blinkers, artificial limits that you set for yourself. Accept the situation. Gain perspective (3 steps on above right), ask yourself what you learned from the experience and reframe it – reward yourself for failure or even try finding something funny or absurd about it. A neat trick is playing circus music in your head while anxiety loop unravels – helps silence the inner critic!
Rumination is that endless loop of negative anxious thoughts. Catch and stop them early – or rather let them pass without attaching a story – before physical symptoms catch on. Be easy on yourself – practice self compassion and shut up your inner critic early. Use the emergency list – write down top 5 failures and how you overcame, recovered and gained perspective on the event afterwards, use this list when anxiety hits again. Most importantly remember and believe – action beats inaction and if you don’t fail, you won’t achieve much in life. Now that’s a much scarier option that making an ass of yourself!
This post is based on multiple sources, most recent being Pressure Doesn’t Have to Turn into Stress by Nicholas Petrie (HBR).