When I feel anxious, there is a single question I ask myself that serves as a go-to quick fix to shift my perspective, get out of my head, and into productive action.
It is a souvenir from one of the most anxious times of my life — November 2008, the depth of the global economic collapse.
Less than a year earlier, I left a long-term job at a company where morale was low and prospects for future career growth dim. A popular game among my coworkers was to place bets on who among us would give notice next (unless the next round of layoffs caught us first).
Thankfully when my turn came to jump ship, I found what seemed like a safe place to land — a not-for-profit foundation bankrolled by an old-money gazillionaire.
But my euphoria was short-lived. The buttoned-up culture and slow pace didn’t fit my creative free-spirited nature.
Although I quickly grew restless, I was in no mood to strike out and switch jobs again. But ready or not, a few days before the Thanksgiving holiday, my position was eliminated.
I felt like the world’s biggest screw-up. What had I gotten myself into? What was wrong with me for not making this new job work? Was leaving my last job a hasty decision?
My worry was too great to focus on what mattered most: How to dig myself out of this hole before my severance ran out and I was living under a bridge.
So I went to see a counselor for some relief from my insecurities, faults, and fears.
He listened carefully, then asked this magic question:
How should you expect to feel right now?
I suddenly discovered what was now obvious, but in the midst of my personal drama was hidden.
There was no reason to expect to feel any different than how I did. My anxiety was situationally valid, not a sign I was deficient.
Totally normal, in other words.
Once in the “nothing’s wrong with me” mindset, I could focus on my plusses, not my minuses. I was much more empowered to take action. Indeed, within a week, I landed a new job that was better than both of my previous gigs put together.
Here’s another way of looking at it:
Imagine your anxiety belongs to a friend. Listen as she talks about “her” situation.
Would you be so hard on your friend as you are on yourself? Point out to her all that’s wrong with the world? All the hurdles stacked against her?
Or would you offer her unconditional love, support and reassurance? “I understand why you feel this way. It’s totally reasonable…” Just for starters.
Now step into yourself again.
Think for a moment about the cause of your anxiety — career, relationship, or any situation.
Take a breath and ask yourself: Given your circumstance, how should you expect to feel right now?
As you begin to feel that your feelings are completely normal, you’ll move from the unreasonable expectation you put on yourself to quickly get over whatever is causing you upset. You’ll move into the awareness that nothing is wrong with you right now whatsoever.
When you bring these new feelings forward into your consciousness, an even greater shift occurs. In the “I’m normal” mindset, positive feelings have room to grow. Knowing that nothing is wrong inside of you, new insights and solutions emerge.
How do you expect to feel when whatever you’re worrying about is gone forever? Nothing is wrong in the world either.
You can start expecting miracles to show up. Stick with it and you will see them everywhere. How would you feel if you focused on that instead?