If you want to blaze your own trail, you’ve got to be able to control worry
August 15th, 2012 by Briana Cummings
I’m 6 months into starting my own practice out of law school and the emotions have been world-beater elation one day followed by my wife taking me off the ledge the next. (Source: Comment, “I Just Want to Practice Law Postmortem,” Lawyerist.com)
Starting any kind of business is an emotional roller coaster. The most blasé entrepreneurs I know have resorted to medication to handle the stress that comes with starting a practice. I don’t recommend medication, but learning to control the anxiety is critical.
Going solo is hard enough, but doing it right out of law school can seem impossible and terrifying. Below are some strategies for quelling anxiety.
Focus on the present, not the past or the future
Take one day at a time. Don’t worry about the future. Plan for it and prepare for it, but don’t get anxious over it.
A man who suffers before it is necessary suffers before it is necessary. – Seneca
Do not look forward to what might happen tomorrow;
the same Everlasting Father who cares for you today will take care of you tomorrow and every day.
Either he will shield you from suffering or
He will give you unfailing strength to bear it.
Be at peace, then, and put aside all anxious thoughts and imaginations.
– St. Francis de Sales
And don’t worry about the past. Again, learn from it, but don’t fret over it.
The moving finger writes, and having writ, moves on, nor can any of your tears wash out a single line.
Done is done.
Where you have control, exercise it
Take action. Set goals, set deadlines, make a plan to get to them, stick to your plan. Once you start taking action, your feeling of helplessness begins to dissipate. Then you can focus on the fact that you are doing everything you can to control your destiny — and accept that the rest, as they say, is in God’s hands.
Exercise self-control.No matter how little control we have over a situation, we always have control over how we react to what happens to us.
You may not be able to change the wind, but you can adjust your sail.
Even when we cannot control what is happening or how it makes us feel inside, we have the choice to respond to adversity with dignity and grace.
Be at peace with where you do not have control
Accept what you cannot change. Don’t bewail your plight or curse the fates. Just accept what cannot be changed. Acceptance is a powerful psychological tonic. This is why Buddhism teaches us to learn to relax with whatever arises and Christianity teaches us to embrace “God’s will,” not our own.
Not to spoil the ending for you, but everything is going to be okay.
I said above that you should focus on the present day, and not worry about the future. But, to contradict myself a bit, if the present day is a dark and difficult one, have faith that the future will be brighter. Even our darkest moments are only temporary; they too will pass. At times when all hope is lost a glimmer of hope may begin to appear.
Trust that whatever is happening now is the best possible thing that can happen to you right now, and that the reasons will become clear in the future. Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of a family whose only son became crippled. The family were crushed. But because he was crippled, this son was later saved from the draft during World War II; his “affliction” became a blessing. “We call something good or bad,” she says, “but we don’t really know if it will be good or bad.”
I have learned that faith means trusting in advance what will only make sense in reverse. ~ Philip Yancey
Reprogram your thinking
We carry around a subjective reality that is continually triggering our emotional reactions.
‘Tis nothing good or bad
But thinking makes it so.
This subjective reality is constantly changing, as we are reconstruct our concept of ourselves and our realities moment by moment.
To combat negative thinking, identify negative thoughts as soon as they appear and defuse them. For example, if you catch yourself thinking you’re hopelessly incompetent, know that isn’t true.
Some advise to make no effort to fight worry or depression. Instead, think about happy things. Make a habit of listing all the good things about yourself (and/or your life) and continually update your list. Benjamin Franklin did this.
If appeals to your conscious brain don’t work, reprogram your subconscious. One possible strategy:
- First, ask yourself, “Could I try to let this emotion go? Is it in the realm of possibility?”
- If not, “Could I hold onto it?” This tricks your brain into realizing you’re holding onto it on purpose.
- Then ask again, “Could I try to let it go? Would I try to let it go?” The answer should be yes.
- Then ask, “When will I let it go?”
The purpose of this exercise is to train your brain into realizing that you have control over your emotions. You don’t need to master this at the first go; practice it.
Remember it’s just a chemical response
When you feel overwhelmed by panic or anxiety, remember that it is just your amygdala pumping adrenaline. It is just a physical response to threat. Don’t fight the physical response; this will just exacerbate it. Just let it pass.
Keep in mind your long-term goals
Sometimes holding the goal in mind can keep destructive thoughts at bay. In the movie “The Interrupters,” three “violence interrupters” try to protect their community from the violence they once employed by reminding those prone to violence to think thoughts that will keep them from acting out in emotion (e.g., “You don’t want to go to jail.”). To control your negative emotions, rather than letting them control you, see past the pain of the moment to the goal.
As Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön advises (with respect to fear — though it applies to any overpowering emotion): You can listen to it and have respect for it. You can even be convinced by it. But if you don’t do what it says, it has no power. Don’t do what it says.