A few years ago, I had an argument with a friend about “my” anxiety. We were on our way to his house, and I was driving. I mentioned that I was thinking about how I would navigate his difficult driveway and he remarked on the fact that I was already thinking about that. He said that he had had similar anxiety in the past and he had worked on it.
This set something off in me and, angry, I said that forward thinking wasn’t a bad thing. It was why I was so good at what I did at the time – consulting. The companies I consulted for needed someone who could think about the possibilities before they happened.
Years later, having worked towards better managing anxiety, I understand why this way is better. Since anxiety has far less power for me nowadays, opportunities have opened up in my life. But to many people who experience anxiety, my past objection makes sense. Anxiety seems necessary to success.
The thing is, that message is based on thoughts related to the very same anxiety. If you are able to take a step away from that perspective, you can see that, if you can better manage anxiety, you are actually better placed to succeed.
Anxiety vs. forward thinking
What’s the difference between anxiety and forward thinking? Doesn’t anxiety drive you to consider all possibilities?
There is one basic difference: intentionality. When forward thinking, you are making the choice to consider all possibilities. When driven by anxiety, considering the possibilities is an automatic reaction.
You might think that these are essentially the same thing. Ultimately, you are thinking ahead and problem solving. However, intentionality changes exactly what you are thinking about.
When in response to anxiety, your thinking is all about what could go wrong. You are not thinking expansively or logically about it. On the flipside, forward thinking is all about rational, expansive thinking. You look without bias at the possibilities, able to see them more clearly. You don’t end up focusing only on the possibilities that drive your anxiety up, and you give time to what’s more likely instead of what is more frightening.
Do I need anxiety?
The reality for most humans is that it is often our automatic defense mechanisms that lead to our strengths. You learned at a young age that life was unstable and you needed to prepare for all possibilities. Because of years of doing this, you are quite good at it.
This is not going to go away if you better manage anxiety. You will never lose your troubleshooting skills, as seeing all possibilities is second nature. But you will stop basing your decisions on what scares you.
The experience of anxiety can be exhausting. The thought of living life without that anxiety might seem more exhausting, but it is worth working towards a life not built on what might go wrong. There are steps you can take to get there, unlocking so many more opportunities.