All of us have certain things that trigger anxiety – these differ for each person because our life experience is different and therefore we have differing beliefs and perspectives. For some a trigger might be public speaking and for others it is dealing with someone who is a bit “difficult.” (We could have a long debate about what difficult means, but I’ll save that for another blog.)
We feel our anxiety because a specific part of our brain sees these things as threatening. Unfortunately this bit of our hard wiring reacts as if we are facing death. Therefore, our bodies get ready to run away (from a sabre-tooth tiger) or stand up and fight (with the axe wielding member of an enemy tribe.) It’s a primitive response that is not so helpful if what you are trying to do is speak to your boss! Phobias, like fear of heights, spiders, snakes, the dark etc, are extreme versions of this anxiety.
Understanding what’s going on is part of the battle. I took a friend sailing a while back and was able to help him see a new perspective on his anxiety. I’ve written about it here. We have learned to be anxious about certain things. And we can unlearn it.
This is patently not so… but what if?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few months and a lot of a lot, in the last few days. (The EU Referendum was 5 days ago.)
At times we do things and then wish we had held off or had done things in a different way. “If only I had waited until after the weekend” “If only I had waited until after the second interview” “If only I had turned East rather than West, left earlier, left later, kept my mouth shut, spoke up sooner, had stayed home, had gone out, had voted differently.”
Thoughts like this can keep us awake at night, which is destructive both mentally and physically. And wondering “what if…” is a waste of precious resources. We have already spent time churning over different options and taken action based on our thoughts about those options. It is pointless to re-do the thinking that we have already done, or that we perhaps should have done earlier.
How about looking at this from a different perspective? What if there was no such thing as a wrong choice? What benefit would there be if that were true?
No waste of energy considering the what ifs
We will never know the result of taking a different path from the one we took. We’ll never be able to compare the outcomes of all the choices. It is possible that the way we chose was the better choice after all. Since we’ll never know, to fret over it is to put energy into a pointless activity. That energy could be better spent moving forward on the path we did take.
This is not a manifesto to be careless about making choices; clearly we need to put our efforts into making good decisions. It is also not a comment on what happened last week; there were intelligent people on both sides that voted with their consciences for good reasons.