I suffered debilitating anxiety for decades.
It nearly took my life. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever dealt with that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Thankfully, I healed from debilitating anxiety many years ago.
But I’ve been lying to myself. I’ll admit it right here.
I still have a small amount of anxiety as it never fully leaves your life. The common view is that anxiety is bad. There are millions of bloggers and self-help gurus telling you to “quit your anxiety.”
What if they’re all wrong?
Negatives can become positives
I’d never go back in time and want to be without anxiety. It crippled my life but it reinvented it, too.
When people ask me in job interviews what my greatest advantage is, I tell them “letting anxiety nearly ruin my life.”
I couldn’t sit idle or do nothing when I had it. Anxiety made me not even trust the ground I walked on. It made me think at any moment I could projectile vomit into a stranger’s face or collapse from a heart attack.
When you don’t trust yourself you can’t function.
So you’re forced to take action and do something with your life. That process is what helped me find writing.
The weakness we hate is the weakness that can define us. It comes down to how you think about the weakness.
“Most successful people are just an anxiety disorder harnessed for productivity”
If you have debilitating anxiety then obviously seek medical advice.
But if you have mild anxiety (like what I’m left with) it’s not a bad thing. This quote above from Andrew Wilkinson reminded me almost all successful people I’ve met in the last 8 years were anxious.
They used the anxiety as a way to stay on track. Anxiety reminded them of the legacy they wanted to leave. It reminded them their families wouldn’t be alive forever.
We can harness our anxiety for productivity. I do it every day.
If I don’t sit down to write I feel a little anxious. If I don’t go to the gym I feel like my health is going down which leads to small levels of anxiety.
These aren’t negatives because without them I’d probably do nothing. I’d sit at home with no job and get lazy. That’s what no one tells you about self-employment. But with a healthy level of anxiety I can get stuff done.
“Everything we do is infused with the energy with which we do it. If we’re frantic, life will be frantic. If we’re peaceful, life will be peaceful.”
Anxiety is energy.
And energy fuels our lives. When energy runs out marriages end or founders quit their startups. Energy is how we survive.
This quote above from Marianne may seem out of place. In her model of the world, if we’re anxious then life will be anxious.
But I disagree.
Everything we do is infused with the energy in which we do it, therefore, if we’re a little anxious we’re a little more motivated and energetic than a normal person.
The energy shows up and we harness it.
- We use it to get rid of time-wasters in our emails.
- We use it to keep meetings on time — or skip them.
- We use it to find a romantic partner who is good enough rather than spend the rest of our lives looking for “the one” that only exists in Cinderella.
“The more you build, the more anxiety you get when you stop building”
This is how I feel about writing online.
At the start of my journey, whether I wrote or not, it didn’t faze me. After all, I didn’t write before so I wasn’t missing out on anything.
As my writing habit grew stronger I began to see some results. When I didn’t write those results disappeared.
- The new friends stopped
- The comments stopped
- The money stopped
So I got a little anxious when I didn’t write. The anxiety turned into a healthy addiction that ensured I didn’t give up the habit.
Anxiety can build life-changing habits.
“Anxiety is the gap between what you are doing and what you think you should be doing”
The people we lie to the most is ourselves.
Our brain purposely forgets important things so we can chase dopamine or fulfill some naughty short-term desire.
When we get a little anxious it acts as a reminder of what we maybe should have been doing. It helps keep us accountable and shut down the lies in our head that enable too much comfort/pleasure.
If you wonder why you’re feeling anxious, think about what you know you should be doing.
When I used to get up and give Toastmaster public speeches, sometimes I’d feel overwhelmingly anxious, like I’d wanna poo everywhere on the stage.
Those were the times I hadn’t pre-written a speech or didn’t rehearse enough. Anxiety was a flashing red warning light.
Anxiety tells the truth.
The big problem with a little anxiety
So far I’ve given you the rainbows and unicorns version.
Entrepreneur Sahil Bloom opened my eyes to the other side of the anxiety equation. He says many successful people have a deep fear or paranoia that all their success will disappear.
This creates two dynamics:
Positive — drive for continued growth
Negative — enough is never enough
That’s the game you play when you try to use a little anxiety to enhance your goals like I do.
The solution, of course, is to find a balance. Obviously that’s not easy but it’s 100% possible.
Anxiety has an unhealthy stigma.
Yes, anxiety can become debilitating. But at the same time a little anxiety is good for your life. It’s energy that swings you into action and helps you not waste time doing dumb stuff.
Dial in a little anxiety to create the greatest motivation one can get.