During a recent interview on a mental health show, the guest psychologist made a comment that resonated with me:
Anxiety is a liar that predicts doom. And it makes a great case for why everything is about to go to hell and crumble before our eyes. But it’s simply not true.
What each person needs, the doctor suggested, is a good in house lawyer. Some archetype of our logical self who can notice and name our feelings of anxiety, and then calmly open up their briefcase and say, your honor, some questions for the defendant.
Can you rationally support this belief?
Is there any evidence that exists of the truth of this belief?
What evidence exists of the falseness of this belief?
What’s the worst thing that could happen if this believe is true?
Did you have sexual relations with that woman?
Okay that last one was just for fun. But these types of questions are common practice in the world of cognitive behavioral therapy. They give someone’s inner attorney a chance to challenge and change unhelpful distortions.
And one of the reasons they’re so effective as anxiety management tools is, they blow apart our brain’s prehistoric propensity towards black or white thinking. They hold up a mirror to the human absurdity of which we’re all guilty, and remind us that whatever is happening to us, we’re not engaged in a battle to save our lives.
It’s not the emergency our mind tells us it is. And things are not about to go to hell and crumble before our eyes. That’s just the lie our anxiety wants us to believe, lest we forget to fire all of our weapons at once, and get eaten alive by hungry animals.
Seligmen’s research on learned optimism says that the key to making our counter argument against the mind is remembering that most things are not permanent, pervasive or personal. Even if they are painful, powerful and preposterous.
What’s beautiful about this model is, it allows enough breathing room for us to notice, name and feel our feelings, but there’s a boundary around their long term impact.
We can announce to ourselves that we’re super pissed or disgusted or whatever, and really let those emotions course through our veins for a short time.
But also have faith that those feelings, like all feelings, are not our fault, they’re just weather patterns that have a beginning, middle and end.
To quote my yoga instructor, the brain is a bad neighborhood, stay out of it.
LET ME ASK YA THIS…
How will your inner lawyer mount an evidence campaign against your lying mind?