A lot of people feel unsettled and generally anxious. World events and politics seem to be contributing to it. It’s hard to turn on the radio or TV without hearing about some new calamity or other: extreme weather, the latest bombing/shooting, economic markets that freak with every new rumor. Like staring at a traffic accident, we get pulled into all the scary stuff happening out there, even when we realize that bad news is exaggerated to pump up ratings.
We can turn off the news but what about that sense of anxiety concerning our own lives? Generations ago, life seemed simpler and more stable. Marriages and jobs lasted a lifetime. We didn’t worry about what was happening halfway across the world because we didn’t know about it. We felt the support of extended family and we knew our neighbors. Life wasn’t always idyllic, especially for some people, but it seemed more predictable.
Today, marriages can end before the ink on the wedding license dries. Jobs depend on quarterly earnings almost more than good performance and hard work. Our families live thousands of miles away and we hardly know our neighbors. It’s easy to get wound up over all the things you cannot control. We feel anxious.
When we feel anxious, we are imagining a bad outcome for something that hasn’t happened yet, right? We might be setting goals, saying affirmations and working really hard toward the results we want. But, if we’re anxious and worried about it, somewhere in our minds we’re imagining the result that we don’t want. Some part of us believes that the boogie man is poised out there in the future waiting to pull the rug out from under us.
Think about it: Why would you be anxious about paying next month’s bills? It’s because part of you believes you might not come up with enough money to cover them. Why would you be anxious about an upcoming speech or presentation? It’s because somewhere you have the image of yourself failing miserably. Why would you be worried about driving in the snow? It’s because you’re considering the possibility of skidding out and having an accident.
“But, wait, Dr. Matt. I’ve had those bad things happen to me in the past. It’s just common sense to think they might happen again in the future.”
Do you really want the failures of your past to determine your future? That’s what you’re doing when you apply past experiences and project them into the future with your anxiety.
In my workshops, I teach a process based on Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) and initially developed by my dad, using a “timeline.” I’ve tweaked the process and it has evolved into Mental Emotional Release® (MER) therapy. We use it for a number of issues, including PTSD, phobias, emotional baggage and limiting beliefs. We also use it to release anxiety and project positive outcomes into the future. Here’s how it works:
1. Establish your “timeline.” Our unconscious minds organize us—our memories, our present, what we anticipate in the future—using time. If you stop and think about it, you know where that timeline is in relation to your body. Bring up the memory of an event in your past. As you think about it, where is it in relation to your body? Many people experience the past behind them but it also could be to your left or your right. Now think about something that will be happening in the future. Where is that in relation to your body? In front of you? To the left or right? Just notice that you can draw a line between where your past is and where your future is. This is your timeline.
2. Now think about a specific event in the future that you are anxious about. Maybe it’s a presentation or a difficult conversation you need to have. It might be the time of the month when you sit down to pay bills. Get that specific event clearly in your mind and notice how you feel about it. You might have a clenched jaw or queasy stomach. You might have a feeling of panic or hopelessness. Whatever you feel, notice it.
3. Next, think about the best possible outcome for that event. What would that successful conclusion be? How would that feel? What would happen to let you know that you were successful? For example, maybe you easily pay all your bills and still have money left over. Get as clear an image of success as you can, even if you’re not clear how this could possibly happen.
4. Now close your eyes and simply float above your timeline and out into the future until you are 15 minutes after the successful conclusion of the event. Float for a moment above your best possible outcome. (Don’t worry about doing this exactly right. Just play along.)
5. Float down and into that moment.Notice what you see, hear and feel. Stay for a few moments to bask in your success.
6. When you’ve had a clear experience of that moment, float back up above your timeline and back into the present moment. Open your eyes, take a few deep breaths and look around
7. Finally, bring to mind the event in the future you were anxious about. As you think of it, notice how you feel. Do you have a different attitude about it? Do you feel more confident, more capable? And, can you see how your new attitude could lead you to a better outcome than your old anxiety?
For most people, this simple exercise removes or substantially decreases their anxiety. The shift in attitude feels so natural that they have trouble believing that they were ever anxious about it in the first place. Use this process to project the outcomes you want into your future, not the ones you don’t want.
“Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D. is the President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER) therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. To reach Dr. Matthew B. James visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com