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#137 Overcome Anxiety

 
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In The Possibility Podcast episode 137, I share my approach for overcoming anxiety, fear and distress cultivated from principles of quantum physics inspired initially by the book The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra.

By learning to embrace uncertainty fear dissipates and we can become free to experience the wonders of life.

I’d love to hear what you think! Be sure to leave a comment with your own thoughts and questions!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #137

Hello everybody and welcome to the Possibility Podcast. I’m your host Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.

In today’s episode, we’re going to be exploring the phenomenon of anxiety, what this word means, what the experience is like, and how you can do far more than cope with it or manage it, but overcome it. When I hear people speaking about coping with anxiety, I feel very frustrated. It is not a condition that you have to remain stuck with. And simply treating it with meds is not the answer. Although the meds may give you some relief from the deep distress of anxiety, they also create a reliance and a dependence whereby you come to think that the only way you could treat your anxiety is to medicate it, to remove from the surface the great distress that you’re feeling and the fear that you’re feeling. So ironically, although the meds give you some temporary or instantaneous relief, it kind of cements you to the problem.

Let me begin by sharing my first experience of significant anxiety. I was recently divorced. I woke up one beautiful spring morning and went for a bike ride. My sons that particular day were at their mom’s, which was unusual because they live full time with me. So I headed out and thought I’d have a great bike ride and enjoy my day. After a few minutes into the ride, I begin to suffer from anxiety. In fact, it was a full-blown anxiety attack. I had fearful thoughts about my future, what different aspects of my life were going to look like. They were unknown and I was engulfed in fear.

I turned the bike around and headed back home, not having any idea what kind of relief that might provide me with. As I got back into the house, I pulled a book from the bookshelf that I had never read before and it was called The Turning Point. I should say aptly called The Turning Point. I began to read about this paradigm shift. By the way, I should mention that The Turning Point was written by Frijof Capra, a quantum physicist. So Capra spoke of this shift in worldview of paradigms, of how we see reality operating. He described at great length how we had lived under a Newtonian 17th century view of reality, which pictured life and reality as a giant machine. We became that machine. We became the cogs in the machine, separate and disconnected from one another, which absolutely destroyed our ability to have any sense of meaning and purpose in life. It was what was called a deterministic worldview. It required outside force to create change. We were inert, stuck objects in this machine. No meaning, no purpose, no sense of humanity, a very inhospitable place to live.

But Capra started to describe this emerging worldview, which had been coming at us now for 80, 90 years. It was born in the hard science of quantum physics. So quantum physics described a reality altogether different. This picture of reality, the quantum picture, was one of thorough, total, inseparable interconnection. In fact, interconnection is the wrong word because the word connection speaks to a separation. There was no separation. Reality was one seamless, inseparable whole. And we were part of that reality. So that was rich with meaning and purpose because everything we did or didn’t do impacted the whole. It was what quantum physicists referred to as a reality-making process.

Another important aspect of this worldview was that it was full of absolute potentiality and teeming with possibility. I noticed that within reading just a few pages, perhaps a chapter, that my anxiety was gone. It had retreated. Not only was it gone, I was feeling intrigued and excited. Well, that process for me has set off a process of inquiry and development and approaches and methods toward improving the human condition that have gone on for decades.

So going back to that particular day, my fears retreated and I felt emboldened. It was for me, just as the title of the book suggested, the turning point. My turning point. I changed my beliefs and my thinking to conform and align with this new worldview. It led me to write my book, The Possibility Principle. It allowed me to integrate this new way of thinking and believing into my therapy practice and to assist all those who come across my path.

So let’s turn now to this word, anxiety, and get a sense of what it means. By anxiety, I don’t simply mean stress. Stress is normal in our hurried lives. When we adapt to challenges, it produces stress. Stress can be exhilarating. Stress is the result of our deeper engagement with life. It can lead to growth, new learning, and productivity. But when stress turns to distress, or think of that as fear, it impedes our ability to live well, to thrive. It takes us out of being present in the moment. Distress calcifies and becomes anxiety. It turns what should be innocuous moments into calamities, whereby our thoughts tend to catastrophize situations which are really not alarming. It robs us of a joyful, well-lived life.

In the United States, one in four people suffer from anxiety. At any given moment, 40 million people in the United States are suffering from anxiety. And worldwide, that number would be hundreds of millions. This is a staggering rate of affliction. The problem is we’ve adapted to this new norm. We’ve normalized it. This is a place of mass disquiet. We’ve become habituated to this, and we’ve adapted to an epidemic of anxiety. If 40 million people in the United States became suddenly ill without cause, the Center for Disease Control would be working overtime looking at it.

You see, as a culture, we look superficially into the cause, and we focus more on the treatment, once again, managing things through medication. We need to do better. In fact, we can do much better.

So the question remains, why do we suffer from this avalanche of anxiety? I find its roots in that old-world view of mechanism. And I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Here’s what I’ve learned by looking deeper into the phenomenon of anxiety, and particularly through the lens of my therapy practice. Anxiety at its source is due to our relationship with our thoughts. Anxiety is actually the process of our thought attaching to something fearful. These are often thoughts that are trying to know the future. They’re seeking certainty. We want to know what the future will bring and what the consequences of our decisions will be. But of course, the future is unknowable. That’s why we call it the future. And it’s our nature to ward off the unknown, the uncertain. That tendency to push away and ward off uncertainty and the unknown is, in my belief, the major cause of anxiety, which is my focus during this episode.

As a result, we’re not in the flow of life because we’re trying to hold back the future. People with anxiety feel stuck as they try to fight change, all the while wanting desperately to change. There are other sources of anxiety. Low self-esteem, which we’ll be discussing in a following episode, post-traumatic stress disorder, our tendency to analyze too much. Let’s pause. Ask yourself right now, take a moment, ask yourself, what causes me anxiety? Does it have something to do with your fear of uncertainty, of the future, of what could go wrong in the moments that lay ahead of you?

Let’s look at an example of this dread of uncertainty. I recall working with a middle-aged woman. I’ll call her Mary. Mary was mired in a very unhappy marriage. They went for couples counseling, which is unsuccessful. And as a couple, they experienced no joy and had little in common, no interest in common. She felt that her marriage was a drag on her life. The good news was that she was financially independent and had no children. So I asked her what for me was an obvious question. Why was she remaining married? And she said, I don’t know who I would be as a divorced woman. There it was, her fear of the unknown, which by the way, would offer her new possibilities. But it was the fear of the unknown that kept her imprisoned with anxiety. She was choosing to stay stuck in the known rather than open to the uncertainties, which could actually benefit her. So the known was miserable, but she preferred the known to the embrace of the unknown. The question, who would I be, froze Mary with fear.

We’ll come back to that question in a little while. Another client, whom I’ll call Tom, came to see me for help with his anxiety. Tom was a mid-level executive and supported his family well, but he had no peace of mind. Tom was constantly deluged with fear about what the future might bring him. His need for certainty overwhelmed him. If Tom was preparing a presentation for work, he would worry excessively about how it would be received by others, what questions might be asked of him. These concerns actually had a negative impact on his work. So you see, the very thing he feared, a mediocre performance, he was actually creating because of his fear. His anxiety impacted him at home as well. He was constantly questioning whether his wife would always love him. Tom’s addiction to needing to know the future blocked him from being present. It literally robbed him of joy, of connectedness with his family. He wasn’t present. And so I began to share some techniques I had developed regarding embracing certainty. Tom decided to take a break from therapy and work on them. We’ll get back to Tom in a bit.

Of course, there are places in which we do welcome and look forward to uncertainty. Sports is a great example. The thrill of not knowing the outcome keeps us riveted to the action on the field. Movies, why do we have spoiler alerts? Don’t ruin it for us. We want to be fully engaged in the uncertainty. The thrill of not knowing fuels part of the gross national product. But in our personal lives, we become choked by predictability and certainty. In my book, The Possibility Principle, I demonstrate how this stunts our relationships, our curiosity, and our total engagement with life.

Oscar Wilde famously said, uncertainty is the essence of romance. You may have heard me speak to or refer to this previously in different episodes or in my book. If you think about it, that quote is seemingly and arguably true. The experience, the romance of falling in love is steeped in uncertainty. We don’t know. We’re welcoming the uncertainty, the excitement, the not knowing. That’s what the connection is like. We’re not finishing each other’s sentences. We’re present and thrilled by the possibilities that await us. But once we secure the relationship, romance and passion tend to wither because we succumb to predictability. What begins as a spontaneous connecting, full of wonder and enchantment, falls from grace as we turned it into a predictable, formatted engagement. Romance, love, passion do not have to die, but we have to stop becoming wed to predictability. Newton’s 17th century worldview.

So how did we become addicted to this fear about the future? Tom’s fears, Mary’s anxieties, my anxiety attack, and millions of people in the United States and hundreds of millions throughout the world, they’re all informed by this old 17th century operating worldview. So the roots of our dependence uncertainty go back more than 300 years. Newton theorized that if we had enough information, what we today might call data, we could reasonably predict future events. Think of a billiard ball striking another ball and causing it to carry them off the side of the pool table. You know, with precise calculation and control of all the variables, you might be able to predict the outcome. But living life this way is dehumanizing. We aren’t objects. We aren’t cogs in the machine. We aren’t balls on the pool table. We are human beings.

This level of determinism sets up an arrow from past to present to future. Living life this way causes us to lose so much of what it means to be human. Our consciousness becomes subverted to being the equivalent of the billiard ball as we try to predict the future. Now determinism has benefited us in many ways, no doubt, but at the extreme, it leads to pathology. It leads to anxiety and it leads to depression. And it sets up a loss of wonder and curiosity. Look at how wonder and curiosity have become devalued in our world, our culture, and our lives. We live our lives as though we’re playing a chess match.

You know, when you play chess, you sit back, detached, calculating as you analyze the next move. We might worry about making a mistake, so we analyze more. The fear of making the wrong choice strangles us. We spend so much time engaged in the fear of making a mistake, it blocks us from our engagement in life. Fear of making mistakes preclude possibilities. This is imprisoning. The fear of making mistakes forecloses our possibilities. So we don’t move forward as a straight jacket of fear blocks us from joining in the flow of life. We worry so much about the consequences of our actions, but we pay so little or no attention to the consequences of our inactions. We don’t think about what will happen, what will the consequences be if I don’t act? What would the consequences have been for Mary if she remained married? The things that we don’t do have as great an impact on us as the things that we do choose to do. Too much analyzing speaks to our fear of making a mistake, and too much analyzing is a derivative of anxiety.

Do you feel anxious about making decisions? Then you’re probably seeking certainty and stuck. I remember working with a straight A college student attending an Ivy League college, but in his sophomore year, Andrew became immobilized when he had to select his major. He became so worried about making a mistake that he actually took a leave of absence from school rather than endure the risk of choosing the wrong major. His need for certainty, his acute analyzing about the right major caused him to lose his own inner voice and his own intuitive wisdom.

Okay, so that’s all the bad news, but let me pivot now and share the good news. Let’s go back to the turning point, the new game plan for life. Quantum physics stipulates that uncertainty is the norm of the universe. This came to us from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which shares that nothing is fixed or inert. Reality is flowing, interconnected, unfolding, participatory, rather a magical looking universe. We can be a part of that universe. This means that nothing is certain or predictable. And that my friends is great news.

You see, this reality is bubbling with potential and possibilities. And so we can jump into that new reality. We can participate in the reality making process that quantum physics describes. We can participate in constructing our own reality. Reality is creative and flowing and we can be too.

Think of it this way. Uncertainty equals possibility. Certainty precludes possibility.

Let’s get back to Tom. He came back into therapy with me after taking that hiatus. He couldn’t have been more excited as he shared his progress. I asked him how he accomplished it. He smiled, he was beaming, and he said his best friend was now uncertainty. His password on all of his devices was embrace, as in embrace uncertainty. You see, when you embrace what you fear, the fear dissolves. When you struggle with worrisome aspects of your life, ask yourself, how is my fear of the unknown getting in the way of my change process? Imagine yourself embracing and welcoming uncertainty and you’ll feel self-empowered. You’ll free yourself from the grip of anxiety and fear.

Going back to Mary, I created a visualization. It went something like this. I had Mary close her eyes and envision that she was standing by the banks of a river. I said, Mary, look at the river and let’s contemplate that the river metaphorically represents the flow of life. Mary, I want you to walk into the river and join in the flow of life. Few moments passed and I asked her where she saw herself and she says, well, I’m in the river now, Mel.

I said, what are you doing? She said, well, there’s a big boulder in the middle and I’ve grabbed a hold of it.

I asked Mary, why have you done that? And she said, well, the river bends to the right up ahead and I don’t know where it’s going so I’m grabbing a hold of this because I’m afraid of the unknown.

That was exactly the problem. I said, Mary, you’re not supposed to know where it’s going. That’s your future. You’re staying stuck in your hapless marriage, clinging to this boulder. You need to embrace the uncertainty and get into the flow of the river.

By the way, once you’re in the flow, you’re free to navigate. You’re not hapless. You’re not a victim. The victimhood is from holding on to that boulder.

We’re going to turn to a caller right now. Hi there. What’s your name?

Hi, Mel. My name is Liz.

Nice to meet you, Liz. What is it that you would like to discuss? I think it’s something pertinent to anxiety.

Yes. I’ve listened to a number of your podcasts and I find what you’re saying very thoughtful and provoking. So I’d like to dive into my own issues with anxiety and ask you some questions.

Please jump right in.

I find that from my day to day life, I am constantly thinking about the future and I get lost in my thoughts because I’m constantly thinking about the next day and what needs to be done. And it becomes overwhelming to me where I have 10 to 15 different thoughts flooding into my head at once. And that causes me to get out of breath, feel like I can’t breathe and start to have a panic attack.

Liz, are these fearful thoughts, I’m assuming? In other words, I wouldn’t think that these are joyful, happy thoughts about tomorrow that wouldn’t cause you distress, would it?

No, it would not.

So can you give us an example of the type of thoughts about tomorrow or the next hour or next month? What is the quality of those thoughts?

Very negative. What if something happens to my health? What if something happens with my heart? What if I have somebody get upset with me over a project that I did for them? What if someone’s not happy with something that I’ve done? What if I don’t get this all completed in time?

So your what if questions seem to set up the problem. You know, we can ask what if questions which are positive and optimistic. What if I do a great job? What if I fall in love tomorrow? What if I win the lotto? But your what ifs are joined or trained toward negativity, maybe calamity or catastrophe?

Absolutely, catastrophe.

Liz, do you have any idea of what has occurred in your life that aligns your fearful thoughts about the future? Do you have any sense of where that all started?

I think so. I’m a little unsure though.

Well, please share whatever idea that you might have.

Sure. So, you know, my father was sick for most of my life, and I constantly saw him struggle. And it was kind of one thing after the other. And I was kind of always waiting for that next thing to happen, which it did. And you know, I think it has something to do with the fact that I went through all that for years. And it was the same type of thing over and over again.

So this is this had an enormous impact on you. I don’t know if you’ve read my book or not, but I refer to these as wave collapses. Wave collapse refers to an event in your life, which constrained or blocked your possibilities, your state of potential. Some people have wave collapses that are just a moment in time, something traumatic. But what you’re describing would be a chronic wave collapse that you are dealing with your father’s health and fears about his well-being for how long, Liz?

Since I was in seventh grade, and I’m 35 now, so quite a long time.

Is your dad still alive?

Yes, he is. And he’s better and well.

So you experienced a chronic recurring of wave collapses as you worried about whether he will be okay?

Yes, correct.

So arguably, if you hadn’t had that kind of experience, you might not be talking to me now. You set up a groove in your thoughts where your thought seeks fear. And in this case, your thought sounds like it’s making things up. It’s making things up again in a somewhat catastrophic way, whereby a future event that you’re worried about is going to turn negative. So there are two things happening. As I have been sharing throughout this episode, fear of uncertainty creates anxiety. Now the uncertainty that you’re talking about and we’re discussing could be calamitous, but there is no way that we can ascertain the future with confidence. All we can do is be present in the moment. And in the moment, things sound like they’re relatively okay to you, aren’t they?

Absolutely.

So the problem is your thought is going off and trying not only to calculate the future, but it sounds like your thought is actually conjuring up bad results in that future, aren’t they?

Yes. Now, have you had any success in any of the methods that I’ve spoken about,
if you’re familiar with them, whereby you learn to see the thought and you stop yourself and you say, it’s just a thought and you see it and you say, it’s just a thought. And that may take you hundreds of times or thousands of times, but you’re creating a new muscle memory whereby you don’t actually become the thought, it’s just a thought. And you think to yourself, old thought, it’s going to cause me fear. I won’t detach. I’m going to release it. Have you tried that method?

I have, but not enough. And you were the one who introduced me to it.

Okay. So it’s actually a muscle memory whereby when I encourage people to do this, they may come back into a session with me or a phone call and they say, you know, I tried it 50 times. I saw my thought 50 times, but I haven’t succeeded. Well, it may require 500 times. Nobody can really determine how many times must you see the thought and separate to actually break free and have success. So all I can say is it sounds like you have cut off the process prematurely. In other words, until you succeed, we don’t want to stop. So just continue to see the thought. Some people actually put their forefinger vertically over their lips and just go to the thought. It’s just a thought. That thought is causing you immense apprehension and anxiety, and it’s not allowing you to actually remain present in the moment. So as you know, as well as I do, you’re having an incalculable amount of wasted moments in your life worrying about the future, which thankfully doesn’t play out the way you’re worried about. Does that sound accurate?

A hundred percent, Mel.

Okay. So Liz, what you need to do is say to yourself, the more I can see my thought and stop and not become the thought, the more that you can do that, the farther along you’re going to be in this process. You further the process by seeing it and releasing it. So you may recall from having heard previous podcasts or reading my book that when you can see your thought and not become the thought, that’s what I call thinking. There’s a moment when you’re thinking and you see the thought that you create a space for a new experience. So let’s imagine in a moment you have a worrisome thought about tomorrow. You stop, you pause, you say to yourself, ah, old thought, fearful thought, not going to go for the bait, not going to become that thought and pause. Let that space of possibility wash over you. Now new thinking would be that old thought is not going to do me any good. I don’t want to rob the moment I’m in. I’ll deal with whatever happens tomorrow, next hour, next week. When things happen, I’ll deal with them. But why do I want to waste my time and corrupt my life experience by contemplating fearful things that very often are never going to happen? Start your day, Liz, just practicing your thought and not just fearful thought, any thought that will enhance your ability to develop a muscle memory and also recall your insight. It’s your childhood experience around the illness of your dad that set up this worrisome feature. You don’t need that anymore. It doesn’t serve you any longer. Does that make sense to you?

Yes, Mel. Thank you so much.

Liz, one more question. Do you have anxiety around something that is not based on the future moment? That’s a tough question. In the present moment that you’re in, do you fare well in that present moment?

Not all the time. No.

So can you see your thoughts driving you toward negativity and fear?

I can.

Have you tried that method of seeing the fearful thought and just saying to yourself, shh, I don’t need you? Or saying to yourself, old thought, don’t judge the old thought. Don’t judge the fearful thought. Just see it. Let it pass over you and watch it drift away. And just try to recalculate so that your experience of being in the present moment grounds you.

Great. I would love to try this method, Mel. I remember I tried this a few times and then kind of gave up because I got agitated that it wasn’t really working. But I think I need to continue to practice. As you said, it’s a muscle. So it needs to constantly be worked on.

By the way, and it’s not a start and finish process because as you achieve this and accomplish this, you always want the ability to see your thought. So as an exercise, say to yourself, when you become aware of a fearful, anxious thought, say to yourself or out loud, if you’re alone, say to yourself, I’m having a thought. It’s an old thought. And my thought is having me fearful or worried about tomorrow or next week. Actually say it that way so you can see that thought is representing something fearful. It’s not in actuality. It’s your thought presenting fear. So stay with it and I’m sure you will succeed.

Thank you so much, Mel. This was wonderful. I appreciate your time and assistance.

My pleasure, Liz.

So folks, we can see that if reality is uncertain and you continue to seek certainty, you will become dysfunctional and anxious. So paradoxically, we must embrace uncertainty. After all, why is the word uncertain a negative? Think about that. For Mary, uncertainty about her future would be far better than certainty about the present. The very fact that uncertain has a negative aspect to it speaks to how our cultural indoctrination keeps us stuck in certainty. But how do we accomplish this? Let’s roll up our sleeves and take a look now at how we move forward.

Reality constantly flows, but we don’t. This new picture of reality, which is flowing and possibility laden, how do we join in to embrace uncertainty? We need to change our relationship with our thoughts. So how do we make this shift? Beliefs and old thoughts keep us stuck. Some of you may have heard me say this before, and I will reiterate it. The most important relationship you will ever have is not with your children, your parents, your spouse, your best friends, your partner. The relationship that will impact you far more than any other relationship is with your thoughts. But we never learned how to master our thinking and our relationship with our thoughts.

So let’s move toward how we get unstuck. We have to develop a muscle memory which allows us to see our thought. You see, if you don’t see your thought, you become your thought. In this case, we’re talking about fearful thought. But if I can see my thought, that’s what I call thinking. And if I can see my thought, I don’t need to become that thought. Take a moment and envision a fearful thought that you have often that brings up anxiety and fear. Now look at it and imagine saying to yourself, saying to the thought, shh, quiet down. It’s just a thought. That is thinking. Thinking is the moment of freedom that separates you from your thought. Developing this muscle memory, being able to see your thought is an exceptionally essential tool in breaking free not only from anxiety, but frombeing able to master your life. Throughout the course of your day, try an exercise whereby you simply check in and ask yourself what was the last thought that I had. Don’t judge it. Don’t evaluate it. Just see it. Develop that muscle memory. And then think to yourself, I am the thinker of that thought. That allows you wisdom.

Again, see the disturbing thought, in this case, fear of the future, anything setting up anxiety and distress, and just quiet the thought and say, shh, and release it. Envision it going down that river that I spoke of earlier. Those old fearful thoughts, no different than Liz had described in her phone call to me, they keep knocking at your door. But when you hear someone knock at the door, you don’t have to answer it. Now the technique for doing this is to be able to start to language it differently.

You see, thought is literal. It tricks us into this telling us the truth. What we want to do is see how the thought tricks us. And so you might say to yourself, I’m having a thought and it’s telling me. For instance, Mary, I’m having a thought which is telling me I don’t know who I would be as a divorced woman. She has separated from the thought if she says that. She’s having a thought. And then we could say, okay, here’s a different thought. I know who I am as a miserably unhappy married woman. Anxious thoughts trick us in that they are literal thoughts. They are telling you the truth about something, but it is not the truth. And the old thought does defend its territory. So you may be having the thought right now, this sounds hard to do. How do you know? Have you ever tried it? That is an example of old thought defending its territory.

Look at the thought, don’t become the thought. Now you may have another thought which is, this is not as easy as Mel is saying. Well, many of you go to the gym, work out, perhaps strenuously. You embrace the discomfort of working out physically to get the benefits for your body and for your health. What if we did the same in our lives? What if we embrace the discomfort to break out of our old familiar zone so we could grow? That creates possibilities. Quantum physics reveals that reality is in the state of perpetual potential. Everything is just waiting to potentialize and all possibilities are waiting to be summoned moment by moment.

I had a thought years ago, the same is true for us. In the nanosecond between our thoughts, we exist in a state of absolute potential. But if we keep being blinded and habituated to the same old thoughts, we can never reach those new possibilities. If you’re feeling anxious, fearful, pause and ask yourself what thought you had that set up that feeling. Thought and feeling operate together. My belief is that thought precedes feeling. So you can track back and find the thought and say, it was just a thought. Many people think that we’re hardwired. Again that comes from 17th century Newtonian thinking. We are not hardwired. Our thoughts and our feelings leave their imprint on our brain. It’s not the other way around. You can learn to get unstuck by embracing uncertainty. If everything in reality appears to be in flow, in perpetual movement, we must flow too or we will dysfunction. When we analyze too much, live in life again like we’re in a chess match, get lost in measuring or fearful thought, we are not in the flow and we are not present. We miss the magic that life can offer.

So I’m proposing a new game plan for life. One based upon the new sciences. One in which we embrace and accept with relish the reality of uncertainty instead of avoiding it. You cannot ride the waves of change at the same time that you try to avoid change. Everything is in flow. The old rule book for living causes us to lose wonder, enchantment and curiosity as we get stuck in the groove of certainty. I took all of these principles from quantum physics and I applied them to my life and to my work and I’ve had tremendous results.

Few last thoughts on this. We often have an intention to make change. Around the time of the new year, we may even set intentions and make new year’s resolutions. Why do they not succeed? Well intention is not enough. We need to have what I call willful intention. Imagine that you’re out on a sailboat at sea and the mast is down, the sail is down, but you want to move so you hoist the sail. That’s your intention to move. But you’re not going to move without wind. In your own lives, the willfulness is the wind. The wind in this case is your embrace of uncertainty. So think about it. Would you rather remain in a reality that pictures the universe as cold, deterministic, disconnected and inhospitable for us? Or would you rather open up to a wondrous, connected, possibility-laden adventure of life and live your life as an adventure without fear? Choose your worldview and you’ve chosen your life experience. This embrace of uncertainty frees us from the harness of anxiety, lets us join in the flow of possibilities. To envision and actualize the future you long for, you must re-envision uncertainty and turn it into your ally. How you choose to experience the next moment is your choosing, not reacting. You see, once you’re no longer a victim of your thoughts and imprisoned by them, but the thinker of your life, this allows you to be present and to evoke possibility. You can make this a defining moment for you.

Now the work and commitment to proceed with this is right in front of you. The four takeaways from today’s episode are, embrace what makes you feel uncomfortable. Two, welcome uncertainty. Three, watch your old thoughts and see how they defend their territory. And four, embrace the new thinking. Quick fixes don’t work, but making a bold statement to yourself that I am choosing to overcome distress, anxiety, and fear, and I will follow a new path forward and commit to it, will allow you not only to overcome anxiety and distress, but to thoroughly flourish in your life experience.

We’ll be discussing anxiety some more in future episodes as we look at different aspects, low self-esteem, too much analyzing, the tendency of our mind to fracture a wholeness, or all other important considerations.

Wishing you a full embrace of uncertainty and a reaching of the possibilities in your life. Until next time, be well.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at mel at melschwartz.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.

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In The Possibility Podcast episode 137, I share my approach for overcoming anxiety, fear and distress cultivated from principles of quantum physics inspired initially by the book The Turning Point by Fritjof Capra.

By learning to embrace uncertainty fear dissipates and we can become free to experience the wonders of life.

I’d love to hear what you think! Be sure to leave a comment with your own thoughts and questions!

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Transcript of The Possibility Podcast with Mel Schwartz #137

Hello everybody and welcome to the Possibility Podcast. I’m your host Mel Schwartz. I practice psychotherapy, marriage counseling, and I am the author of the book The Possibility Principle, the companion to this podcast. I hope to be your thought provocateur and I’ll be introducing you to new ways of thinking and a new game plan for life.

In today’s episode, we’re going to be exploring the phenomenon of anxiety, what this word means, what the experience is like, and how you can do far more than cope with it or manage it, but overcome it. When I hear people speaking about coping with anxiety, I feel very frustrated. It is not a condition that you have to remain stuck with. And simply treating it with meds is not the answer. Although the meds may give you some relief from the deep distress of anxiety, they also create a reliance and a dependence whereby you come to think that the only way you could treat your anxiety is to medicate it, to remove from the surface the great distress that you’re feeling and the fear that you’re feeling. So ironically, although the meds give you some temporary or instantaneous relief, it kind of cements you to the problem.

Let me begin by sharing my first experience of significant anxiety. I was recently divorced. I woke up one beautiful spring morning and went for a bike ride. My sons that particular day were at their mom’s, which was unusual because they live full time with me. So I headed out and thought I’d have a great bike ride and enjoy my day. After a few minutes into the ride, I begin to suffer from anxiety. In fact, it was a full-blown anxiety attack. I had fearful thoughts about my future, what different aspects of my life were going to look like. They were unknown and I was engulfed in fear.

I turned the bike around and headed back home, not having any idea what kind of relief that might provide me with. As I got back into the house, I pulled a book from the bookshelf that I had never read before and it was called The Turning Point. I should say aptly called The Turning Point. I began to read about this paradigm shift. By the way, I should mention that The Turning Point was written by Frijof Capra, a quantum physicist. So Capra spoke of this shift in worldview of paradigms, of how we see reality operating. He described at great length how we had lived under a Newtonian 17th century view of reality, which pictured life and reality as a giant machine. We became that machine. We became the cogs in the machine, separate and disconnected from one another, which absolutely destroyed our ability to have any sense of meaning and purpose in life. It was what was called a deterministic worldview. It required outside force to create change. We were inert, stuck objects in this machine. No meaning, no purpose, no sense of humanity, a very inhospitable place to live.

But Capra started to describe this emerging worldview, which had been coming at us now for 80, 90 years. It was born in the hard science of quantum physics. So quantum physics described a reality altogether different. This picture of reality, the quantum picture, was one of thorough, total, inseparable interconnection. In fact, interconnection is the wrong word because the word connection speaks to a separation. There was no separation. Reality was one seamless, inseparable whole. And we were part of that reality. So that was rich with meaning and purpose because everything we did or didn’t do impacted the whole. It was what quantum physicists referred to as a reality-making process.

Another important aspect of this worldview was that it was full of absolute potentiality and teeming with possibility. I noticed that within reading just a few pages, perhaps a chapter, that my anxiety was gone. It had retreated. Not only was it gone, I was feeling intrigued and excited. Well, that process for me has set off a process of inquiry and development and approaches and methods toward improving the human condition that have gone on for decades.

So going back to that particular day, my fears retreated and I felt emboldened. It was for me, just as the title of the book suggested, the turning point. My turning point. I changed my beliefs and my thinking to conform and align with this new worldview. It led me to write my book, The Possibility Principle. It allowed me to integrate this new way of thinking and believing into my therapy practice and to assist all those who come across my path.

So let’s turn now to this word, anxiety, and get a sense of what it means. By anxiety, I don’t simply mean stress. Stress is normal in our hurried lives. When we adapt to challenges, it produces stress. Stress can be exhilarating. Stress is the result of our deeper engagement with life. It can lead to growth, new learning, and productivity. But when stress turns to distress, or think of that as fear, it impedes our ability to live well, to thrive. It takes us out of being present in the moment. Distress calcifies and becomes anxiety. It turns what should be innocuous moments into calamities, whereby our thoughts tend to catastrophize situations which are really not alarming. It robs us of a joyful, well-lived life.

In the United States, one in four people suffer from anxiety. At any given moment, 40 million people in the United States are suffering from anxiety. And worldwide, that number would be hundreds of millions. This is a staggering rate of affliction. The problem is we’ve adapted to this new norm. We’ve normalized it. This is a place of mass disquiet. We’ve become habituated to this, and we’ve adapted to an epidemic of anxiety. If 40 million people in the United States became suddenly ill without cause, the Center for Disease Control would be working overtime looking at it.

You see, as a culture, we look superficially into the cause, and we focus more on the treatment, once again, managing things through medication. We need to do better. In fact, we can do much better.

So the question remains, why do we suffer from this avalanche of anxiety? I find its roots in that old-world view of mechanism. And I’ll get to that in just a moment.

Here’s what I’ve learned by looking deeper into the phenomenon of anxiety, and particularly through the lens of my therapy practice. Anxiety at its source is due to our relationship with our thoughts. Anxiety is actually the process of our thought attaching to something fearful. These are often thoughts that are trying to know the future. They’re seeking certainty. We want to know what the future will bring and what the consequences of our decisions will be. But of course, the future is unknowable. That’s why we call it the future. And it’s our nature to ward off the unknown, the uncertain. That tendency to push away and ward off uncertainty and the unknown is, in my belief, the major cause of anxiety, which is my focus during this episode.

As a result, we’re not in the flow of life because we’re trying to hold back the future. People with anxiety feel stuck as they try to fight change, all the while wanting desperately to change. There are other sources of anxiety. Low self-esteem, which we’ll be discussing in a following episode, post-traumatic stress disorder, our tendency to analyze too much. Let’s pause. Ask yourself right now, take a moment, ask yourself, what causes me anxiety? Does it have something to do with your fear of uncertainty, of the future, of what could go wrong in the moments that lay ahead of you?

Let’s look at an example of this dread of uncertainty. I recall working with a middle-aged woman. I’ll call her Mary. Mary was mired in a very unhappy marriage. They went for couples counseling, which is unsuccessful. And as a couple, they experienced no joy and had little in common, no interest in common. She felt that her marriage was a drag on her life. The good news was that she was financially independent and had no children. So I asked her what for me was an obvious question. Why was she remaining married? And she said, I don’t know who I would be as a divorced woman. There it was, her fear of the unknown, which by the way, would offer her new possibilities. But it was the fear of the unknown that kept her imprisoned with anxiety. She was choosing to stay stuck in the known rather than open to the uncertainties, which could actually benefit her. So the known was miserable, but she preferred the known to the embrace of the unknown. The question, who would I be, froze Mary with fear.

We’ll come back to that question in a little while. Another client, whom I’ll call Tom, came to see me for help with his anxiety. Tom was a mid-level executive and supported his family well, but he had no peace of mind. Tom was constantly deluged with fear about what the future might bring him. His need for certainty overwhelmed him. If Tom was preparing a presentation for work, he would worry excessively about how it would be received by others, what questions might be asked of him. These concerns actually had a negative impact on his work. So you see, the very thing he feared, a mediocre performance, he was actually creating because of his fear. His anxiety impacted him at home as well. He was constantly questioning whether his wife would always love him. Tom’s addiction to needing to know the future blocked him from being present. It literally robbed him of joy, of connectedness with his family. He wasn’t present. And so I began to share some techniques I had developed regarding embracing certainty. Tom decided to take a break from therapy and work on them. We’ll get back to Tom in a bit.

Of course, there are places in which we do welcome and look forward to uncertainty. Sports is a great example. The thrill of not knowing the outcome keeps us riveted to the action on the field. Movies, why do we have spoiler alerts? Don’t ruin it for us. We want to be fully engaged in the uncertainty. The thrill of not knowing fuels part of the gross national product. But in our personal lives, we become choked by predictability and certainty. In my book, The Possibility Principle, I demonstrate how this stunts our relationships, our curiosity, and our total engagement with life.

Oscar Wilde famously said, uncertainty is the essence of romance. You may have heard me speak to or refer to this previously in different episodes or in my book. If you think about it, that quote is seemingly and arguably true. The experience, the romance of falling in love is steeped in uncertainty. We don’t know. We’re welcoming the uncertainty, the excitement, the not knowing. That’s what the connection is like. We’re not finishing each other’s sentences. We’re present and thrilled by the possibilities that await us. But once we secure the relationship, romance and passion tend to wither because we succumb to predictability. What begins as a spontaneous connecting, full of wonder and enchantment, falls from grace as we turned it into a predictable, formatted engagement. Romance, love, passion do not have to die, but we have to stop becoming wed to predictability. Newton’s 17th century worldview.

So how did we become addicted to this fear about the future? Tom’s fears, Mary’s anxieties, my anxiety attack, and millions of people in the United States and hundreds of millions throughout the world, they’re all informed by this old 17th century operating worldview. So the roots of our dependence uncertainty go back more than 300 years. Newton theorized that if we had enough information, what we today might call data, we could reasonably predict future events. Think of a billiard ball striking another ball and causing it to carry them off the side of the pool table. You know, with precise calculation and control of all the variables, you might be able to predict the outcome. But living life this way is dehumanizing. We aren’t objects. We aren’t cogs in the machine. We aren’t balls on the pool table. We are human beings.

This level of determinism sets up an arrow from past to present to future. Living life this way causes us to lose so much of what it means to be human. Our consciousness becomes subverted to being the equivalent of the billiard ball as we try to predict the future. Now determinism has benefited us in many ways, no doubt, but at the extreme, it leads to pathology. It leads to anxiety and it leads to depression. And it sets up a loss of wonder and curiosity. Look at how wonder and curiosity have become devalued in our world, our culture, and our lives. We live our lives as though we’re playing a chess match.

You know, when you play chess, you sit back, detached, calculating as you analyze the next move. We might worry about making a mistake, so we analyze more. The fear of making the wrong choice strangles us. We spend so much time engaged in the fear of making a mistake, it blocks us from our engagement in life. Fear of making mistakes preclude possibilities. This is imprisoning. The fear of making mistakes forecloses our possibilities. So we don’t move forward as a straight jacket of fear blocks us from joining in the flow of life. We worry so much about the consequences of our actions, but we pay so little or no attention to the consequences of our inactions. We don’t think about what will happen, what will the consequences be if I don’t act? What would the consequences have been for Mary if she remained married? The things that we don’t do have as great an impact on us as the things that we do choose to do. Too much analyzing speaks to our fear of making a mistake, and too much analyzing is a derivative of anxiety.

Do you feel anxious about making decisions? Then you’re probably seeking certainty and stuck. I remember working with a straight A college student attending an Ivy League college, but in his sophomore year, Andrew became immobilized when he had to select his major. He became so worried about making a mistake that he actually took a leave of absence from school rather than endure the risk of choosing the wrong major. His need for certainty, his acute analyzing about the right major caused him to lose his own inner voice and his own intuitive wisdom.

Okay, so that’s all the bad news, but let me pivot now and share the good news. Let’s go back to the turning point, the new game plan for life. Quantum physics stipulates that uncertainty is the norm of the universe. This came to us from Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle, which shares that nothing is fixed or inert. Reality is flowing, interconnected, unfolding, participatory, rather a magical looking universe. We can be a part of that universe. This means that nothing is certain or predictable. And that my friends is great news.

You see, this reality is bubbling with potential and possibilities. And so we can jump into that new reality. We can participate in the reality making process that quantum physics describes. We can participate in constructing our own reality. Reality is creative and flowing and we can be too.

Think of it this way. Uncertainty equals possibility. Certainty precludes possibility.

Let’s get back to Tom. He came back into therapy with me after taking that hiatus. He couldn’t have been more excited as he shared his progress. I asked him how he accomplished it. He smiled, he was beaming, and he said his best friend was now uncertainty. His password on all of his devices was embrace, as in embrace uncertainty. You see, when you embrace what you fear, the fear dissolves. When you struggle with worrisome aspects of your life, ask yourself, how is my fear of the unknown getting in the way of my change process? Imagine yourself embracing and welcoming uncertainty and you’ll feel self-empowered. You’ll free yourself from the grip of anxiety and fear.

Going back to Mary, I created a visualization. It went something like this. I had Mary close her eyes and envision that she was standing by the banks of a river. I said, Mary, look at the river and let’s contemplate that the river metaphorically represents the flow of life. Mary, I want you to walk into the river and join in the flow of life. Few moments passed and I asked her where she saw herself and she says, well, I’m in the river now, Mel.

I said, what are you doing? She said, well, there’s a big boulder in the middle and I’ve grabbed a hold of it.

I asked Mary, why have you done that? And she said, well, the river bends to the right up ahead and I don’t know where it’s going so I’m grabbing a hold of this because I’m afraid of the unknown.

That was exactly the problem. I said, Mary, you’re not supposed to know where it’s going. That’s your future. You’re staying stuck in your hapless marriage, clinging to this boulder. You need to embrace the uncertainty and get into the flow of the river.

By the way, once you’re in the flow, you’re free to navigate. You’re not hapless. You’re not a victim. The victimhood is from holding on to that boulder.

We’re going to turn to a caller right now. Hi there. What’s your name?

Hi, Mel. My name is Liz.

Nice to meet you, Liz. What is it that you would like to discuss? I think it’s something pertinent to anxiety.

Yes. I’ve listened to a number of your podcasts and I find what you’re saying very thoughtful and provoking. So I’d like to dive into my own issues with anxiety and ask you some questions.

Please jump right in.

I find that from my day to day life, I am constantly thinking about the future and I get lost in my thoughts because I’m constantly thinking about the next day and what needs to be done. And it becomes overwhelming to me where I have 10 to 15 different thoughts flooding into my head at once. And that causes me to get out of breath, feel like I can’t breathe and start to have a panic attack.

Liz, are these fearful thoughts, I’m assuming? In other words, I wouldn’t think that these are joyful, happy thoughts about tomorrow that wouldn’t cause you distress, would it?

No, it would not.

So can you give us an example of the type of thoughts about tomorrow or the next hour or next month? What is the quality of those thoughts?

Very negative. What if something happens to my health? What if something happens with my heart? What if I have somebody get upset with me over a project that I did for them? What if someone’s not happy with something that I’ve done? What if I don’t get this all completed in time?

So your what if questions seem to set up the problem. You know, we can ask what if questions which are positive and optimistic. What if I do a great job? What if I fall in love tomorrow? What if I win the lotto? But your what ifs are joined or trained toward negativity, maybe calamity or catastrophe?

Absolutely, catastrophe.

Liz, do you have any idea of what has occurred in your life that aligns your fearful thoughts about the future? Do you have any sense of where that all started?

I think so. I’m a little unsure though.

Well, please share whatever idea that you might have.

Sure. So, you know, my father was sick for most of my life, and I constantly saw him struggle. And it was kind of one thing after the other. And I was kind of always waiting for that next thing to happen, which it did. And you know, I think it has something to do with the fact that I went through all that for years. And it was the same type of thing over and over again.

So this is this had an enormous impact on you. I don’t know if you’ve read my book or not, but I refer to these as wave collapses. Wave collapse refers to an event in your life, which constrained or blocked your possibilities, your state of potential. Some people have wave collapses that are just a moment in time, something traumatic. But what you’re describing would be a chronic wave collapse that you are dealing with your father’s health and fears about his well-being for how long, Liz?

Since I was in seventh grade, and I’m 35 now, so quite a long time.

Is your dad still alive?

Yes, he is. And he’s better and well.

So you experienced a chronic recurring of wave collapses as you worried about whether he will be okay?

Yes, correct.

So arguably, if you hadn’t had that kind of experience, you might not be talking to me now. You set up a groove in your thoughts where your thought seeks fear. And in this case, your thought sounds like it’s making things up. It’s making things up again in a somewhat catastrophic way, whereby a future event that you’re worried about is going to turn negative. So there are two things happening. As I have been sharing throughout this episode, fear of uncertainty creates anxiety. Now the uncertainty that you’re talking about and we’re discussing could be calamitous, but there is no way that we can ascertain the future with confidence. All we can do is be present in the moment. And in the moment, things sound like they’re relatively okay to you, aren’t they?

Absolutely.

So the problem is your thought is going off and trying not only to calculate the future, but it sounds like your thought is actually conjuring up bad results in that future, aren’t they?

Yes. Now, have you had any success in any of the methods that I’ve spoken about,
if you’re familiar with them, whereby you learn to see the thought and you stop yourself and you say, it’s just a thought and you see it and you say, it’s just a thought. And that may take you hundreds of times or thousands of times, but you’re creating a new muscle memory whereby you don’t actually become the thought, it’s just a thought. And you think to yourself, old thought, it’s going to cause me fear. I won’t detach. I’m going to release it. Have you tried that method?

I have, but not enough. And you were the one who introduced me to it.

Okay. So it’s actually a muscle memory whereby when I encourage people to do this, they may come back into a session with me or a phone call and they say, you know, I tried it 50 times. I saw my thought 50 times, but I haven’t succeeded. Well, it may require 500 times. Nobody can really determine how many times must you see the thought and separate to actually break free and have success. So all I can say is it sounds like you have cut off the process prematurely. In other words, until you succeed, we don’t want to stop. So just continue to see the thought. Some people actually put their forefinger vertically over their lips and just go to the thought. It’s just a thought. That thought is causing you immense apprehension and anxiety, and it’s not allowing you to actually remain present in the moment. So as you know, as well as I do, you’re having an incalculable amount of wasted moments in your life worrying about the future, which thankfully doesn’t play out the way you’re worried about. Does that sound accurate?

A hundred percent, Mel.

Okay. So Liz, what you need to do is say to yourself, the more I can see my thought and stop and not become the thought, the more that you can do that, the farther along you’re going to be in this process. You further the process by seeing it and releasing it. So you may recall from having heard previous podcasts or reading my book that when you can see your thought and not become the thought, that’s what I call thinking. There’s a moment when you’re thinking and you see the thought that you create a space for a new experience. So let’s imagine in a moment you have a worrisome thought about tomorrow. You stop, you pause, you say to yourself, ah, old thought, fearful thought, not going to go for the bait, not going to become that thought and pause. Let that space of possibility wash over you. Now new thinking would be that old thought is not going to do me any good. I don’t want to rob the moment I’m in. I’ll deal with whatever happens tomorrow, next hour, next week. When things happen, I’ll deal with them. But why do I want to waste my time and corrupt my life experience by contemplating fearful things that very often are never going to happen? Start your day, Liz, just practicing your thought and not just fearful thought, any thought that will enhance your ability to develop a muscle memory and also recall your insight. It’s your childhood experience around the illness of your dad that set up this worrisome feature. You don’t need that anymore. It doesn’t serve you any longer. Does that make sense to you?

Yes, Mel. Thank you so much.

Liz, one more question. Do you have anxiety around something that is not based on the future moment? That’s a tough question. In the present moment that you’re in, do you fare well in that present moment?

Not all the time. No.

So can you see your thoughts driving you toward negativity and fear?

I can.

Have you tried that method of seeing the fearful thought and just saying to yourself, shh, I don’t need you? Or saying to yourself, old thought, don’t judge the old thought. Don’t judge the fearful thought. Just see it. Let it pass over you and watch it drift away. And just try to recalculate so that your experience of being in the present moment grounds you.

Great. I would love to try this method, Mel. I remember I tried this a few times and then kind of gave up because I got agitated that it wasn’t really working. But I think I need to continue to practice. As you said, it’s a muscle. So it needs to constantly be worked on.

By the way, and it’s not a start and finish process because as you achieve this and accomplish this, you always want the ability to see your thought. So as an exercise, say to yourself, when you become aware of a fearful, anxious thought, say to yourself or out loud, if you’re alone, say to yourself, I’m having a thought. It’s an old thought. And my thought is having me fearful or worried about tomorrow or next week. Actually say it that way so you can see that thought is representing something fearful. It’s not in actuality. It’s your thought presenting fear. So stay with it and I’m sure you will succeed.

Thank you so much, Mel. This was wonderful. I appreciate your time and assistance.

My pleasure, Liz.

So folks, we can see that if reality is uncertain and you continue to seek certainty, you will become dysfunctional and anxious. So paradoxically, we must embrace uncertainty. After all, why is the word uncertain a negative? Think about that. For Mary, uncertainty about her future would be far better than certainty about the present. The very fact that uncertain has a negative aspect to it speaks to how our cultural indoctrination keeps us stuck in certainty. But how do we accomplish this? Let’s roll up our sleeves and take a look now at how we move forward.

Reality constantly flows, but we don’t. This new picture of reality, which is flowing and possibility laden, how do we join in to embrace uncertainty? We need to change our relationship with our thoughts. So how do we make this shift? Beliefs and old thoughts keep us stuck. Some of you may have heard me say this before, and I will reiterate it. The most important relationship you will ever have is not with your children, your parents, your spouse, your best friends, your partner. The relationship that will impact you far more than any other relationship is with your thoughts. But we never learned how to master our thinking and our relationship with our thoughts.

So let’s move toward how we get unstuck. We have to develop a muscle memory which allows us to see our thought. You see, if you don’t see your thought, you become your thought. In this case, we’re talking about fearful thought. But if I can see my thought, that’s what I call thinking. And if I can see my thought, I don’t need to become that thought. Take a moment and envision a fearful thought that you have often that brings up anxiety and fear. Now look at it and imagine saying to yourself, saying to the thought, shh, quiet down. It’s just a thought. That is thinking. Thinking is the moment of freedom that separates you from your thought. Developing this muscle memory, being able to see your thought is an exceptionally essential tool in breaking free not only from anxiety, but frombeing able to master your life. Throughout the course of your day, try an exercise whereby you simply check in and ask yourself what was the last thought that I had. Don’t judge it. Don’t evaluate it. Just see it. Develop that muscle memory. And then think to yourself, I am the thinker of that thought. That allows you wisdom.

Again, see the disturbing thought, in this case, fear of the future, anything setting up anxiety and distress, and just quiet the thought and say, shh, and release it. Envision it going down that river that I spoke of earlier. Those old fearful thoughts, no different than Liz had described in her phone call to me, they keep knocking at your door. But when you hear someone knock at the door, you don’t have to answer it. Now the technique for doing this is to be able to start to language it differently.

You see, thought is literal. It tricks us into this telling us the truth. What we want to do is see how the thought tricks us. And so you might say to yourself, I’m having a thought and it’s telling me. For instance, Mary, I’m having a thought which is telling me I don’t know who I would be as a divorced woman. She has separated from the thought if she says that. She’s having a thought. And then we could say, okay, here’s a different thought. I know who I am as a miserably unhappy married woman. Anxious thoughts trick us in that they are literal thoughts. They are telling you the truth about something, but it is not the truth. And the old thought does defend its territory. So you may be having the thought right now, this sounds hard to do. How do you know? Have you ever tried it? That is an example of old thought defending its territory.

Look at the thought, don’t become the thought. Now you may have another thought which is, this is not as easy as Mel is saying. Well, many of you go to the gym, work out, perhaps strenuously. You embrace the discomfort of working out physically to get the benefits for your body and for your health. What if we did the same in our lives? What if we embrace the discomfort to break out of our old familiar zone so we could grow? That creates possibilities. Quantum physics reveals that reality is in the state of perpetual potential. Everything is just waiting to potentialize and all possibilities are waiting to be summoned moment by moment.

I had a thought years ago, the same is true for us. In the nanosecond between our thoughts, we exist in a state of absolute potential. But if we keep being blinded and habituated to the same old thoughts, we can never reach those new possibilities. If you’re feeling anxious, fearful, pause and ask yourself what thought you had that set up that feeling. Thought and feeling operate together. My belief is that thought precedes feeling. So you can track back and find the thought and say, it was just a thought. Many people think that we’re hardwired. Again that comes from 17th century Newtonian thinking. We are not hardwired. Our thoughts and our feelings leave their imprint on our brain. It’s not the other way around. You can learn to get unstuck by embracing uncertainty. If everything in reality appears to be in flow, in perpetual movement, we must flow too or we will dysfunction. When we analyze too much, live in life again like we’re in a chess match, get lost in measuring or fearful thought, we are not in the flow and we are not present. We miss the magic that life can offer.

So I’m proposing a new game plan for life. One based upon the new sciences. One in which we embrace and accept with relish the reality of uncertainty instead of avoiding it. You cannot ride the waves of change at the same time that you try to avoid change. Everything is in flow. The old rule book for living causes us to lose wonder, enchantment and curiosity as we get stuck in the groove of certainty. I took all of these principles from quantum physics and I applied them to my life and to my work and I’ve had tremendous results.

Few last thoughts on this. We often have an intention to make change. Around the time of the new year, we may even set intentions and make new year’s resolutions. Why do they not succeed? Well intention is not enough. We need to have what I call willful intention. Imagine that you’re out on a sailboat at sea and the mast is down, the sail is down, but you want to move so you hoist the sail. That’s your intention to move. But you’re not going to move without wind. In your own lives, the willfulness is the wind. The wind in this case is your embrace of uncertainty. So think about it. Would you rather remain in a reality that pictures the universe as cold, deterministic, disconnected and inhospitable for us? Or would you rather open up to a wondrous, connected, possibility-laden adventure of life and live your life as an adventure without fear? Choose your worldview and you’ve chosen your life experience. This embrace of uncertainty frees us from the harness of anxiety, lets us join in the flow of possibilities. To envision and actualize the future you long for, you must re-envision uncertainty and turn it into your ally. How you choose to experience the next moment is your choosing, not reacting. You see, once you’re no longer a victim of your thoughts and imprisoned by them, but the thinker of your life, this allows you to be present and to evoke possibility. You can make this a defining moment for you.

Now the work and commitment to proceed with this is right in front of you. The four takeaways from today’s episode are, embrace what makes you feel uncomfortable. Two, welcome uncertainty. Three, watch your old thoughts and see how they defend their territory. And four, embrace the new thinking. Quick fixes don’t work, but making a bold statement to yourself that I am choosing to overcome distress, anxiety, and fear, and I will follow a new path forward and commit to it, will allow you not only to overcome anxiety and distress, but to thoroughly flourish in your life experience.

We’ll be discussing anxiety some more in future episodes as we look at different aspects, low self-esteem, too much analyzing, the tendency of our mind to fracture a wholeness, or all other important considerations.

Wishing you a full embrace of uncertainty and a reaching of the possibilities in your life. Until next time, be well.

I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Possibility Podcast. I welcome your feedback on this and any episode. Please send me an email at mel at melschwartz.com or leave a comment in the show notes for this episode at melschwartz.com. If you like what you’re hearing, please take a moment to rate and review the show at Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. Your reviews really help boost the visibility for the show and it’s a great way for you to show your support. Finally, please make sure to subscribe to the Possibility Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts and that way you’ll never miss an episode. Thanks again and please remember to always welcome uncertainty into your life and embrace new possibilities.

The post #137 Overcome Anxiety first appeared on Mel Schwartz, LCSW.

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