Anxiety is a universal fact of life. We all feel it.
“We put pressure on ourselves to be successful,” says Arnold Siegel, contemporary American philosopher and founder of Autonomy and Life, “and we feel it from others too.”
Siegel literally wrote the book on sublimating anxiety in the service of a productive, self-actualized life.
Siegel has developed a philosophy of life for practical living. He directs his students in the following ways.
1. Take Responsibility for the Consequences of Your Actions
First, remember that the cavalry is not coming. The buck stops with each one of us; only we can take ultimate responsibility for our actions.
“We have to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions,” says Siegel.
The act of taking responsibility for one’s actions can itself be anxiety-inducing. However, Siegel says that when you’ve acquired a stand-up responsibility for your condition and circumstance and the actions you take the anxiety is replaced with an uncommon confidence and a core bedrock of personal inner strength.
2. Live Life in the Moment
There’s no time like the present.
Unfortunately, most of us can’t stop thinking about the past or future (or both). Dwelling in moments past or junctures yet to arrive is a clear threat to our productivity in the present. One can learn from past mistakes or make plans for the future without losing sight of what really matters — completing the tasks at hand, one at a time.
3. Don’t Dwell on (or in) the Negatives
A corollary to the radical act of living life in the moment is refusing to dwell on the negative aspects of one’s day-to-day.
Siegel refers to this condition as dwelling “in” the negative: that is, inhabiting the internal
uncertainty and division that can run our lives if we let it. To be truly productive in the here and now, we must learn to overcome the negative and dwell in the positive — without losing sight of what (if anything) the negative has to teach us.
4. Greet Excitement With Enthusiasm
Even if we can master the negative, nervous excitement is biologically hard-wired into our beings.
“Our nature will always excite our nerves,” says Siegel. He advises meeting this nervous
excitement head-on — greeting it with an enthusiasm and even eagerness that embraces its potential to spur us to work through challenges, not shrink from them. In other words: When you find yourself keyed-up, power through the feeling and put it to good use.
5. Develop Your Resilience
We all experience setbacks. They’re a fact of modern life. Some, such as the untimely end of a long-term relationship or the unexpected death of a loved one, hurt more than others. It sounds callous and even cruel to those suffering in the moment, but all things really do pass.
For those who’ve developed and honed their resilience over the years, that passage may arrive with greater speed.
In other words, when we acknowledge that “there’s life after everything,” we empower ourselves to overcome our grief and indifference.
“We find an exhausted spirit can be rekindled, brightened and renewed,” says Siegel. “We just never knew that the choice to carry on would be up to us.”
6. Ward Off “Brain Fog”
“Brain fog” is real — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Siegel defines brain fog as “drifting, daydreaming, procrastination, total loss of motivation.” In other words, brain fog is the ultimate productivity-killer. It’s all the more insidious for its low-key, non-acute character, which makes it very difficult to recognize in the moment.
The first step to overcoming it, or to warding it off once it’s arrived, is to acknowledge the degree to which it can dominate our lives and inhibit us as we strive toward our goals.
Then, it’s a matter of revitalizing our perspective and morale. “Who we are in the matter of rising to the occasion and meeting life’s challenges is a choice, a daily choice from which we’re never exempt, and how well we do it is a key part of the rewarding life” say Siegel.
7. Find Your True North
“Often, the voice that is just internal chatter — the anxious, illusion-filled voice — is radically detached from the world in which we dwell,” says Siegel. “This can be the source of much stress and dissatisfaction.”
Siegel recommends finding your “concrete character” — the “voice” with which you speak to the world, and by which you’re known by those around you. It’s that character, not the anxiety-riddled internal voice that speaks only to you, that is your true north. In it lies the keys to productivity, satisfaction and fulfillment.