Use This One-Minute Reframe to Turn Anxiety Into Good Decisions
Your phone rings. It’s your boss’s boss. What’s your first thought? Probably not, “Oh nice, Jane is calling!” More likely, it’s “What did I do wrong?”
Within a second, “What did I do wrong?” becomes “Am I gonna get fired?” becomes “How am I gonna pay the bills?” becomes “I’ll be out on the street.” becomes “I’m going to die!” That’s how our brains work. For thousands of years, that’s how we survived. But today?
“All anxiety is is experiencing failure in advance,” Seth Godin says. “That’s not good. That’ll wear you out.” And yet, in that anxiety lies an opportunity: You can use moments of panic to make better decisions.
When you spot the lion near the watering hole, there are few steps between him having a sip and chewing on your arm — quite literally. For the caller ID to turn into a jail cell, however, a lot needs to happen, all of which is unlikely — even if you did use the wrong font on that report. Only one is a death threat, but our brains can’t tell the difference, so we react the same way: We freeze.
You may know the term “fight-or-flight,” which describes two common stress responses in animals: run away or attack. In his book What Every Body Is Saying, ex-FBI agent and body language expert Joe Navarro argues a different case: “In reality, the way animals, including humans, react to danger occurs in the following order: freeze, flight, fight.”
If we really only fought or ran each time, Joe says, we would be “bruised, battered, and exhausted much of the time.” So first, we freeze.
One purpose of the freeze response is to avoid detection by dangerous predators. A second purpose is to give the threatened individual the opportunity to assess the situation and determine the best course of action to take.
Huh? Opportunity? Best course of action? That’s interesting. With this simple reframing, the shock reaction that follows the lit-up screen of your phone suddenly serves a purpose: It’s supposed to give you time to think.
The problem is, most of the time, we’re just not using it. We’re wasting the opportunity by adding more color to our worst-case scenario instead of breathing…