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Friday, October 4, 2013

MS RITA: Fear, Worry, Anxiety, and Other Inconveniences

Friday, October 4, 2013
These past two months I have had the great displeasure of encountering undue amounts of fear, worry, and anxiety thanks to this new journey I've embarked on. The emotions took me by such surprise that I still wonder if I've fully checked back into reality yet. Since opening the store I've been so hard on myself that I've worried me into a little dark abysmal hole where I'm nearly convinced I'm going mad and that everything I've done for the past eight months has been an utter mistake and waste of time. I don't tell very many about how I feel because I'm one of those people that others assume will be all right and on top no matter what I do so if I start lamenting about a problem I'm having I get shut down pretty quick with a, "You'll be fine." It's nice to know that others have such faith in me because it's their faith that I'm relying on now as mine is whisper thin and just as transparent. My sincerest hope is that in a few years I'll be able to look back on this post smile and think, "You silly girl. Everything worked out even better than you had hoped now didn't it?" It usually goes that way but it's so hard to keep in focus on a positive outcome when you feel as if you're blinded and trapped in an unfamiliar room and can't find the door to get out.

perfect tal ben shahar books
 Library books and journal on my nightstand

I know that fear is inevitable. There is no such thing as living without it and when people say they have no fear they are either lying or crazy. Acknowledging fear and still being able to work through it is the important thing. That's what I believe bravery is: doing something despite being afraid. I'm plenty scared and I'm well aware of it so at least I have that much going for me. My greatest fear is of failure and it will become a self-fulfilling prophecy if I can't get my act together and move past my fear. Welcoming failure is a concept that I have a hard time with.

It has only been recently that I've embraced the idea of optimalism instead of perfectionism so I'm still a rookie and there are years of kinks to work out. I've always been a fairly optimistic person to the point that it seems to annoy others but because I haven't found a consistent way to work through my fear and hence my perfectionism I have worry. So what happens when fear and worry get together in my head and take up all of my available brain power? Sleepless nights fraught with rapid mental gymnastics happen: my imagination is my greatest asset and my worst enemy.  Anxiety sets in, mania takes hold, and I end up out of bed pacing the floors. Never before have I been this unsettled about any goal. Perhaps it is proof how much I want it, not as though I needed it as this kind of all night activity does me absolutely no good.

 "Optimalism allows for failure in pursuit of a goal, and expects that while the trend of activity will tend towards the positive it is not necessary to always succeed while striving to attain goals." - Tal Ben-Shahar

Since knowing is half the battle I've been working to channel this anxious energy into positive productivity as best I can. What point is there in spending time worrying about what might or might not happen when I could be doing something - anything - to effect change and develop progress? So I've taken a few steps to help move me in the right direction:

1. Starting small. 
 Even if it's something small like making a to do list, drafting an e-mail to a potential client, or browsing new collections I do it because it matters. Doing the little things and doing them well encourages me to take on the bigger, scarier things. I know that when I break it down those big scary things aren't so big or bad. It's all in my mind.

2. Taking frequent breaks from work.
Now, when I realize that I'm no longer enjoying what I'm doing and am only focusing on the outcome, I force myself to take a step back and do something else like take a walk, make bracelets, sort through laundry, etc... I want to enjoy the process and learn and grow from it not just check it off the list.

3. Turning down the inner critic
There is no way I'm not going to be concerned about the quality of work that I do, but there is a distinct line between being reasonably self-critical and wanting to open a vein because something isn't going perfectly according to an arbitrary set of self-imposed rules and expectations. When I start to become anxious about whatever it is I'm working on because "it just isn't right yet" I take a moment to appreciate what I did get right and if everything I'm trying to do is necessary for it to be a great project. That way I can start focusing on the most important aspects of the project and leave the rest for improvement later. Very rarely does anything ever come out "perfectly" the first go-round. This is the hardest one for me to do so far and I expect it would be hard for a lot of other people.
Looking on the outside in I'm sure I sound like a total nut but it's a process I need to go through to be better. I have a business to run and don't have much time for hand-wringing so I borrowed a book from the library this weekend titled The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life written by positive psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar who is a proponent of optimalist thinking. He taught a class at Harvard on happiness and you can learn more about it here (for those of you with short attentions spans or little time) and here for those of you with an hour to kill or great interest. I need to get a grip; hopefully reading this book will give me one or at least get me on my way. I wrote the first draft of this post before I read the book but now I'm nearly done with the book and it confirmed a lot of suspicions I already had about my perfectionist tendencies. So I'm feeling better about the perspective I have and the changes I've made to modify my behavior so far. In the book Ben-Shahar gives exercises and tools to use to help a person cut through the curtain that's keeping them from reaching their potential. I highly recommend it and will be checking out his other titles once my public library acquires them.

All said I don't mean to imply that I'm unhappy because in general I am quite happy. When I think of it, there is nothing else I'd rather be doing than working towards realizing my goals. It's the bit of not knowing if what I'm doing will work that gets me since I've never done this before. This where I must be brave and soldier on because it truly is the journey that counts the most.

Until next time,

claire lynette

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