I’ve written previously about how conscious and unconscious anxiety can affect the way we think and damage the quality of our decisions. When the anxiety is unconscious, we have to become aware of it before we can address it.
Here are some signs that you may be experiencing unconscious anxiety:
1: Avoidance: Difficulty starting tasks (procrastination); finding excuses not to attend meetings; poor work-life balance.
2: Isolation: Working alone; deferring major group decisions.
3: Anger: Unconscious anxiety often manifests as anger as people are sometimes more comfortable with anger than anxiety.
4: Beliefs (self-limiting): I blew my diet, I’m weak-willed. I didn’t get the promotion I wanted, I’m never going to progress in this company. Self-limiting beliefs are formed through unconscious and negative self-talk.
Anxiety, pessimistic beliefs and negative feelings limit your productivity and your personal well-being. However, once we are aware of our feelings we can start to positively address them. Martin Seligman, PhD, describes two methods of addressing pessimistic feelings.
The first is distraction, which is quick and helpful when you are at work and don’t have time to delve deeper. Wear a rubber band around your wrist. When you notice a negative or pessimistic thought snap the rubber band and tell yourself STOP. This combination of physical and mental interruption allows you to shift your attention away from your pessimistic thoughts. This method clearly has limitations and it does not actually address the cause of your pessimistic thoughts.
Another, more tech-friendly way to monitor your thoughts throughout the day is to set an hourly timer on your mobile device. When the alarm goes off, stop and reflect on what you were thinking. Was it positive, neutral or negative? If you find, using either of these methods, that you need to disrupt negative thoughts repeatedly throughout the day commit to schedule time later to explore your thoughts more deeply using the method described below.
Seligman’s second method of addressing pessimistic feelings is called disputation. This is the process of actively challenging and attacking negative beliefs. To do this we can use what Seligman calls the ABCD Model.
1. Adversity: Identify what is bothering you, what is the problem.
2. Beliefs: What are your beliefs about that adversity?
3. Consequences: What are the consequences of those beliefs?
4. Disputation: Are your beliefs accurate? Do you have evidence to support your negative beliefs? Are there alternatives? What are the implications of such beliefs, and are they useful?
Often you will find that your negative beliefs were exaggerations of reality. When we can successfully dispute our subjective beliefs with objective facts we can shift the consequences. The goal is to shift our beliefs and their consequences from something dramatic and global to something more manageable and localized. This will allow us to achieve better, more efficient outcomes at home and at work.