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Recently a reader wrote me a very heartfelt and poignant email to which I gladly responded. Of course, it was good food for thought and I ended up writing a lengthier response than I had intended. So I thought why not make it into an article. I think there are a few things worth thinking about.
I very much enjoyed your “8 Habits You Should Cut Out of Your Life Right Now“and sounds like you’ve gotten some well-deserved positive response. Personally, the section about not worrying what others think hit me pretty deep. It has been a lifelong problem for me that I have only begun to realize the extent to which it has a negative impact on me recently. How can I begin to work on cutting out this habit and improving my self-anxiety problems? I also enjoyed your response article, but it seemed as if you did not touch on this point as much in it. Thank you very much.
Thank you for the kind words and for connecting. My apologies for having taken so long to return your message. Before I dive in, understand that I am not a licensed medical practitioner, psychologist, or any other such professional. These are my opinions based upon personal experience.
That said, one of the reasons I started this blog was because I suffered from severe anxiety, on and off, for quite a while, so I think I can understand where you are coming from. It has taken me much time, trial, and error to find the things that work for me, and I am still making discoveries. No doubt, it is much the same for each individual. My point is that no matter what I or anyone else says, you must try these things and decide if they are effective and worth doing for YOU.
Now, in terms of your issue with worrying about what other people think, it seems that most people experience this issue. Some are just more acutely aware of it for one reason or another. As I frequently say, no problem is ever really about ‘the other,’ meaning those forces, people, and situations outside of yourself. It all comes back to you. If that is the case, then it would stand to reason that you must introspectively explore this issue.
Ultimately, your concern about what others think is most likely an issue with self-worth and insecurity, which are both manifestations of fear. Fear drives so many (too many) people in this life. It is an insidious force that has the power to warp our perception of reality and create the illusion that we are limited, and can only do so much. It is not true. You are a human being, one of the most intelligent species (if not the most) on the planet; a complex being capable of making choices–you have will. And therein lies the key to re-routing all bad habits into good habits.
I’m afraid I cannot give you as specific of an answer as you might like. But I will say that if you are to change any negative habit in your life, it takes practice. You must be extremely aware of that thing, and strive to catch it every time you start doing it. Then, when you catch it you can look at it, ask questions, see the fear that lies beneath, and find out if it’s rational or has any merit. Often we find that it does not.
The most effective way I know how to do this is meditation. I’m not sure if you have experience with this or not. Meditation forces you to sit with yourself and examine all your patterns of thought and impulses of action.
It is hard at first, but when you begin to develop a practice, you begin to see the subtleties of thought and feeling that you live with daily. You begin to see the neurotic pathways your mind likes to take. Then, when you see that, you can begin to break it down, transmute it, and bring it into every aspect of your life. If you’re interested, see the meditation section at Urban Spiritual located in the drop down from the ‘you choose’ item at the top of the page.
If your are averse to meditation, or feel you cannot do it for one reason or another, I still believe the answer here is to develop some kind of mindfulness practice, whatever that may mean to you. It can be as simple as checking in with your breath, and asking a question every time you feel the anxiety rising. What’s important is to look at it. Don’t let those destructive thoughts and feelings whisk you away. Instead, notice the familiar pattern, and in fact desire, to be taken away into unconscious behavior. I hope this has helped a little bit.
Wishing you strength of will, peace of mind, and abundant lovingkindness.
The unfortunate aspect of anxiety is that it has a tendency to cloud our channels of rational and conscious thought so completely. I know that when I start going down that road, it becomes increasingly difficult for me to bring myself back to consciousness because I start over-analyzing even those soothing thoughts.
That is why I believe the key to curbing the habits that cause us anxiety is to cultivate awareness on a consistent basis. It provides a kind of safe-guard when we inevitably face those situations. Then, when confronted with an issue, we see the cogs turning; we see the moment in which we have the choice to throw ourselves into the abyss or build a bridge over it.
What do you think? How would you have responded differently?
By Terence Stone
Chief Editor and Founder of Urban Spiritual, I’m a classically trained singer and actor living in New York City, who has performed in the U.S. and Europe. I’m also a writer, traveller, meditator, arts-lover, and well-being enthusiast.