It was my first career reinvention coaching session with Simon. Within the first five minutes, he laid out at least five things that worried him about shifting into a new job.
“What if we have to move our family and they hate the new place? Will my daughter flounder if we she has to change to yet another school? What if the climate in a new location is lousy? Might a new boss would be worse than my current one? And what if I have to take a pay cut?”
“I’m just so anxious about so many things, Susan,” Simon confided in me.
Anxiety erodes action
Simon, just like you, is capable of so much. Brimming with potential to land in work that’s much better than his current role. But he’s deflating and destroying his confidence when he forecasts a negative, scary picture ahead. He’s investing his precious life energy in fretting about the future, instead of harnessing that same energy to move forward with excitement.
“You know, Simon,” I said, “One of my heroes in the mind/body psychology world, Fritz Perls, is credited with a saying that I love that directly applies to your anxious feelings.”
“What’s that?” Simon asked.
“Anxiety is excitement, without the breath.”
Simon let out a sigh. “Hah! That makes sense. When I’m anxious, I tighten up. I contract. I probably hold my breath. Does that mean if I breath more, I’ll feel the excitement — rather than the anxiety — about this career shift?”
“Let’s try it out,” I invited.
I asked Simon to ease his tensions by doing some long, slow, deep breathing. I intentionally asked him to envision these scary scenarios melting away. He started feeling more relaxed and open to new possibilities within minutes. Oxygen is a primary “food” for the brain, and without it, it’s literally hard to think straight.
“Wow, I’m feeling more open, less tense, and it’s like someone cleaned the windshield. I can see and think more clearly,” Simon beamed.
With Simon feeling more receptive, I helped him to understand his propensity towards a negative outlook, so he could turn it around.
Your Velcro/Teflon Brain
I shared an analogy that neuropsychologist Rick Hanson, gives for understanding how our brains tend to work. For negative information and situations, Hanson says, our brains tend to be like Velcro. They latch on and hold tight to these negative thoughts, like the worries about moving and schooling that Simon was experiencing. And for positive information, our brains have a propensity to act like Teflon, so the positive thoughts just slide right off.
Simon sighed “Well, if that’s what my brain is doing, how can I ever make a change? I’m stuck with these worries…”
I stopped Simon right away.
“No. Actually, with training, you can shift your mental focus. The idea is to avoid being held hostage by your negative, scary, self-defeating thoughts. You want to learn to let those slide away. Let the positive thoughts stick more. Then, you’ll start being in more of a neutral state of mind. In that middle ground, you can more clearly see your future possibilities.”
“Oh, so I’d be reversing the Velcro and Teflon tendencies, so I can let go of the anxiety?” Simon said, curiously.
Simon’s eyes lit up. I could tell he was ready to let go of more of those downer, negative, get-in-the-way worrisome thoughts, so he could make the career change he’d been so deeply desiring.
“Ready to shift those negative related to your job search?” I inquired.
Simon was all ears. Here’s what I suggested for him, and I want you to know, too. It would delight me to know that you know how to shift your anxiety energy into excited energy, so you have the positive fuel to make the changes you desire.
How to Shift from Anxious…into Positive Action
- Write down your worries. Carrying them around in your head is just cluttering things up. Getting them on paper tames them. Just that act alone can be so soothing. Here are two of Simon’s:
- What if we have to move our family and they hate the new place?
- Will my daughter flounder if we she has to change to yet another school?
- For each worry on the list, do the “turnaround.” Reverse the negativity into something positive. Try out a form of “what if” that’s uplifting. This second step helps you learn to balance out the negativity, so you don’t wallow in unpleasant future scenarios. For example…
- What if we move our family and they love the new place?
- What if my daughter thrives in another school?
- Write the actions you can take to create the positive future you desire. In Simon’s case, he can:
- Read up on the cities with the best climate, schools, and cultural diversity we seek. Discuss those with the family. Look for lists of top 10 employers in each of those cities and reach out to them.
- For any city we’re considering, find lists of the top schools. Visit if possible. If not possible, look at the school websites, call the Parent-Teacher Association presidents, and ask to talk to parents and students about what they like and dislike about the schools. Enroll Emma in a confidence building course to help her self-esteem.
Boom! Now, Simon has a list he take action on, so he can move forward with the career change without being mired in dread.
Fears and anxieties paralyze us. Usually, they’re caused by letting our brains dream up unpleasant, unsettling pictures of the future. We take those images as real, when they’re really our imagination running in the wrong direction.
When you gather information in Step 2 and get into action with Step 3, you move out of the imaginary threats and dangers, and into feeling your own inner security. You relax and open to more positive possibilities.
“I’m feeling better already, Susan. I didn’t realize how much anxiety I’ve been carrying around, and how it’s getting in the way of my career change. It’s good to have a process for easing the anxiety. I can feel the excitement building instead. Wow.”
Whether it’s a career change, a shift in a relationship, a cross-country move, or any other transformation you’re pursuing, it’s helpful to recognize our innate tendencies for negativity, and to intentionally turn them around.