Tag Archives: anxiety

One Creative Way to Conquer Fear of Rejection or Failure

“Swing” — Ernie Els by Mimi Stuart
Live the Life you Desire

I failed my way to success.

~Thomas Edison

People often lack the courage to take initiative because they fear failure or rejection. Yet to pursue friendships, romantic relationships, and work aspirations, we need to face potential failure and rejection without being constricted by the choke-hold of trepidation.

When you go out and pursue something you want, you are going to be rejected and make mistakes. You might as well expect rejection and mistakes and learn to handle them better.

In Coach John Wooden’s second to last game, UCLA was down 2 points with a few seconds to go. After the game, a reporter asked him why he chose to set up a play for Richard Washington. He replied,

Because he’s not afraid to make a mistake. He thinks he’s a pretty good shooter—and he is—but if he misses he’ll think, “Well, you can’t make them all.” He won’t be devastated. Therefore, he’s harnessed his fears. The others might be thinking, “I’ve got to make it.” If that’s their thinking, they’ll be fearful about missing. I didn’t want that.

Rejection Therapy

How do we harness our fear?

In a desire to desensitize himself from the pain of rejection and overcome his fear, entrepreneur Jia Jiang developed his own so-called “Rejection Therapy.” For 100 days, he set forth to make one rejection attempt a day, making sure his requests were legal, ethical, physically safe, and likely to be rejected.

For instance, he asked to borrow $100 from a stranger, he asked for a burger re-fill, he asked to play soccer in someone’s backyard, and he asked to dance with his waitress. Not only did he stop dreading rejection, he learned that if he accepted rejection gracefully or asked “Why” or “Why not?”, often the rejection had nothing to do with him, or it would turn into acceptance. What surprised him most was that he was not rejected 42 times out of 100, despite his weird requests.

We are all human. So rather than worrying about being perfect, we can embrace the opportunity to learn from our blunders and miscalculations. Accepting that we are going to get rejected and make mistakes can free us to move forward in a more relaxed and confident way and to live our journey more fully rather than agonize about reaching or failing to reach the destination.

Our doubts are traitors, and make us lose the good we oft might win, by fearing to attempt.

~William Shakespeare

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Reference: Jia Jiang’s Tedtalk

“My life feels out of control.”

 "Peace - Buddha" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Peace – Buddha” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

If you are facing life challenges, such as a break up, illness, tragic choices made by family members, or financial distress, your life can feel out of control. As a result, you can feel helpless and powerless, and become anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed.

There are many things we don’t have control over in our lives and many more that we have very little control over. While we may not be able to change our external circumstances, what we can change is our internal perspective, and this can make all the difference in the world.

It may be difficult to change negative thought patterns, let go of grudges, and stop complaining about our circumstances, all of which bring us a certain comfort. Yet with practice, we can control our thoughts and change our perspective. We can admit to our negative thinking, understand it, and then move on.

Viktor Frankl, who survived the most dire circumstances in the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

Therefore, we should focus on what we usually do have control over. We often can determine the following:

1. how we spend our time,
2. whom we spend our time with,
3. what we read,
4. what we think about,
5. how to view the events in our lives,
6. what we learn from our relationships,
7. how to respond to other people—their love, their anger, their expectations,
8. the words and tone we use,
9. where we spend our time.

Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

~Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning

by Alison Poulsen, PhD


Saying “Yes.”
“No, I don’t feel like it. I’d rather stay home.”

"Yes!" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Yes!” by Mimi Stuart ©

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the comfort of your favorite routines. Yet when you get into the habit of always saying “no” when others suggest doing something different, you may be narrowing your life and your experiences to the detriment of your vitality and relationship potential.

For example, when you consider inviting friends over for dinner, and decide, “No, I’m not a great cook,” or “No, our house is a mess,” or “No, we hardly know them,” you are letting your anxiety about uncertainty get the better of you. When asked to go ice skating or try a dance class, and you say “No, that’s not my thing, I’m very uncoordinated,” you are letting your fear of discomfort or embarrassment get in the way of an interesting experience, an adventure, or at least a funny story.

Ironically, one of the greatest things about uncertainty is the very thing people don’t like about it: the anxiety it causes. When you feel anxiety because you are doing something new or different, you become more alert and perceptive. Your senses come alive and your mind sharpens. A moderate dose of anxiety is healthy. Moreover, as you make it a habit to face your anxiety, you start to experience it differently; it transforms into the excitement of being alive. You gain confidence in your readiness to respond in the moment even when you don’t know exactly what will happen. So learn to embrace your anxiety!

Another benefit to participating in novel activities with others is that it magnifies the positive emotions you feel for one another. No matter how long you’ve known someone, new experiences enhance your relationship. Therefore, embracing opportunities and the anxiety that go with them helps you both individually and together.

Of course, you shouldn’t say “yes” to everything. You will know which activities are clearly not going to enhance your life in any way. Also, you need to balance the vitality and growth of facing the unknown with the ease and contentment of enjoying the known. When you choose routine, you can relax and be comfortable, which is an important part of life, just as you need sleep each night to restore your mind and body. Yet too much comfort can lead to lethargy, apathy, and boredom. To see how either extreme can be hazardous to your mental, emotional, and physical health, I recommend seeing the entertaining comedy “Yes Man” with Jim Carrey.

So the next time a friend says “Lets go Spelunking,” say “yes,” and just do it!

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Performance Anxiety:
“I get extremely anxious when I compete in sports or engage in public speaking.”

"Purple Rain" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Purple Rain” by Mimi Stuart ©

As long as I do not take myself too seriously I should not be too badly off.

~Prince

Think of how little anxiety you experience when you are comfortably on your couch watching TV. Now imagine that you are going to perform a concert, give a speech, compete in a tournament, or go on a first date. Would you want to be as stress-free as you are in front of the TV? Or would a totally relaxed, lackadaisical attitude hurt you?

Some stress is good

Some people think that they want to eliminate all anxiety and stress from their lives. Yet a total lack of anxiety generally only occurs when someone feels low energy, apathetic, or indifferent.

In situations involving danger, the unknown, and peak performance, you need to be at your best and on your game; you need to be alert and ready to take action. Anxiety — or stress — in moderate doses prepares you for those situations.

Anxiety is a physical response to a mental state, in addition to other factors such as genetics, personality, history, disease, and drugs. Stress generates an increase in cortisol and adrenaline, which cause you to be alert and ready for action. In excess, anxiety can cause you to freeze, panic, or lose mental or motor control. Yet in moderation, it arouses the senses and increases awareness and the ability to react quickly. It turns out that having too little cortisol can be just as much a problem as having too much.

Excitement and passion

Falling in love, traveling, and intellectual and physical challenges cause anxiety and concurrent chemical changes in the brain known as “excitement.” Events involving situations of novelty, significance, or the unknown cause an arousal of the senses and a state of alertness that allow you to notice everything vividly. Without some anxiety, you won’t experience the exhilaration involved in anticipation, adventure, and peak performance.

Having stress in your life is healthier than no stress, as long as you can exercise some control over the situation. Thus, the goal is not to eliminate stress completely but to re-train your brain to handle anxiety better in the more extreme situations you may face.

Four ways to train your neural-circuitry

1. Practice

Whether your goal is public-speaking, performing at a concert, or competing in a sport, the most effective way to practice is to practice extensively, always with focused attention, and not necessarily in “perfect” external circumstances. With such focused practice, the required movements will occur more naturally and automatically in the future regardless of your anxiety levels.

If you have performance anxiety, it’s good to start with mildly stressful situations to avoid traumatizing yourself. A gradual increase in stress is much more effective than jumping into panic-inducing situations. If you want to do more public speaking, for instance, practice in front of the mirror, make toasts at the dinner table, go to toastmasters, and eventually give small workshops. If you play an instrument, start by practicing with other people in the room, and invite more and more people over to listen.

2. Imagine the worst-case scenario

Prepare yourself by imagining how you would handle the worst-case scenario. For example, at a Nationals water ski tournament, I saw a slalom competitor respond beautifully to a worst-case scenario. After falling at the one ball on her opener, which is about the worst performance possible, she came out of the water without any hint of anger or embarrassment, and simply shrugged it off. She laughed and said that she felt fortunate to be competing at Nationals, and that she hoped to do better the following year. Because she had such a great response and demeanor, other people did not feel embarrassed or sorry for her. Instead they felt comfortable, and retained respect for her.

It also helps to have a sense of humor about yourself and to remember what Michael Jordan once said:

I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, lost almost 300 games, missed the game-winning shot 26 times. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.

3. Practice getting centered.

During practice or performance, we need to be prepared to deal with self-defeating thoughts that do nothing but intensify our anxiety.

“What an idiot I am! That was horrible!”

“What if I can’t remember?”

“Oh no. Look who just walked in.”

When people get distracted by a negative thought or an unexpected interruption, they get centered again in very different ways. Here are some examples of how to get your focus back quickly:

1. Take a slow deep breath.

2. Focus on others rather than how you appear to them.

3. Focus on kinesthetic feeling rather than on your thoughts about how well you must perform.

4. Imagine a relaxed place — a serene beach or a loved one appreciating you.

5. Practice simply letting go of distracting thoughts and moving on. Meditation is a great way to practice getting centered.

6. Pretend you are someone who exudes the right kind of confidence or does your activity well. Mirroring is the fastest way to learn new attitudes and behaviors, just as infants and children do. With practice, you will own that energy and embody it in your own personal way.

4. Gain Perspective

Given personality traits, upbringing, and other environmental factors, people develop unconscious assumptions of what will happen if they fail or make mistakes. For example, they may feel that they will be unlovable, a failure, worthless, or unhappy.

To put your fears in perspective, it helps to investigate what makes people feel happy, worthwhile, or lovable. Research shows that the greatest happiness comes from activities such as maintaining meaningful relationships, helping others, having a sense of community, meditating, smiling, and laughing. Exercising, adequate sleep, and eating healthy foods also have a serious impact on our well-being. Learning and executing skills does positively effect our well-being as well, but it is lower on the list than having good relationships, helping others, and feeling a sense of community. We want to make sure that our perfectionist thinking about performing skills doesn’t sabotage the more important ingredients for a happy and meaningful life.

Living life

Life is rarely stress-free because life by its nature requires us to deal with the unknown on a daily basis. However, the more practice we get in handling the unknown, the more confidently we can approach life and its challenges. If we are experiencing anxiety, we are living. Only by doing mundane activities mindlessly do we get relief from all stress — by sleeping through life. Is that what we really want?

Look at the adventure, challenges, and growth we would be missing if we chose to eliminate all stress! Through facing the anxieties of living life, we learn to handle new exhilarating and challenging situations.

Sometimes it takes years to become an overnight success.

~Prince

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

The essential personality trait for a calmer, more interesting and all around better life.

"Can't walk but I can fly" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Can’t walk but I can fly” by Mimi Stuart ©

How do you react when your flight gets canceled, a friend doesn’t show up, or your dinner burns to a crisp? What if you spill coffee on your white shirt before a business meeting? Or you are robbed of your passport, money, and cell phone in a foreign country?

Many of us would become anxious or angry, which certainly does not improve the situation.

We need to be flexible. Being flexible means remaining cool headed, which allows us to problem-solve and to think of alternative actions when facing an unforeseen event. Being ready to adapt to changed circumstances invites creativity and resourcefulness.

Flexibility of attitude and action will give you the confidence to confront any situation. The simple act of remaining calm opens the possibility of maintaining a sense of humor and adventure, which increase your chances of having a positive outcome or at least an interesting experience.

For example, imagine the advantage of going to your business meeting with comfortable ease and a witty remark despite the stained shirt vs. being uncomfortably embarrassed. Or imagine the story you could tell when you are one of the few tourists who gets to experience a police station in Morocco vs. feeling panicked and overwhelmed.

Our memories of difficult situations and experiences make the best stories. If you keep calm and aware enough to observe the details and emotions while engaging the characters involved in the mishap it will make your experience that much more rewarding.

Bad situations may require that you modify your expectations. In a worst-case scenario that lacks any humor or an otherwise silver lining, being flexible means letting go and trying to gain patience, wisdom and humility, and to face the misfortune with a sense of grace.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “My negative emotions bring me down. I tend to dwell on feeling hurt or angry.”

Read “Transformational Vocabulary: ‘I’m angry, totally confused, and an emotional mess over these overwhelming problems.’”

“I try so hard to make her happy.”

"Noble Love" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Noble Love” by Mimi Stuart ©

Responsibility for another’s wellbeing

People who put excessive energy into trying to make others happy tend to lose their sense of self and the accompanying groundedness and objectivity. The suppression of their own values, needs and desires often leads to growing resentment and a lack of vitality.

The more compelled a person is to promote someone else’s wellbeing, the more anxious that person becomes. People who put excessive energy into “helping” others and to making them happy are often completely unaware of the anxiety which drives them, because they are projecting their own anxiety onto the people they are trying to help.

Dependence on validation from others

The opposite dynamic also leads to trouble. The more your own wellbeing depends on validation from others, the more anxious you become. Thus, when people are desperately seeking validation, they tend to use emotional manipulation to get it. The resulting validation isn’t very gratifying because it has been coerced. Thus, their craving for validation is never satisfied, and becomes a drain on the relationship.

People who crave a lot of validation may be aware of their own anxiety, but they believe it is up to others to take care of them. Their efforts to get others to relieve their anxiety are ineffective in resolving the ultimate problem—that is, learning to tolerate their own anxiety.

Escalation of anxiety

Anxiety increases when you have less control over achieving your goals. Since you are not in control of someone else’s wellbeing, and you are not in control of someone validating you, anxiety for both parties increases. Hence relationships between emotionally fused people tend to generate considerable chronic anxiety.

The more anxious people become, the more reactive and intolerant they are of others. They become more frantic to “fix” things. They may feel alternatively overwhelmed and isolated, needing more emotional connection, but rejecting all but the “right” kind of connection, that is, total validation. A lack of response or the wrong kind of response hurts or angers them, which causes them to say hurtful things or withdraw, leading to an escalation of anxiety and conflict.

It is paradoxical and unfortunate that undifferentiated people have more need of emotional support, but are less likely to get it or to be satisfied by it.

Healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, people are helpful, considerate, and care about the one another’s wellbeing. They will do things they think might make the other person happy. However, they are emotionally differentiated, which prevents one person’s anxiety from infecting the other and spiraling out of control. Differentiation means that you avoid emotionally manipulating another person and you avoid walk on eggshells. Instead you respect that person as autonomous, though perhaps interdependent. This requires being aware of and tolerating your own anxiety when someone else is not happy or when you are not receiving the validation that you were hoping to receive.

Murray Bowen, who developed the notion of differentiation, puts it this way: “The goal always is to work on oneself, not to attempt to change one’s family. The goal is not to get the family to “accept” you, to “love” you. The goal is to be more of a self, which is not contingent on acceptance.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Recommended Kerr and Bowen’s “Family Evaluation.”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

Read “I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”