So, you got your degree, or degrees. You have a professional job, or one you’re really good at. Maybe you’ve been promoted into management, know that you’re getting groomed for promotion, or started a business that is still going. Maybe you own your home, or haven’t neglected to make other investments.
These are signs that you’re actually… somewhat successful in the conventional sense. But you probably don’t really give yourself credit. You might be looking at what you still need to accomplish, or regretting past mistakes.
I meet loads of people like this, who outwardly look successful, at least given their (usually younger) age, yet don’t seem to be getting any solid sense of stability or accomplishment as a result.
When I work with people like this, there are certain themes that tend to come up, and are usually major drivers behind their unease.
Here are three questions to see if these anxiety/stress drivers are impacting you, and some initial steps to begin easing them:
1. Are you depending on accomplishments to gain acceptance?
If you’re doing this, you’re deliberately accomplishing certain things to make sure there are people who will like or respect you.
It can often be difficult to see what is actually motivating you without doing some digging (or some Tapping and then seeing what comes up). So here are some questions to ask yourself that will help you get a bit clearer:
If you showed up in the world differently, as in behaved a bit differently or pursued a different type of career, would your friends and family stop wanting to spend time with you? Is their acceptance of you conditional on having a certain type of job, income level, position in an organizational hierarchy?
Would winning more awards or attaining more formalized achievements solidify your friends and family’s respect for you?
Would failing to achieve certain things lower their opinion of you?
You may logically recognize that of course there are some people in your life who accept you due to conditions like this and others who would like you regardless. But if you feel on a gut level that most of these things are true or partly true, you are driven at least partially by a need to prove yourself to others.
This is a deeper source of anxiety that I often see in my clients. This points to a deeper belief, that is not uncommon, that you can’t control whether or not you have any value as a human being: other people have to recognize you for your value to exist.
And OF COURSE this would make you anxious. You can’t control whether or not people give you credit that is due or whether they’re just being jerks, at least not directly.
Besides that, the idea that it’s possible to be a bit worthless if you don’t reach certain goals or meet certain criteria is unsettling in and of itself.
So, how do you begin shifting this? I say begin shifting because this can actually take a while to dismantle. It’s usually a bit more involved than simply saying “Alright, well I know this is silly, so I won’t do it.” An approach like that usually just puts people in denial of deeply-held fears they have.
A good place to start is to imagine what would happen if you didn’t accomplish one of the things part of you thinks you need to for acceptance. If you fail professional exams, how would people you know react? If you had to declare bankruptcy, what would other people think of you?
Imagine the worst case scenario and feel what sensations come up in your body. Use EFT (Tapping) to reduce these feelings. This will reduce background fears that are making you stressed and anxious.
Another helpful exercise involves the principle that the outer world is a reflection of your inner world. That’s definitely an oversimplified statement, but there’s truth in it.
Look at what you honestly think of people who are less outwardly successful than you. It’s logical that part of you would assume others would have similar opinions of you if you were in that position.
So shift your opinion of such people. Write down a negative statement about people in a less prestigious job, or who have declared bankruptcy or failed professional exams, and then come up with other statements that are less negative. You might eventually get to overtly positive statements, but if you start there, you might not really buy what you’re writing.
2. How nervous are you of making the wrong choice?
So this fear usually contains two assumptions, the first being that there actually is a right and a wrong choice.
While there are certain things that are morally reprehensible, for the vast majority of your life decisions, there really isn’t a right and a wrong.
Want to marry that person? Go ahead, but you don’t actually have to.
Which career should you pursue? Take your pick. It will most likely change anyway.
How many kids should you have? Go ahead and have 8 if you’re prepared for all the work, but you could also have one or none. The world has plenty of children already.
The other assumption that tends to be behinds this fear is that the effects of your decisions are permanent, or they should be. If you change at all and then change your mind, you clearly made the wrong choice.
One way to release fears of making the wrong decision clearly is to tap: to use EFT/Tapping. Whenever you’re faced with a decision, just tap through the various uncomfortable feelings you notice in your body, or even talk out loud about what’s making this decision difficult as you tap the points. You will then find things feel less charged and it’s easier to make a decision.
Click here for a kit that will help you get the basics of Tapping.
Another way is to shift your beliefs around whether or not there is a correct or incorrect choice, and beliefs around what it means to change your mind or reverse a decision.
You could do that with tapping, or you could do it by looking for evidence to the contrary. You could list evidence of people who made unconventional choices and were fine. Or people who reversed decisions and were fine. Or times when it is okay or even the right thing to do to change your mind or approach someone about altering an agreement you have with them.
You could even Google search lists of times like this. It will help.
3. To what extent do you need to have everything pinned down, known, or planned in advance?
A lot of my clients have a difficult time with things that are uncertain or that they can’t control.
This can show up as stress when a potential employer isn’t getting back to you, a partner refusing to plan out activities of a trip you’re going to take, encountering a situation that doesn’t readily make sense, or even a strong fear of death.
There’s clearly a lot of spiritual or religious beliefs (or lack thereof) that would feed a fear of death, but general difficulty with uncertainty feeds it as well.
So, how to get more comfortable with uncertainty?
Obviously, the first answer is to tap. Whenever there is a situation making you anxious because you’re not sure what will happen, just tap through uncomfortable feelings in your body. This will help you feel better about this specific situation, and also help you be less anxious in the future.
You could also go live and work in another country for a while. No joke. If you do this without insulating yourself in an expat community, you’ll get used to the fact that you don’t really know what the F*** is going on half the time and you’re bound to mess up.
That’s obviously QUITE involved, so another thing that could help is to meditate.
That probably sounds too simple, but meditating regularly helps soothe most fears, especially ones like this that tend to work in the background.
Yet another choice is to practice letting things be a little less certain. Delegate something at work and don’t micromanage. Take a trip and only plan your accommodation. If something bizarre happens, just let it go, don’t try to find out why.
So if you’ve recognized yourself in some of these, be patient with yourself, because it will take a while to shift these. Working with a coach, Tapping practitioner, or someone similar will definitely help it go faster, but it will still take time.