“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.” ~Dalai Lama
Another sleepless night had passed, with me worrying about whether I’d said the wrong thing to my colleague yesterday or if the tone of my email I’d sent was too critical.
They were not the only things that kept me awake.
I would go out to dinner with friends and say some ‘bad’ jokes—bad because nobody laughed. Was I wrong? Do people not like me? They looked unhappy.
I prided myself on being the funny guy. The entertainer.
The list of worries and fears continued. It used to be endless.
I had a cure for overcoming my fears. I would talk to anybody I could find who was willing to hear about my problems. I was desperately seeking to hear “Poor you, Kieran” from someone. Anybody.
Then everything would be okay. The problem would go away.
Strangely enough, the problem would go away. It was never as bad as I had feared. Yet the behavior—how I dealt with my fears and anxieties as they arose—continued.
I continued to feel anxious, fearful, and nervous in a wide variety of situations.
Then one day, it all came to a head.
A few years ago, I was working in a stressful corporate environment. I had a one-on-one meeting with my manager. In this meeting, he informed me that I was depressed.
It was a strange thing to say. Bizarre. I thought he was joking and rejected the comment.
I couldn’t shake this comment out of my head. I continued to think about that meeting over the next few days.
I began to realize that I had spent a lot of energy protecting myself, fearful that others might perceive any negative perceptions I had about myself and then would judge me.
As soon as somebody confronted me directly and pierced through the protective bubble I had placed around myself, I felt a sudden need to make changes.
Looking back, I suspect that I knew deep down that I was able to influence how I perceived these situations. Feeling fearful had become part of my identity, though. Like a drug, I was addicted to feeling this way and refused to believe that it was possible to change my perceptions.
I started reading countless self-help books. Some of the advice in these books I have either plainly ignored or considered too hard to implement.
However, what I noticed in all or most of these books is the need to explore and question why you feel the way you do and challenge this on a regular basis.
So I did. And after a while, I began to form my own questions to attempt to deal with all challenges and anxieties that arose in my life.
Now, whenever a fear arises, I sit down in a quiet space and write the answers to the following three questions:
What do I actually fear about this?
In other words, what is the worst thing that can happen? Maybe they won’t talk to me again if they were offended by something I said. They might end the relationship I have with them. I might lose my job. Perhaps all of this is okay. Perhaps all of this is a great learning experience. Whatever it is, I write it down.
Do I have the ability to change this?
Next, I look at what I fear. Can I change this situation?
If the answer is yes, I write down how I can and what steps I need to take.
If the answer is no, I tell myself to let it go. This is hard, but it gets easier with time.
If this happened to somebody I love, what would I tell him or her?
It is important to reflect on this. Most of us are great at giving other people advice but terrible at following it ourselves. I find that by asking this question, not only does my self-respect and self-love increase, I feel more understanding and compassionate toward others who hold similar fears and anxieties.
I have answered these questions many times.
One situation that immediately comes to mind was when, at the end of a workday, I sent an email to a client, including some confidential information about his manager. This was clearly an accident, but it was sloppy on my part.
I felt sick. What made this worse was that this day happened to be my birthday.
I took a deep breath. I got a pen and some paper and started answering the three questions.
What was my fear?
I thought the person would think I was stupid for sending this to them. I was worried that my boss might think I was ineffective, incompetent
As I began writing the answers to this question, I started to question whether I even valued my abilities and worth as a human being.
I put this down. It was hard. I realized that I’d had a negative impression of myself. It was difficult to ponder this, but it was such an invaluable experience that I used it to springboard into improving other areas of my life.
Did I have the ability to change this?
No. The email was sent. The workday had finished. I was celebrating my birthday that evening. Yet the fear kept coming up.
I couldn’t change what had happened, but the fear remained. How could I change that? I wrote down a solution when I returned home, one that would benefit me and hopefully the other person.
I acknowledged it was a mistake. I told myself that I would take care and be diligent before pressing the send button in future. I turned the negative into a positive.
Lesson learned. The fear subsided.
And onto the last question: If this happened to somebody I love, what would I tell him or her?
This is the easy bit, as it is no longer about me. I would tell them, “These things happen. We all make mistakes. Everything will be okay. This is one event that will likely seem insignificant when weighed against the many things that will happen to you over the course of your life.”
I went to bed that night feeling much better and got some sleep.
So, what happened?
The next day, the moment I sat down at my desk, I rang the person to whom I sent the email and explained the situation. I asked him to delete the email, and he said he would.
That was the end of the saga. No further communication came my way. From anyone.
Did he look at the information in the email? I don’t know. Does it matter? No. Because I could not revoke what happened in the past.
Answering the three questions helped me feel better about myself. It still does.
Since I have implemented this into my life, most of these troubling events have started to disappear. Well, maybe they didn’t disappear, but my perception of them as being problems, which causes anxiety, has disappeared.
In the past, I had conditioned myself to feel bad all the time. It was who I was. Today, referring back to this list whenever I have a problem or anxiety is immensely therapeutic.
It does take time to make this a habit, and it is certainly not a quick fix to eliminating all anxieties and fears. It is also confronting, initially, to spend time exploring how your fears manifest.
However, the rewards, in my case, have been very satisfying. I have developed a sense of love toward myself, which had never existed before, and more importantly, I feel more love toward others.
What do I fear most now? That I might revert back to the “old Kieran” and start worrying about every little thing. Oh, great, now I’ve identified this fear, I need to ask myself the three questions again!