How is it two people can experience the exact same thing, yet have entirely different experiences – and how does anxiety play its part?
Picture, if you will, Paul and Jen.
Both Paul and Jen share the same birthday and, as a birthday treat, both their partners have booked a day out in London, including a show and dinner.
They were both told about the surprise in advance – so that they could book time off at work.
Jen got progressively more excited as the days approached, and Paul got more anxious.
Paul has a typical 'anxious attitude', including an anxious outlook on life. He has been anxious most of his life – as far back as he can remember. Paul doesn't like to venture too far outside of his comfort zone and likes a set routine, even though that routine keeps him generally anxious. Up for work Monday to Friday, with the weekend spent relaxing at home. There is little that tends to get in the way of this repetitive cycle.
Thoughts about his trip to London are filling him with dread.
'I really appreciate you booking a nice trip, but do we have to go to London? People are so unfriendly there. It's always so busy with people rushing about and pushing past each other. Plus, you've heard about all the terror and stuff going on there. Will we have to use the tube? I'm not sure I'm going to enjoy myself. Can we stay at home and do something here?'
Paul reluctantly went to London. As he had predicted, the people weren't friendly, it was busy, and the tube was a horrible, panic-inducing experience. He doesn't plan to stray too far outside of his routine again.
Jen experiences similar feelings to Paul. She has never been to London, so naturally has butterflies in her stomach when she thinks about it. She too has seen the news, but remains excited and optimistic about what to expect.
'I'm looking forward to our trip. I've heard the best restaurants and shows are in London. I wonder if we will have time to fit in a bit of shopping and sightseeing? Can we go on the tube? I've never been on the underground, and I'd like to give it a go.'
Jen came back from her trip to London buzzing. The show and meal were excellent. She couldn't fit everything she wanted to do in one day, so booked another visit in a few months. The trip also encouraged Jen to explore other destinations outside of the UK. She feels the world is her oyster, and she plans to make the most of it.
BEFORE IT HAPPENS
It's chicken and egg.
What comes first? The anxiety, or the thing causing the anxiety?
In the case of the 'anxious attitude', the anxiety comes before the cause.
Anxiety is the outlook – the predefined predictor.
Our experience, including how we see the world, takes place in our head before it takes place for real. In other words, your perception, or your attitude, defines and predetermines your experience.
How often do you predict something is 'going to go that way', and how often does it go the exact way you anticipated it would go?
WHAT CAN BE DONE?
If you have a naturally 'anxious attitude', it's based on a habit – habitual behaviour and beliefs acted out over and over again.
To start breaking this anxiety-related habit so you can enjoy life and look forward to things rather than dread them (it is possible!), you first have to become aware of the habit itself.
And that's all you need to do: become more aware.
You can't expect to break a lifelong habit overnight. But if you become more aware of your negative behaviours and beliefs, you can challenge them.
By challenging them, you give yourself the opportunity to at least give something a go before prejudging it. And if you decide not to give it a go, that was your choice – not the choice of fear – not because anxiety ruled you.
Become more aware, challenge by knowing you have a choice, and you get back in the driving seat. With time, your attitude has an entirely new outlook.