A column from the genuine, emotional, and often humorous exploits of coaching executives in Silicon Valley.

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Feeling Anxious? You’re Welcome

empowerment leadership self understanding Jun 30, 2022

Is it just me, or is everyone more on edge than usual? 

Political discourse or any challenging conversation where an opinion can be formed—even amongst friends—turns into walking on eggshells, stuttering, and praying to {REDACTED} that you don’t hurt anyone’s feelings or get canceled. 

Perhaps I’m over-indexing as I am supporting a higher-than-usual client load riddled with crippling anxiety and serving myself overly sensationalized news headlines for a second course.

But I don’t think it’s just me, and there is no way it’s from our favorite scapegoat: COVID, right?

I highly value the casually confident yet collected stoic executive, but I’ve noticed a ‘softening’ trend of growing anxiety and overly apologetic leadership. Leaders built on a foundation of fear and ‘please like me’ versus a foundation of integrity and principle.

Being a chameleon for what you think people want to see is a recipe for duplicity, anxiety, and unhappiness.

With economic volatility rapidly on the rise, executives are on the precipice of revealing their true character. And ideally, it’s one of bold integrity, sound judgment, and intentional action—not anxiety-laden spiraling and photos of themselves crying on LinkedIn.

 

A World On Fire

Successful executives need to curtail any anxiety they’re feeling into a more meaningful and impactful pattern. Not just for themselves, but for their teams sprinkled around the world dealing with individualized cultural nuances and spiritual warfare from all angles.

Make no mistake, your teams are under fire, whether you blame your boss, toxic company culture, society, SCOTUS, Brandon, COVID, the media, floods, droughts, disinformation, inflation, supply chain, food chain, greenhouse gas, Orange Man, AR-15s, BLM, the police, or simply the damn kids these days.

There are big problems everywhere and seemingly little we can do to move the needle.
 

 

Nipping Anxiety In The Bud

My wife threw me for a loop the other day with profound wisdom, as she so often does. I was monologuing about anxiety and how I’m not sure how to advise clients (or myself) from struggling with it. She simply replied, “Be grateful.”

Excuse me?

“It’s easy. Your brain cannot process anxiety and gratitude at the same time. So be grateful.” She added with calm certainty.

Being the snappy consultative prick that I can be, I immediately challenged her point. There’s no fricken way that’s true and I hastily fat-fingered a Google search together.

...can you be anxious and grateful at the same time...

 I'll be damned. She’s right. (A comment that I did not mutter vocally).
 

 

Use Gratitude to Replace Anxiety

When faced with challenges, you really only have two outlooks. You can approach them with anxiety or gratitude. And as the best arm-chair psychologist I know, I agree that’s it. These two perspectives will set bigger trends into motion for you—and as an executive authority figure in your career, your choice will significantly impact your business and team.

Anxiety is negative and gratitude is positive. And while most realities are somewhere in the middle, I’d argue that the right approach is clear.

Now before you give me hell for writing a ‘floo-floo’ article with an over-simplified answer to a highly-complex challenge, maybe – just maybe – we need something simple to tackle the mess of complications we're expected to always lead with poise.

I often advise clients that it’s much better to say ‘thank you for bearing with me’ rather than ‘I’m sorry I’m a disheveled and unhireable mess’ when they screw up. It’s a psychological trick that makes you look like a badass versus a trainwreck.

It’s a similar leadership hack to replacing worrisome tasks with a positive outlook. For example, turning “I HAVE to present to the entire company” into “I GET the opportunity to present to the entire company.” Get yourself fired up vs. scared to death.

The impact of flipping the positive psychological switch will not just help you—it will reverberate into the performance of the teams that you lead.

 

Daily Homework

The goal of concentrating more on gratitude is to train your brain to focus on the good and subsequently benefit the teams that you lead. You may even find expressing gratitude every day helps you live a happier life.

Take a moment to write a list of three areas in your life for which you are grateful. 

Don’t scoff at this exercise. Be mindfully present. Your list may include a spouse, child, health—or your career, opportunity, or a colleague. 

Now mark your calendar with a repeating task for 7 days out and list three areas of gratitude again.

If your anxiety is chronic, consider upping the dosage of gratitude to a daily habit. The longer and more frequently you express gratitude, the weaker your anxiety, fear, and worry become.

You’re not burying your head and ignoring reality, you’re choosing how to participate in the reality that you want.

Here are a few reminders. If you find these inspiring, you can scribble them onto a sticky note and paste them on your webcam.

  • Stop and smell the roses. Unplug from tech and grab a breath of fresh air.
  • Journal your thoughts each morning. Even if it’s a simple sentence or two of gratitude.
  • Practice meditation or deep breathing while visualizing something that makes you feel joy.
  • When a friend crosses your mind, call them.
  • Acknowledge anxiety and pause to find appreciation.
  • Give yourself permission to be grateful. It’s not voodoo science.
  • Be thankful for something about yourself.

We’re all inundated with bad news and overwhelming circumstances that humanity wasn’t designed to cope with at the scale we’ve created for ourselves. Assess anxiety-provoking triggers—and fight like hell to remove them or at least find a way to love them.

Drop me a note on what you do to disrupt anxiety. A short text would make my day. 

The more ways we can respond with gratitude, the more we can strengthen the positive responses in our brain and the happier we can be. Even when shouldering layoffs, soul-crushing news, and that next big scary interview.

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