If you’re wired for worry, performance anxiety can take a toll on your happiness and ultimately, your productivity. Fortunately, there’s a superpower we can all tap into to combat fear, reclaim happiness, and benefit performance.
“Our ancestors could make two kinds of mistakes: (1) thinking there was a tigerRick Hanson, PhD, Hardwiring Happiness
in the bushes when there wasn’t one, and (2) thinking there was no tiger in the
bushes when there actually was one. The cost of the first mistake was needless anxiety,
while the cost of the second one was death. Consequently, we evolved to make the first
mistake a thousand times to avoid making the second mistake even once.”
My brain loves to think there is a tiger in the bushes.
In fact, my brain will launch the formulation of a technicolor, full-pronged action plan to coax it out, wrestle it to the ground, and soundly defeat it with nary any evidence a tiger is actually there.
Life with my brain can be an anxious and exhausting existence.
On the plus side, I can typically anticipate where things could go wrong in any business or personal situation. As a skilled explorer of the human condition, I can easily spot where there is potential for misunderstanding and/or predict how today’s hurt feelings could snowball into disengagement or worse. I can objectively consider the ramifications of an ill-timed decision and invest in solutions to benefit performance before they are needed.
When approached by a team member who is inquiring about how to handle this or that, most often you’ll hear me say, “Well, let’s think that through together.” It works like Magic.
When Performance Threatens Happiness
Where tiger worry tends to tip the scales toward the negative is that it creates in me an energetic stance of Performance at the cost of Play. With a focus on management and logistics, my energy flows toward the shores of desiring achievement. I hone right in on how I can benefit performance, hoop-jumping my way to a sense that I have value.
This Performance Jungle fosters in me a lack of self-worth as well as a desire to fit in even at the cost of expressing what I’m truly feeling or thinking. This is where Happiness raises its hand and says, “Check, please,” before making its way out the door.
Protect Your Happiness, Benefit Performance
If you, too, tend to be wired for tiger worry, I have discovered a handy solution: Play.
Note: I know that the hard-charging owner/manager part of you will want to resist this advice mightily. Take a moment here and suspend judgment. I promise it is worth it and will benefit performance.
Perhaps you have heard or read that one cannot simultaneously be in a statement of anxiety and gratitude. This served as a life preserver for me during my Nuclear Winter period. Each day, multiple times a day, I’d grab my journal each time I started to spiral into fear. I’d take a few minutes to focus on what I was grateful for and write it all down.
And just like that, poof!—anxiety was gone.
I have found that Play has similar delicious powers. There are no rules as to what form it takes or how long we engage. While we do have to surrender to it for it to be effective, as long as it is fun and feels like freedom (however we define both), it will work for us.
And when we do learn to harness this superpower, we not only grow our happiness and shrink our fear, but the natural side effect is that we also benefit performance. A happy, fearless brain will benefit performance.
Find Your Way to Play
Take a moment right now and write down three Play options you could add to your day. (Resist trying to make Play productive! Just let it be what your heart and soul desire.)
Perhaps you miss tinkering with an old car, meeting up with a friend for a game of tennis, puttering around in the garden, experimenting with a new recipe, or meandering through the library. Maybe you used to paint or sketch or do collage, and somehow when life got too busy, you stopped. Possibly, you long to plan an adventure to a foreign land and put your passport back into active status.
Now, choose one. Do it today. Before you begin, make a note of how you are feeling. Enjoy how easily you cross the threshold into a new energetic state. As much as our brains may embrace tigers in the bushes, I am convinced we are naturals at Play.
While, yes, we may have performative brains, I am completely convinced we can create a playful, joyful brain that will ultimately benefit performance far more than a productivity mindset will.
Our biggest hurdle will be our desire to cling to the status quo and refuse the possibility that we can take the time to Play. If you recognize this tendency in yourself, just consider how much Play can benefit performance. Play actually saves/creates time!
Do whatever you need to do to gift yourself Play. Sometimes, we simply have to work for our happiness.