Our entire lives exist as stories we tell ourselves. Our past and our future are just thoughts we believe in the present. There are the facts of the situation, which are few and provable, and then there are the interpretations.
This is important to realize because too many of us believe our past determines who we are and what we are capable of. We aren’t creative or athletic. We aren’t good with money. We are anxious.
We assume our stories are true and unchangeable, but anyone who has gone through a breakup, forgiven someone, or made a huge mental shift in their lives has experienced firsthand how the past can “change” when our thoughts about it change.
This isn’t rewriting the truth, which is the fear most of us have when these conversations come up. If we simply believe something different, we think, we’ll be inauthentic. We’ll be lying to ourselves. If I rewrite the script that I am an anxious person, I’ll be pretending, and it’s important that we are open and honest about mental illness, not hiding and pretending things are different than they are.
I used to think like this, and I still catch myself assuming the most devastating version of a story is true or that stories are true or not true at all. There are facts and there are thoughts. Most of what we tell ourselves to be true is actually just thoughts. The same fact could happen to a different person and they’d react very differently. The same fact could happen to you on a different day of the week and you’d react differently.
You can be honest about how you experienced something as it happened, but maybe authenticity is less about believing the same story until you die and more about the willingness to become who you want to be. And for many of us, that requires shifting out of the past and into the future possibility.
Anxiety, at least the way most of us experience it, is a thought pattern. It comes from backing ourselves into a corner mentally until there is no successful outcome available to us. Our brain then freaks out at the lack of options that equal success or survival.
When we lock on to thoughts about the past, it’s easy to use our past failures as evidence for future failure. Makes sense. Except it doesn’t. Who you are in the future could be entirely different than who you are now.
One of the first steps to shift your anxiety thought pattern is to open up to possibilities. Sure, okay, your brain thinks you can’t win in this situation. Acknowledge that. But then ask yourself, “What else is possible?”
If anxiety is tension and collapse, possibility is openness and consideration. Feel the shift in your body as you explore both.
Visualization or daydreaming are powerful tools for change because they open us up to new emotions and desires we would’ve have access to if we stayed in the same old thought loops from the past. They are intentional vehicles to access feelings of possibility. And the more our brain believes it is safe, survival is assured, and new possibilities are exciting, the less it needs to set off its danger signals of anxiety.