I finished “Linchpin” by Seth Godin this week, and wanted to share a passage which I’ve thought a lot about since first reading.
Godin writes one of the most popular blogs on the internet and is a multi-time, New York Times best-selling author. So definitely a voice to respect and listen to.
Linchpin is written in an unusual format – almost like hundreds of blog posts, one after the other, but with a consistent theme. Here’s the passage I’d like you to think about:
Anxiety Is Practicing Failure in Advance
Anxiety is needless and imaginary. It’s fear about fear, fear that means nothing.
The difference between fear and anxiety: Anxiety is diffuse and focuses on possibilities in an unknown future, not a real and present threat. The resistance is 100 percent about anxiety, because humans have developed other emotions and warnings to help us avoid actual threats. Anxiety, on the other hand, is an internal construct with no relation to the outside world. “Needless anxiety” is redundant, because anxiety is always needless. Anxiety doesn’t protect you from danger, but from doing great things. It keeps you awake at night and foretells a future that’s not going to happen.
On the other hand, fear is about staying alive, avoiding snakes, feeding your family, and getting the right to play again tomorrow. Fear should be paid careful attention. There’s not a lot of genuine fear here in our world, so when it appears, it’s worth noting.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is dangerous paralysis. Anxiety is the exaggeration of the worst possible what-if, accompanied by self-talk that leads to the relentless minimization of the actual odds of success.
Anxiety makes it impossible to do art, because it feeds the resistance, giving the lizard brain insane power over us. It’s impossible to be a linchpin if you agree to feed your anxiety.
You’ll notice that throughout this book I’ve often used the word “fear” when I really meant anxiety. That’s because we do it all the time, confusing the two. A bad habit.
Lots to unpack…
“Anxiety is needless and imaginary.” There’s a lot of commentary around anxiety, especially among young people. Countless blogs and articles discuss how to deal with it. I’ve seen a lot of perspectives, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen it described as “needless and imaginary”.
I think Seth feels anxiety just like the rest of us, but I don’t think it stops him from doing great things. It’s an important point to consider that many of our anxieties only exist in our own heads.
Often anxiety is imaginary. Countless times, I’ve lost sleep over totally hypothetical scenarios, which never came close to fruition. My mind is a master at coming up with hundreds of terrible outcomes when I give it free-reign to do so.
“I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened” – Mark Twain.
Meditation helps with this. As I said in “4 Practical Steps You Can Take to Improve Your Mental Health”, meditation allows you to become the chess player, rather than the chess piece. You have more control and autonomy over your thoughts, which prevents the negative thought spirals from getting out of control.
The other element I loved from this passage was the conflation of fear and anxiety. They are not the same thing. We live in a remarkably safe world today, where our lives aren’t at risk of being cut short by a violent crime or war. We don’t have large predators to look out for like our ancestors did, and the chances of falling out a tree to our deaths are FAR lower than they used to be.
In fact, we are now the biggest threat to our lives. Suicide and obesity are two leading causes of death in the Western World.
I think we’ve become so accustomed over time to have something to be scared of and worried about, that when we don’t, our minds create things to be anxious about or fearful of. It’s a survival mechanism that has served us well thus far, but may now be hindering rather than helping us to progress.
But, as Seth says, fear is fundamentally important, and real fear should be listened to. I’ve been in some situations where I felt genuine fear, where my life was at risk, and thank God I had my lizard brain to protect me. Fear serves a vitally important role in our lives, when we need it.
So I suppose it’s the distinction of when we should be genuinely fearful, and when we’re creating fear/anxiety, is what Seth is trying to get us to think about.
Next time you’re feeling anxious, ask yourself: “Is this something I should be fearful of/anxious about, or is my brain just trying to protect me from a threat which doesn’t really exist?”
Thanks for reading!
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