Throughout my twenties and into my thirties, I was constantly plagued by weight-lifting injuries. Somehow I got it into my head that something must be physically wrong with me. "Why," I wondered, "do I have so many injuries? Do I have some kind of muscles disease? Am I destined to deteriorate and waste away?" I worried about it and it made me even more desperate about building muscle before I wasted away.
Then one day I read about a study. The researchers attempted to discover what the cause of most weight-lifting injuries were. They found it was tension. When the exerciser was stressed or tense, they were more likely to pull a muscle working out. So basically, my fear that I had a problem was making my situation worse — producing more tension and so more injuries. I learned to relax and haven't had an injury since.
According to many books on anxiety disorders, one of the common things a doctor tells someone with an anxiety disorder is, "It's all in your head," which may be true, but it doesn't point to any way out. Now the poor anxious person has a new thing to feel anxious about. If he worries something is wrong with him, it can make him feel anxious and withdraw from people or withdraw from a goal or active interest or participation. And thus there is something wrong with him by virtue of the fact that he thinks there is something wrong with him. Thinking he has a problem has become a bigger problem than the original problem.
And sometimes people know they are more anxious than others, so they think something is wrong with them, and that makes them worry even more.
The way to clear out this gunk is with purpose. Your watchword from now on is: Purposefulness. Stop pondering what you don't want and start obsessing about what you do want and how you're going to accomplish it. Stop ruminating about what might be wrong with you and start working toward accomplishing a goal. Your whole psychology will shift from victimization and passivity to control, competence, and achievement. Fear and anxiety will transform into desire and determination.
I can't emphasize this enough. When I was a teenager, I saw a woman who was coping rather well with a challenging life. As she was in the process of a divorce, she had an abortion. Then she felt guilty about it. She went to a therapist for some help and he busied himself with delving into her past and convinced her she had deep-seated emotional problems, based in her childhood. It was all very deep and mysterious, and it would take many years of therapy to sort it out and dig up painful memories.
She believed her therapist, and she started to unravel. Eventually she escaped into a bottle to cope with her anxiety over her terrible, deep-seated problems. The therapist put her attention on her fears and enlarged them. This is a woman who was prone to anxiety but was managing pretty well up to this point. The therapist put her attention on her problems and magnified them. This did not help her. Her biggest problem became her belief that she had big problems — overwhelmingly big problems — and it made her withdraw. She ruined her life with the belief that she had a big problem.
Don't make this mistake. Delving into psychological problems can be an endless task because the mind will find whatever you're looking for if you look hard enough. The mind tries to answer questions you pose it.
If you ask yourself, "What am I afraid of?" you can come up with so many answers you might never want to leave your house! But ask, "What do I want to accomplish?" and you might just accomplish something!
The woman was raising children. Had the therapist asked her what she wanted to accomplish, she probably would have said, "I want to raise healthy, happy children." And she would have been off and running in a positive, healthy, life-giving direction. Any problems she needed to solve on the way would have been prevented from looming too large because they would be solved on the way to something more important — her goal — thus limiting the problem's importance and preventing overwhelm.
Adam Khan is the author of Principles For Personal Growth, Direct Your Mind, and co-author with Klassy Evans of How to Change the Way You Look at Things (in Plain English). Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.