When I was a young attorney, I made fast friends with David, a male colleague whose office was only a few doors down from mine. One morning, David stopped by my office and asked if I wanted to grab a quick coffee with him. While we were waiting for our drinks to be frothed and whipped, David mentioned a former female colleague of ours who had recently left the firm:
“I’m so glad that Stephanie doesn’t work here anymore!” he said.
I could see that David had more to say on the subject, but I couldn’t stop myself from interjecting because (unbeknownst to David), I was NOT a fan of Stephanie’s.
I excitedly said, “I know, right? I couldn’t stand working with her! She was so condescending and rude!”
David’s face turned beet red and he looked genuinely hurt. “I was going to say that I’m glad she doesn’t work here anymore because I prefer being married to her than working with her.”
DU-OH! Now it was my turn to flush red like a tomato. I prayed for the ground to swallow me up. Before I could clumsily apologize to David, the barista called our names. David mumbled something about a conference call, grabbed his coffee, and made a quick exit.
I’d like to say that I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve effed up and embarrassed myself like that. But I’d be lying. My mouth used to get me in quite a bit of trouble. And after each such incident, I’d beat myself up and anxiously replay my foot-in-mouth blunders for days on end. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting, and I became paranoid about screwing up social interactions with anyone and everyone (and consequently making enemies instead of friends).
But that was the old me. Thanks to the mindset work that I’ve done (and continue to do) as a life coach, I’ve learned that worry is nothing more than a poor use of my imagination. Worry gives us a false sense of control when we fear the unknown. It’s a default habit that many of us fall into when we’re grappling with uncertainty. But worry just causes paralysis and inaction. Your imagination is far too creative and expansive to waste on worry!
Here’s my challenge to you: Instead of letting worry take up valuable real estate in your mind, use your imagination in a way that creates feelings and experiences that you desire rather than dread. Here are my tips to get you started:
- Let it go after 7 seconds
All of us have moments when we put our foot in our mouths and say or do something weird, awkward, or unnecessary in public. What you should do next goes against the logic every anxious person feels. Here it is: Instead of obsessing over every detail of this interaction forever, let that moment go. Give yourself seven seconds to cringe and process that you’re a flawed human being like everyone else, and then release that embarrassment into the ether.
- Use creative visualization to release negative worries
I know what you’re thinking: letting things go is easier said than done. One way to get good at it is to schedule time in your day for mindfulness and reflection. This allows you to process ideas and anxieties in constructive (rather than destructive) ways.
Creative visualization is an Oprah-endorsed term for using your imagination to turn your most positive scenarios into reality. Set a goal, then create a mental image of exactly what your goal will look like. Or, picture putting your worry into a bubble and releasing the bubble to the sky. Sound corny? Maybe. But try it and see if you don’t feel a little lighter afterwards.
According to Shakti Gawain (who literally wrote the book on creative visualization), focusing on that mental image can mean creating a reality where you worry less and free your mind to focus on more productive (and happier!) things.
- Do something else
Sometimes, it’s when you try to stop thinking about something that it becomes harder than ever to forget it (i.e., the old “don’t think of the pink elephant” problem). The solution? Get your hands and mind occupied with something else, preferably something that requires focus and absorption. Call a friend, paint, take a yoga or boxing class, or any other activity forces you to engage with the world around you instead of your own self-flagellating thoughts.
And if nothing else, know that other people are just as awkward and anxious as you are, and that we are all on this embarrassing journey called life together. So get out there and love every minute of your fabulous (and sometimes clumsy?) life!