Alright, so if you’ve landed on my blog via YouTube, then you’re probably already aware of my legendary disclaimers. I just want people to know what they’re getting themselves into and what to expect before hand. I am in no way and don’t claim to be a psychologist or a therapist. The stories that I share in this post are mine and the techniques are just techniques that “I” use and that work for me. I can’t promise that these will work for you, the reader, but I hope they’ll help. I still deal with anxiety, but it’s a lot easier now than it was before. I actually made a youtube video about anxiety back when I was in Europe. Here is the youtube video I made on this subject.
Anyway, without further ado, let me give a little bit of background story, so that you guys understand my experience with anxiety and where I’m coming from.
I’ve dealt with anxiety for as long I can remember. I remember I was very shy growing up. I used to wear my hair down and in my face and kind of hide behind it. The idea of talking to strangers and pushing my comfort zone was something that super hero’s did. I’m human, so none of that was for me. I didn’t know it at the time, but hiding behind the whole “this triggers my anxiety, so I won’t do it” allowed me to live in a really safe bubble. I could hide from my anxiety and feel safe, but I’d have to watch opportunity after opportunity after opportunity pass me by which sucked.
I learned that suffering can sometimes be the easier and more comfortable option. Pushing your comfort zone and overcoming your issues to get what you want out of life is the more difficult route. Allowing my anxiety to control me and stop me from achieving my goals was actually easier because I didn’t actually have to do anything. No action needed to be taken. That was just how things were. That realization didn’t dawn on me until recently, but I was, however, aware of the fact that I needed to do something about my being anxious all the time.
Language learning changed my life
Enter the Polyglot Grind although it wasn’t called that back then. When I was around 15, I asked myself a question that would change my life is so many profound ways… “What would it be like to think in a foreign language?” I thought to myself. I started asking around. Everybody told me that it was the exact same thing as thinking in English. I was a stubborn person who needed to experience things for myself back then, so I decided to learn German. My aunt lent me her German books, and I dove into them. I had no idea what I was doing back then, so I focused solely on grammar and tried to remember vocabulary lists and random words out of context. I cringe when I think about how inexperienced I was when it came to language learning back then, but everybody has to start somewhere. My terrible approach to learning German caused me to get frustrated and give up. I thought learning languages just wasn’t for me.
The principal at my school had somehow caught wind that I was learning German and talked to me about it one day. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went, but I remember that it ended with her telling me that when you know multiple languages, subsequent languages get easier. I decided to learn Spanish because it was similar to French and I figured that learning it would allow me to later learn German. Yes, I learned Spanish to learn German. There’s so special ancestral or cultural reason behind it like some people like to believe and yes, ALL of this ties into how I learned to better deal with my anxiety and I’ll explain how shortly. If you’ve read this far, keep going!
I got better at Spanish with time. It was a lot easier than German as a native speaker of English, but there was only one problem, I needed to practice… which meant *gulps* talking to strangers! :O. I was at Costco one day with my family. We were grocery shopping and I overheard some people speaking Spanish. I really wanted to practice with them, but I was too scared. A million thoughts raced through my mind. “What if they reject me?” “What if I can’t understand them” and many more. I don’t know how I summoned the courage, but I just walked up and talked to them and to my surprise, I didn’t die. They didn’t reject me and I was able to understand a lot of what they said. This is my most memorable first taste of how good mentally reframing a situation(Consciously choosing to look at it differently) could feel and I liked it.
It took me a while to get better at doing this. The next milestone was around my 19th birthday. I’d heard about a language exchange that took place at a bar once a week and wanted to check it out because I could legally enter bars because I had just turned 19. I summoned the courage to go and even bought a dress shirt. I laugh all this extra preparation in hindsight. I went to the bar and kind of awkwardly stood there. The organizer introduced me to some people and I talked for a bit, but then I started to get nervous. I remember I wanted leave, but I couldn’t even summon the courage to say “Guys, I gotta go”, so I sat there. I remember at one point, I just said out of the blue “guys, I’m leaving!” And got up. They all looked at me strange, but understandably so. I tried to talk to some other people before I actually left the bar itself, but I kept getting in my head mid conversation. I decided to just leave. I realized that this had to change. Obviously I had good friends and stuff, but the anxiety was holding me back from broadening my horizons, making even more friends and many, many other things.
2013 was the first year that I actually made a conscious effort to get over all of this stuff. I realized a change needed to be made. I learned through YouTube videos and trial and error that I needed to learn to make a conscious choice to catch myself whenever I found myself getting into my own head. I started off by wearing clothes I didn’t normally wear because I knew it would make me feel uncomfortable. I started speaking up a bit more. When ever I’d start getting in my head, I’d just stop and think to myself. “Calm down, you’re caring too much. It doesn’t matter as much as I’m making it seem”
After a while, that started to become second nature. There were ups and downs and some days I felt like I’d lost all of my progress, but I kept at it. I needed to.
2014 was probably the year of the biggest social epiphany that I’ve had so far. It was the year that It finally completely dawned on me that I could take a scary stimulus and reframe it into something enjoyable. I learned this at a bar. There was a bar that my international friends brought me to. I loved it because there were sooo many foreign people and I could practice soo many languages. I used to go all the time. With time my original group of international friends started moving back home, so I slowly ran out of people to go to the bar with. I showed one local friend the bar and he started coming too. One day it was supposed to just be he and I. I went alllll the way to Toronto and was waiting in line to get in. I texted him asking him when he’d be there and he said he wasn’t coming. At this point I was at the front of the line and had already paid for the train and the subway, so going back home would’ve meant that I’d wasted over 20 dollars. I realized I had two choices; go home scared or go in, leap out of my comfort zone and talk to people. I chose the second option.
Surprisingly once again, I didn’t die, I did, however suffer some rejections, but I didn’t care because I just reframed the rejections and most importantly, I learned to turn that fear I’d feel before approaching people into a pleasurable feeling. Feelings and emotions exist outside of our minds. They have to pass through a mental filter and then we decide how to interpret them. That’s why riding a roller coaster is fun, but asking your crush out is scary. You chose to interpret one as scary and the other as pleasurable.
This knowledge made me unstoppable. My friend flaked the following week too and I just repeated the process. It came to the point where I wanted him to cancel because having to go alone would mean that I’d get to experience the rush of pushing my comfort zone and it was addictive! I was hooked.
Now that you understand where I started and how I got here, I’ll explain how you can emulate this in greater detail. Firstly, allow me to explain how fear works; Fear happens when an outside stimulus passes through your mental filter and you choose to interpret it as fear. Imagine your comfort zone as an imaginary circle around you. Let’s call it “The comfort circle” for the sake of this post. Confident people have large comfort circles around them and people who aren’t confident have small comfort circles. The circle isn’t fixed. It can expand and recede depending on your lifestyle choices and how often you push it.
If you have a small comfort circle, you need to start pushing it slowly. If wearing pink scares you, don’t go out and buy a full pink outfit and walk down the street… that will probably result in a panic attack. Buy pink socks instead and start small. Wear them in a way that maybe only you notice them. You’re not doing this to show off, you’re training you brain to reinterpret frightening stimuli. These small things will allow you to expand your comfort circle and you’ll notice it slowly expanding. Once you feel comfortable with the pink socks, buy a pink hat. Once you feel comfortable with the hat and socks, buy pants, and then a shirt and before you know it, you’ll be able to wear an entirely pink outfit. That honestly probably wouldn’t look the best and you may want to mix colours, but that’s beside the point.
Push your comfort circle in small Increments and it will continue to expand. Eventually, you’ll reach a point where you’ll look back and wonder how the external stimulus even caused you fear or anxiety to begin with.
This can be applied to everything. Take the stimulus and remember that it exists outside of your mind and that YOU have the CHOICE to interpret it how you want when it passes through your mental filter. Remember, it’s just like being on a rollercoaster and rollercoasters are fun, right?
Be warned though! If you stop pushing your comfort zone and start getting lazy, it will start to recede again. You have to keep pushing it everyday. This is a complete lifestyle change, not a social diet. This doesn’t mean that you have to wear pink everyday, or say Hello to every stranger you see on the street, it just means that you need to keep challenging yourself everyday. Keep chasing your goals and keep pushing yourself. Eventually it will become second nature.
I hope this was helpful! This is what works for me. Continue to push your boundaries and achieve your goals. See you guys in the next post!