“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety,
when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act “
– Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Understandably, the over-arching, cultural (if not global) mindset in recent weeks has been that of a general fear of the unknown. Ironically, this happens to be an appropriate definition for Anxiety. While a very real clinical disorder, we should keep in mind that there are productive aspects of anxiety that can be helpful in moving us from a passive to active stance.
Considering treatment with a trained mental health professional is the first step when your day-to-day life has become disrupted and you’ve found yourself overwhelmed with worries and fears that are imposing upon daily function.
On the other hand, the experience of anxiety happens to be a normal reaction during these extraordinary times. Why wouldn’t we feel anxious? There is a rational fear of losing our health, our livelihood, our homes….and our sanity.
What if we were to transform our traditional understanding and experience of anxiety and just for a moment…. allow ourselves to embrace the concept that there exists within us, an optimal level of anxiety necessary for change and growth.
As early as 1908, psychologists Yerkes and Dodson recognized that an optimal level of anxiety needs to be reached in order to obtain desired performance.
Once that level is surpassed, the likelihood of desired performance becomes diminished. The key is to balance our anxiety with our enjoyment of the task.
Simply stated, we become intrinsically motivated when there is a felt sense of desire and enjoyment of a task, balanced with just the right dose of anxiety to let go and get lost in our performance.
So now we need to determine the “How.” How can we harness the power of our anxiety to take action? It begins with understanding and accepting that during these tentative moments in time, discomfort is normal.
Despite our anxiety, we are normal. Time to get on friendly terms with it. Wear it on your sleeve like a badge of honor.
Welcome to the theory of “Flow.” Flow is the mental state of a person completely immersed in one activity or event — a moment in which our energy is singularly focused and oblivious to the world around us.
A productive escape.
For example, “Runners High.” How in the world does someone get to a place of pushing their body in a way that would likely cause maximum discomfort? How is it possible to experience an internal automation in which exerting so much energy, while developing a pace that can be maintained for lengthy periods of time, feels amazing?
The answer is simple. It’s pure enjoyment of the task.
These runners tap into what they need and turn off what they don’t. They turn off their thinking brain and turn on their feeling brain to achieve and maintain a comfortable pace.
Clearly we aren’t all runners; however, we all have something – just something we enjoy, a space where we can let go, become lost and experience the output of energy for the simple purpose of pleasure and accomplishment.
We can all benefit from some level of anxiety that invites us to explore and think outside of the box in order to pursue our passions, curiosities and interests.
This is the stuff creativity, opportunity, innovation and transformation are made of.
Thank you Anxiety. 🧡