[This post is part of a series on “Mental models and beliefs: an exercise to identify yours.” If you don’t see a Table of Contents to the left, click here to view the series, where you’ll get more value than reading just this post.]
Today’s model has special meaning to me because realizing it set me to learning about anxiety, the first emotion I started to learn analyzing to understanding emotional intelligence and self-awareness. I hope it inspires you as much as it did me.
It started with performing on stage for the class play in business school.
Months before the performance I wrote a sketch for Follies, the business school class play. It’s mostly inside jokes for business school students, not high art, but everyone loves it and there’s a great party after. I hadn’t performed on stage since about third grade and had no interest to, but I wanted my sketch performed and a Follies rule said for Follies to perform a sketch, the author has to be in Follies and perform on stage. So I joined Follies so my sketch would be performed, figuring I could quit after it was too late to drop it.
I ended up loving Follies and decided to risk going on stage. Not having been on stage in front of an audience, let alone 500 people, which is the Follies audience, twice a night, I was nervous. I hadn’t gotten my lines right once in rehearsal.
I stood off stage, waiting for my cue to enter — to risk flubbing my lines in front of 500 people, including many friends and classmates. I was scared and anxious enough almost to feel like throwing up. I couldn’t back out now. I had to go on stage and risk humiliation.
So I forced myself on stage. As soon as I got up the rehearsals kicked in and I performed like I practiced. In fact better, because I got my lines right for the only time of all.
Most importantly, the audience loved it. I forgot to mention that people liked the sketch a lot. In our dress rehearsal the band, which practiced separately so saw it for the first time, loved it. Now most of the school did too. I was on stage for the funniest part of the funniest sketch, which I wrote.
The upshot? I felt ecstatic. Elation. I can’t describe how good I felt. Almost better than I ever had for that length of time. And I noticed that what made me most anxious before doing it brought me the most joy and reward when I did it. And that’s today’s model.
A model to identify the parts of your life most ripe for improvement: The parts of my life that bring me the most joy today entered my life bringing me the most anxiety.
This experience showed me once instance where overwhelming anxiety preceded almost ineffable joy. Soon I noticed that pattern for all my most joyful things.
The parts of my life that bring me the most joy today entered my life bringing me the most anxiety.
I saw the pattern in school, sports, business, performing, and other places. Seeing the pattern showed me something new about anxiety. It’s different than fear. Anxiety has both desire to do something and fear of the consequences if it doesn’t go well. You don’t feel anxiety for things you don’t see any potential for reward in. The more anxiety you feel, the greater the potential reward, though also the greatest fear of the consequences.
After a while I realized that my great life joys came from overcoming the fear part of various anxieties, which suggested I should look for other sources of anxieties to turn what I considered great negatives into great rewards.
I also realized that the more I understood emotions, the more I could create the ones I wanted and avoid ones I didn’t. Not just anxiety and joy, but all emotions. So began my quest to learn emotional intelligence and self-awareness, though I wouldn’t have identified it that way at the time.
Some people call my process “conquering your fears.” I put it into practice, overcoming anxieties, learning about emotions, and building my skills to do more of it.
Anyway, today’s model is that the parts of my life that bring me the most joy began by bringing me the most anxiety. The strategy it leads to is overcoming your fears and anxieties to find the sources of joy they conflict with. The greater the anxiety, the greater the latent joy within.
When I use this belief
I use this belief when looking for parts of my life to improve.
I also use this belief to find value and ways to improve my life in anxieties and other emotions I wouldn’t otherwise like.
What this belief replaces
This belief replaces things that create emotions you don’t like with things that create emotions you do like. It replaces avoiding and denying emotions you don’t like with understanding them and using them to improve your life.
Where this belief leads
This belief leads to overcoming anxieties and conquering fears so they don’t bother you anymore. It leads to comfort and satisfaction.
Learn to make Meaningful Connections
with a simple, effective exercise from my book, Leadership Step by Step.
- Step by step instructions
- Video examples of me and Marshall Goldsmith
- An excerpt from my book