One of the root causes of anxiety is falling prey to the ego’s tendency to divide life into polarities – good/evil, right/wrong, black/white – in an attempt to control the outcome of our choices and find a guarantee. In other words, your ego believes that if it could find a definitive answer to this one question, or make the “right” choice, you would find peace and happiness. The irony is that, in its attempt to stave off anxiety by finding the one right answer, it actually creates even more anxiety.
Why? Because life is not a black-and-white checkerboard where the answers are neatly hidden behind each square; it’s complicated, multi-dimensional, and mysterious. And when we exert massive amounts of energy trying to determine the “right” answer, we become absorbed in a rumination process that takes place in our heads. And the answers – if there are any – don’t live in our heads.
They live in our bodies. Our bodies carry our wisdom, and when we can connect to our natural and intrinsic navigation system – one that every human being is born with – we’re able to relinquish the addiction to finding one right way and instead live from a more embodied experience that allows for multiplicity and paradox. And, speaking of paradox, when we let go of the belief that one right way exists we open up to our body’s wisdom which can guide us toward a loving way – not the loving way, but a loving way.
One of the other ego’s sneaky little tricks to try to control the future and how others view you is to lure you into a belief that if you choose “right”, you will be happy and receive approval. This choosing “right” often spans the spectrum of insignificant decisions like which cereal to pick at the supermarket to choosing your life partner. The underlying belief is that if you choose right, you’ll be happy and if you choose wrong you’ll be unhappy and, perhaps even worse, seen by others as a failure.
The antidote to this negative belief system is to adopt a mindset of learning. If you approach every decision you make as an opportunity to learn no matter what the outcome, you can start to shift out of paralysis and move into more flow. Obviously the stakes are lower with a box of cereal than a life partner, but in the end, every mistake we make is an opportunity to learn. In fact, studies now show that mistakes are not only opportunities for learning but also how we learn. In other words, we need to make mistakes if we’re going to grow.
Yet for many people the goal isn’t to learn and grow but to be seen a certain way: as happy or successful or having it all together. Guided by a culture that encourages us to externalize our sense of self from the moment we’re born, for many people their priority is, above all us, to try to control how others see them.
This is where the shift in mindset becomes essential, where we have to take our minds by the horns and say, “Is the way I’ve been operating bringing me peace?” If the answer is no – and it probably is otherwise you wouldn’t have found your way to my site – then it’s time to have a good talking-to with yourself and recognize that you have the capacity to choose another way. You can choose to experiment with letting go of control, turning your attention inward, and connecting to your Self with a big S. You can choose, in essence, to practice the skills that will grow your self-trust so that you can stop looking outside of yourself for your answers.
When you trust yourself, you can tolerate ambiguity. When you have enough self-love derived from a sense of your essential worthiness (which is one of the essential prongs of self-trust; the other being self-knowledge), you can review your life and recognize your mistakes without equating mistakes with unworthiness. You may feel sadness about those mistakes, and probably even some remorse, but you can allow those natural feelings to wash over you as you review your decisions through the lens of learning and new awareness. We are intrinsically flawed as human beings, but we are also intrinsically whole, which means that making mistakes is part of the plan and learning from them from the mindset of our wholeness is part of the plan as well.
And this is how we move toward more wholeness: by learning to widen our lens to include multiple realities, and finding the courage to take risks without guarantees. This is how we shift out of the stuck state that arises when we equate the outcome of our decisions with worthiness and instead know in our bones that our worthiness is inviolable. This is how we jump off the cliffs of our lives – backward – and trust that wings like parachutes will land us gently on the ground again.
Are you ready to learn how to jump off the cliff of your life and trust that your parachute will open? Are you ready to learn what it means to trust so that you can shift from feeling stuck to living in more flow, from caring what others think to connecting to your own guidance? If so, please join me for my next round of Trust Yourself: A 30-day program to help your overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The program begins TOMORROW and space is limited. I look forward to seeing you there.
Beautiful. Thank you, Sheryl.
I think choosing ‘the loving’ choice, as opposed to ‘a loving’ choice has been a sticking point for me. When you surrender to the ‘is there someone more suited to me out there’ thought, it empowers you to STOP obsessing about an unknown answer, and allows you to be present and loving towards your partner, who is available and right there in front of you. It is also so empowering when you develop that little bit of self belief when you commit to saying to your ego ‘ I’m making THIS choice, and committing to it’.
With all this said…when you say choosing ‘a’ loving choice, does it suggest that there is not just one person for you? But it’s a in fact a choice to commit to the one that YOU choose?
Hope that’s clear(ish!)
I was just thinking about this during these past couple of days since my situation is worsening and my anxiety instead of softening, it’s becoming even more intense. That’s the question I’ve been asking myself :”Am I making the right choice ?” A few days ago my anxiety was spiked when I was reading a forum about whether marriages where the wife is more educated than her spouse are successful. Many women equaled the college degree with intelligence so they said that these marriages are doomed since the woman would always see her husband as inferior…..and it was the last thing I needed to read. I’ve always cared what other people think and now I’m struggling with the decision whether I’m making the right choice. This post is amazing and gives me such peace. It’s good tho know that the answer is not in the others, the answer is in ourselves. Thanks Sheryl for your existence!
Lea, I relate so much to what you wrote and struggled for many months with the same concern about intelligence. I hope you don’t mind me opining here, but maybe my experience will help – I realized (with help from others and a lot of overanalysis and suffering) that there are all different types of intelligence, not just the kind documented on paper by academia. My boyfriend, for example, has an incredibly high EQ – he picks up on all kinds of subtleties and nuance as it relates to other people and business. I overlooked this for a while because he didn’t use the back half of the dictionary in casual conversation. But here’s the thing – when we are in the throws of every day life, and we are living together and preparing meals together and taking care of a family together, it is so much more important that we can have thoughtful conversations about the things that matter. Very rarely will we need to be able to discuss Proust after walking the dog. Also, we can get that cerebral connection from our friends. Not everything needs to come from our partner. Once I grasped that for myself I felt a lot better and my anxiety lifted. I hope yours does too.
I came across your blog a couple weeks ago and it has helped me in more ways than one. In December my boyfriend had ACL surgery, about a week later they found a blood clot and he was on bed rest for over a month. A couple weeks after his surgery I started to not feel myself, I was stressed over money and having to constantly take care of my boyfriend. Then all of a sudden a deep dark depression hit me and I was having panic attacks, which I have never had to deal with either. My past mistakes and struggles started to replay over and over in my mind. I started questioning is he “the one?” “Am I worthy of his love?” “Can I love the same person for the rest of my life?” “Do I have enough love to give?” Getting up in the morning became a chore, going to work was unbearable and I didn’t feel love towards my family, friends and my boyfriend. My anxiety would worsen every time I had a negative thought and I kept asking myself “Why am I thinking this way? I KNOW that I love him, I’m in love with him.” It got to the point where I was comparing everyone else’s love stories to ours, getting jealous, wanting to quit my job and feeling like the only way out of feeling the way I was feeling was to leave my boyfriend and forever be alone. I have finally come out of depression but still live with anxiety here and there everyday, getting better each and everyday. I know that if I would have lost him it would have been the biggest mistake I have ever made. I come from a family who deal with depression and anxiety and my boyfriend also has dealt with it for as long as he can remember. Your blog has helped me realize that I’m not crazy and that love really is a choice. I have even been showing my family your blog posts and it seems to be helping them as well. I know my anxiety was created by the situation and the drastic change me and my boyfriend went through, but its still sometimes hard to not listen to those negative thoughts. I know what my heart truly wants and I have been trying to focus on that feeling more than the anxious feeling. Thank you for ALL your wonderful blog posts, they have been helping more than you know!
Thank you for sharing your story, and I’m so glad you’re learning to listen and tend to your inner world.
I took your Trust Yourself course when you first offered it. It came at a time when I realized that it was at the core of my struggles. I didn’t get to participate much due to other commitments and finished the course slowly on my own (which is something that I actually did because of your course gave me license to listen to my own rhythm…otherwise, I would have forced myself to keep up with the pace!). I just wanted to thank you for offering it. I have noticed a huge shift in myself and how I relate to the decisions that used to stun me frozen. I still have my moments, but I know how to work with them now.
On a side note, have you seen Ruth Chang’s TED talk on Hard Choices? Her talk actually reminded me of a lot of what you talk about in terms of uncertainty and being okay with it.
With a mountain of gratitude,
Thank you for your comment, and I’m so glad the course was helpful, and especially that you were able to trust yourself to go at your own pace. Yes, I have seen that TED talk but I think it’s time to watch it again. Many blessings to you, Sheryl
I’ve been struggling with the thought of “should I move home?” I’ve lived away for almost 9 years now with going off to school and a job. I don’t live close to home so it’s not easy to get there and I visit about twice a year. I’ve been struggling with relationship anxiety for about 9 months now and this thought continues to pop into my head. I know it’s just my ego thinking if I moved I would be happier. I started to recognize this trend because in 9 years I’ve lived in 3 states and 9 apartments. My therapist says that my thinking is probably related to the fact that home is where we grew up and times were easier then because we didn’t have jobs/responsibilities, we were just children at that time. When I think of moving home, I see it as finally my opportunity to settle down and I don’t see my partner with me. This scares me, but I think that’s part of the anxiety, to get away. I also think I’d feel guilty if he moved there just to satisfy this thought in my head. I know changing my living situation won’t make the anxiety go away, it will most likely attach to something else. Do you have any insight into this fear based thought?
Wow! My ego has been wrecking havoc lately. I’ve found so many words it keeps telling me in this text! Thank you for your help to remember this!
Sheryl, your blogs are always so right on point and arrive at the most synchronistic moments for me…especially this one. I am so grateful to have found you and your work. I took this course last time it was offered and saved every email so I can read them again. You are a blessing from the universe, and the work you are doing is so important. Thank you.
Deep gratitude for your comment. Thank you.
Is this a good class to take while taking the Wedding Transitions? I haven’t finished the transitions class yet and am not wanting to overwhelm myself with information which doesn’t seem to help with anxiety, but I know that this is an issue that I also struggle with. Is it better to wait or sign up?
The two courses dovetail with each other and work beautifully together, but it depends on much time you have to devote to the material.
That spoke to my entire being, Sheryl. yes, yes and Yes!
Hi Sheryl, Anxiety is a frightening and exhausting experience. But when you know what is exactly going on from your inspiring self. Sometimes i feel i lost my old self and yearn to feel that sense of freedom and peace. Even though i know i made the right choice in marrying my husband. I can undetstand why i feel confused its the ego mind i have had in my life. I do try to listen to my inner body instincts.
Thanks for sharing your experience 🙂 It is so comforting to hear that there are people out there who relive my experience.
I can totally relate to your experience of depression. In fact, I had an amazing life and relationship with my fiancee to the moment of the proposal. Since then, I’ve experienced everything you’ve described: getting up in the morning and going to work is a chore, I cry all the time, I have no feelings, I feel guilty for many things I’ve done in my past and I even had the same thought of staying single and alone for the rest of my life ( it seems/seemed as the only way out of this confusion ).
What I’m worried about is some people’s comments about this. They say that reading through this site and normalizing my doubts is not the right thing to do. They actually say that I need to listen to the voices in my head an act on it. It’s no good to avoid my inner voices saying he’s not this, he’s not that e.t.c. This spiked my anxiety. If this is true, then I need to broke off my engagement with my amazing man and search for someone else…..and what if that someone else has a college degree but lacks the self confidence, loyalty, intelligence, patience,love and understanding that my fiancee has. Will I leave that person to ? I thing Sheryl does not tell us to stay in a relationship that is not fulfilling but staying in a real relationship not perfect but good enough for us…..
So, so beautiful Sheryl! Thank you.
Thank you, dear Bettina.
Lea, i totally agree with your wisdom. Its the same as saying the grass isnt greener on the other side. No matter if u get a new fiance or a new dog there will always be something negative. But at the same time a different quality.And its usually not the person most of the time its our ego not our real feelings.
I think I needed this. If only it would just sink in. I’ve been battling with the whole “What if I’m really not gay” question. I noticed I was sexually attracted to this man I know and I noticed I’ve kind of had a block to girls recently after my breakup and it basically shattered my world and there is much anxiety going on in my head. not sure what to do.
Hi Sheryl, your words always help so much! Also thank you for pointing me towards your article on “living God’s will”. I definitely equate outcomes of decisions with worthiness.Because of that, I can easily get into the habit of thinking that if I make the “wrong choice” of marrying my partner (who does not share my same religious beliefs but is very synced to me -our morals, perceptions, interests, etc) that I will be deemed unworthy of God’s love. I know this false belief is from my upbringing under rigid religious teaching. Although I’ve regularly attended church with my family since middle school, it was only until the last year (15 years later) that I learned about grace. All that time of believing that I am either good or bad – in “God’s grace” or out of it – is hard to confront. Those beliefs are what comes storming back when I feel anxious, but thanks to your work, reading some amazing books, and doing a lot of soul searching / merging onto my own path of spirituality have I been able to quiet those thoughts. Thank you again so much! Your work is truly a God-send