An increasingly hostile planetary climate, political insanity and gridlock, random acts of violence and terrorism, economic uncertainty, the threat of nuclear conflict… There are plenty of real-life demons loose in our world to generate that immobilizing feeling of deep anxiety or dread that the German’s call angst. And we’re all likely to experience it from time to time.
But here’s the question: Will you be frozen in place and succumb to this angst or will you reach inside yourself and connect with your passion to meet the angst head-on and defeat it?
It’s my purpose here to motivate you, through the wisdom shared by a few great minds, to take action — and, through this action, to pull yourself out of your musty ol’ funk. In the process, you might just make the world a better place!
“Spit on Your Hands?” What’s That About?!?
In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie urges: “… knowledge isn’t power until it is applied; [my] purpose …is to remind you of what you already know and to kick you in the shins and inspire you to do something about applying it.” Carnegie also says: “Spit on your hands and get busy. Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking–and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind. Get busy. Keep busy.”
In this vivid imagery, Carnegie foreshadowed the advice that would later be asserted by psychologist William Glasser in his “choice theory.” According to the online publication summarizing Glasser’s work, Choice Theory Basics, Glasser tells us that “If we want to change the way we are feeling emotionally or physically, the most effective thing to do is to change what we are doing.” In other words, get busy!
Is That Anxiety or Rotting Fish?
In Brian Johnson’s PhilosphersNotes on Russell Simmons’ book “Do You,” Brian bangs together two relevant quotes that I’m betting no one else has ever banged together before. These are:
“If you bring forth what is inside you, what you bring forth will save you. If you don’t bring forth what is inside you, what you don’t bring forth will destroy you.” – Jesus
“Your purpose is to act on the resources God gives you. If God gives you a bucket of fish, you have to distribute those fish. If you don’t, they’re going to rot, attract a bunch of flies, and start stinking up your soul.” – Russell Simmons*
These two quotes have come to mean a lot to me. What they tell me is this: God (or Source energy or your Muse or whatever) is in every one of us generating a powerful need to “bring forth” our talents and experiences in a unique way to do something useful or helpful.
So when I feel angst I simply ask myself (or my Muse) the question: “What can I do right now that will be helpful or useful?” The answer usually comes fairly quickly. It may be something as simple as picking up a shovel to help my wife with one of her creative landscaping projects or as complex as researching and writing another blog post. In either case, the moment I begin the work at hand, the anxiety goes away… I’m “bringing forth that which is inside me.” And I’m distributing those fish I’ve been given before they start to rot and smell up my soul!
Just Do It! Take the Risk!
“A bit of advice given to a young Native American at the time of his initiation: ‘As you go the way of life, you will see a great chasm. Jump. It’s not as wide as you think.’”
What’s more, as anyone who’s leaped across chasms will tell you, the more leaps you make, the more fearless and confident you become. Soon, the chasms will seem narrower and you’ll look forward to the opportunity to jump!
Finally, in my podcast “Just Do It,” I shared this quote (my bold added) from David J. Schwartz in The Magic of Thinking Big: “A good idea if not acted upon produces terrible psychological pain. But a good idea acted upon brings enormous mental satisfaction. Got a good idea? Then do something about it. Use action to cure fear and gain confidence. Here’s something to remember: Actions feed and strengthen confidence; inaction in all forms feeds fear. To fight fear, act. To increase fear — wait, put off, postpone… Jot that down in your success rule book right now. Action cures fear.”
Making It Real: How I’ve Taken Action to Push Away Angst
Like so many of us in the U.S., I’ve been feeling increasingly frustrated and helpless by our polarized and gridlocked politics. There are lots of critical challenges for our democracy, yet our elected officials seem locked in one death-grip after another, animated by irrelevancies or behind-the-scenes maneuverings of powerful special interests. The result, for me, has been that I’ve been battling to stay optimistic and drive away my own growing angst.
But when I considered what actions I might take to help ameliorate this mess, I found the levers of power to be walled off and camouflaged behind layers of political interests and impenetrable bureaucracies. Now I could keep bitching and moaning and showing off my wise cynicism through snarky comments to my neighbors and posts to my Facebook friends. This, I have learned, leads me to swirl around in a feedback loop of shared angst and even deeper cynicism.
On the other hand, I could figure out a way to “spit on my hands and get busy.” So I found a local political action group (via Indivisible) that seemed to be aligned with my values and volunteered to help them. Within a couple of weeks I had specific assignments to do research, meet with elected officials, make phone calls, attend demonstrations and more. So instead of feeling helpless and stuck in anxiety and anger, I’m taking concrete steps to bring about positive changes. And, as a by-product of spending this energy with the group, I find I have a lot less negative energy (and time) to rant at my neighbors and Facebook friends! In short, my angst is almost entirely gone.
A Quick Start Guide to Banishing Angst
So what about you? What’s seething in your subconscious and making you feel helpless? And how can you address it head on and “Spit on your hands and get busy?” Work through the items in the list below (adapted from Dale Carnegie) to transform your debilitating angst into exhilarating action.
1. State precisely what are you worried or feeling anxious about.
Be as specific as possible. You can’t hit a target you can’t see! So take the time to develop a “high resolution” description of the source of your anxiety.
2. Ask yourself: What can you do about this thing that worries you?
Make a list of your options. Be specific. And, in the true spirit of brainstorming, ignore any constraints. Imagine what would be possible if you had no obstacles, lots of money, plenty of help, lots of time, etc.
3. Decide what to do. (Choose among your options.)
Sit down with your spouse or partner, an ally or friend or like-minded local activists and identify some ways you can get involved and begin to engage your nemesis. Sort through the list of options you made in Number 2, above. Figure out specific, tangible steps that make up a clear path toward victory. (Important: Even slow, small baby steps can begin to drive away your feeling of helplessness. Any kind of engagement will help!)
4. Take action. Now!
Don’t wait. Do something, no matter how small, to move toward your goal. Pay attention to your moods. When you start to feel helpless and defeated, go to the list of steps you created (above) and get to work! Or get in touch with others who are working toward goals that are in sync with yours and volunteer to help them.
Remember: To Drive Out Angst, Get Busy!
So don’t just sit there stewing in your dark thoughts and feeling helpless. Take Dale Carnegie’s advice: “Get busy. Keep busy… Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking–and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind.”
And who knows… As a by-product of your engagement you just might make the world a better place!
==== Related Articles & Links ====
- 5 Things You Can Do to Get Positive Political Results in a Soul-Numbing, Negative Media World (w/ links to tools & resources)
- Got Thinkus Interruptus? Here are 5 specific actions to clean up your cluttered consciousness.
- Why You Should Trust Your Judgment (Your “Inner Wisdom Filter”) — excerpt from my Worth Sharing book
- Looking for like-minded, local progressives to join in focused political action? Check out Indivisible.
* NOTE: I am aware that as of this writing, Russell Simmons has been accused of sexual assault. I am certainly not in a position to judge him on these accusations. Therefore, I’ll simply publish the quote above which clearly was inspired by his better Muse. We can all judge this quote on its own terms.