Remember that quote, the one that says something like “depression is living in the past, anxiety is living in the future”? Well, how do we reconcile it with this poignant tidbit from Tony Robbins: “I love quotes…but, in the end, knowledge has to be converted to action or it’s worthless."
Hm, but I love quotes, too! I have them all around my apartment.
Well, Tony isn’t telling us to discount quotes, only that sayings without intentional action are pointless. So, if you love quotes as much as I do, then you can humor yourself with them, as long as they inspire you to act.
So then, how do we reconcile this with the first quote? The one that says that anxiety is living in the future. Yes, it also touches on depression, but for me, anxiety is the negative emotion that runs my life. It’s my “suffering,” as Tony would call it. How about you? I bet, especially if you live in the 21st century, which I’m going to assume you do, that anxiety controls your life, too.
Fret not, we’re all in the same boat. You can blame your internal hardwiring, actually. You see, the feeling of anxiety is an instinctual response that we humans have bred into ourselves over the millennia. It seemed like a pretty good defense mechanism when we were hunter-gatherers, worried about the saber tooth cats outside our caves.
But now, when the most anxious thing in our lives is our overbearing boss or our student loan debt, the hardwired angst we feel isn’t necessary. Although, we feel it anyway. Thanks, Darwinism!
However, if the point of life is to end all suffering, as Tony would say, including your own suffering, then how can we take this quote to heart and actively use it to reduce our level of anxiety and stress, thus increasing our happiness and contentment?
According to Webster’s, anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
So, it would make sense that anxiety is born by living in the future, right? It’s a feeling that essentially manifests itself due to the very nature of the future: It's unknown. It's impossible to predict, and when there are literally an infinite number of possibilities, it’s natural that we feel anxious about the eventual outcome. We’re a planning species, and try as we might, we can’t plan our future into certainty.
Ok, that’s all well and good, but how does that help us overcome anxiety and end suffering? Well, what's causing you to feel angst and anxious? Is it your significant other, or maybe your lack of one? Can it be your low-income money problems, or perhaps you’re a high earner and you’re nervous about losing your wealth? How about your interpersonal relationships with friends and family?
All of these things cause stress because there’s a way you want them to end up, and yet you can never know what’ll actually happen until it does. That’s anxiety: It’s wanting something to happen, and not knowing with certainty if it will happen.
The first step to ending your angst, that is, ending your personal suffering, is to identify what’s causing your anxiety. That’s the biggest problem people often face. We have a negative feeling, but we don’t take the time to drill down to the root cause. And then, as the saying goes, we end up trying to ineffectively prune the leaves rather than removing the feeling by the roots.
So, the initial way you put the above quote into action is to identify the root cause of your anxiety.
Once it’s been accurately defined, you have the ability to do something about it. I’m reminded of the Ryan Holiday quote, “focus on the present, not the monsters that may or may not be up ahead.” Of course, that’s another quote that needs to be put into action, but it sums up our current conversation nicely.
See, the scariest thing in life is unidentified monsters. These foul beasts of our imagination, when undefined, can be literally anything, and our mind runs wild, assuming the worst type of leviathan.
But, if we identify our unique monster, it becomes known and immediately less scary, and thus we can reduce our stress. And then, as the second action, don't focus on the cause of your anxiety. It sounds counterintuitive, I know, especially when we just talked about the roots and the leaves, but the cause of your angst is your incessant thinking in regards to the catalyst of your anxiety.
For example, if you’re worried about a raise you may or may not get, constantly turning over the “what ifs” in your brain is the cause of your anxiety. But why even think about it? Constantly dwelling on uncertainty is a recipe for disaster and won’t get you any closer to that raise you covet.
Instead, focus on the now. What actions can you take, today, that will push you in the direction of that raise? That’s what you should hold in your mind. That’s what will actually end up getting you that raise. Concentrate only on what you can control.
And after that? The third action is to give thanks! So what if you don’t get that raise? You have a good job, in a good city, with good friends and family around you. You’re in the 1% of the world. Rejoice and be happy.
Always remember to put quotes into action. When you feel anxiety or depression, remember that they occur because you’re living in the future or the past, respectively, and never the present. So, what are you going to do about it? See above 😉