AT A NOVELTY STORE in Chinatown, San Francisco,
I bought a Chinese finger cuff when I was a kid. It is a tube
made of woven straw. You put a finger in one end, another finger
in the other end and push until it is snug. When you try to pull
your fingers out, you discover the straw is woven in a way that
causes the cuff to tighten around your fingers when you try to
pull them apart. And the harder you pull, the tighter it grips
There are many psychological factors that
act like finger cuffs. For example, when I started doing public
speeches, I got feelings of anxiety and dread whenever I thought
about an upcoming speech. I tried lots of strategies to make
these adrenaline jolts stop coming, but they kept happening.
It was frustrating. I knew it was unhealthy and it made me feel
like a fraud (I had written a book that told of mental strategies
to change feelings, yet I was having this problem). These thoughts
of fraud and fears of so much anxiety being bad for my health
created a second layer of anxiety. I became anxious about the
anxiety. I was upset that they wouldn't go away. All these second-layer
effects just produced more anxiety. They made occasional anxious
feelings into almost continuous anxiety, disrupting my sleep
and making me miserable.
Because stress hormones arouse the nervous
system, they can act like finger cuffs. If you feel anxious and
try to get rid of it, you can make it worse. Being angry at your
anxiety, being upset about it or frustrated by it, wanting to
get away from it, being worried about what the anxiety is doing
to your health all of these emotions about your anxiety
simply add even more stress hormones to your system.
I tried many things to deal with it. Three
things worked well. First, I stopped referring to the jolts as
"anxiety" or "dread." I used more neutral
terms like adrenaline jolts or adrenaline rushes.
This was, I believe, an important first step because it helped
lead to the next two tools.
The second tool was: I accepted the fact
that anyone in their right mind is going to have rushes of adrenaline
when they think about giving a speech. In other words, it wasn't
a sign something was wrong.
And third, I reasoned that as long as I
had these rushes, maybe I could put them to good use. This was
the beginning of a breakthrough.
I tried several things. Originally, I decided
that each adrenaline jolt would be my cue to go over the speech
outline in my head. That worked pretty well. I stopped dreading
the rushes and stopped trying to avoid having them. An adrenaline
rush became a welcome opportunity to make sure I knew exactly
what I was going to say. This directly countered my main fear
that I would lose my train of thought in front of the
Over time, I tried several things, all
of them sharing the same basic theme: using the rush rather
than rejecting it.
The one that worked best will reveal probably
the most important principle in dealing with anxiety. Every time
I got an adrenaline jolt, I said to myself, "I will make
them get how important this is." That's what I wanted to
go through my head as I stood in front of an audience. I practiced
that thought over and over whenever I experienced an adrenaline
rush. And while I practiced saying this to myself, I imagined
saying it to myself while looking at the audience, so
the audience became associated with that thought the audience
became a trigger for that thought.
I came up with this after doing a few speeches.
I noticed the audience listened with the attitude, "this
is interesting." But I wanted them to sit up and pay attention
to what I was saying as if it could help them or someone
they loved, as if it would make a difference, as if it were important!
I wanted to have a real impact on them. I wanted their
lives to be forever better. I didn't want them to listen to me
as a mere form of entertainment. This was something I really
wanted. It was a sincere, heartfelt desire. And that was
So every time I got a jolt, I would say
to myself, "I will make them get how important this
is!" And thanks to the jolt, I said it with extra intensity.
The reason this worked so well is that
anxiety, worry, insecurity these are "pulling away"
emotions. Anxiety includes the impulse to run away, hide, withdraw,
pull back, etc.
My heartfelt desire to make them feel my
topic was important directly countered my anxiety because desire
displaces fear. Remember that and you may not need
to remember anything else. Desire can overrun and override fear.
Desire is a "reaching toward" emotion. Desire is moving
toward, seeking, taking possession of, aggressing.
Desire moves toward. Anxiety moves away.
You will find that the best antidote for
anxiety is a strong desire. The more intense the anxiety,
the stronger your desire must be to successfully counter it.
Can desire be increased deliberately? Can you intensify your
own desire? This is a crucial question.
I have discovered that, in fact, you can
increase your own level of motivation and it is not difficult.
All you have to do is think about your goal and imagine what
it would be like to achieve it. Remind yourself why you want
it so bad and what it would mean to you.
It's the same old stuff you find in motivational
books visualize your goal and talk to yourself confidently
And while you can't make yourself
desire something you really don't care about, you can
intensify your sincere desires. You can go from mild desire to
intense desire with it. You can fan the flames and make your
desire burn hot by thinking about why you want it.
Make a list of all the reasons you really
want your goal. Keep coming up with new reasons. Ponder them
often. Talk to yourself enthusiastically about them. Imagine
your goal vividly. Encourage your desire to become intense.
The other side of maintaining motivation
is to handle setbacks well. Keep your mind from making cognitive
errors like all-or-nothing thinking or overgeneralizations
errors that could take the wind out of your sails and kill your
desire. (Read more about that here.)
For example, Feebus is prone to worry.
He has a new job as a manager of a store. The employees he is
managing have all been there awhile, and he has to learn much
of his job from them. It is causing him anxiety because he is
their junior and senior at the same time. He is supposed to be
their boss, directing their activities, telling them what to
do, but he has to find out from them what to tell them.
It feels awkward.
Whenever he thinks about his job, he gets
a rush of adrenaline. Remember the three tools? The first thing
he did was stop calling it "worry" and started calling
it "getting a rush."
Second, accept the rushes as normal. Feebus
may get a bigger rush than most people, but anyone with even
the smallest amount of social awareness would feel some awkwardness
in that kind of situation. He accepts it as a normal reaction.
This reduces some of his distress by removing the secondary effect
(getting upset about the anxiety).
And third, use the rushes. Feebus
thinks about what he really wants. That's easy. He wants to feel
a justified respect from his employees. That means he needs to
be competent at his job the sooner the better. His focus
now is getting as good at his job as quickly as he can.
Every time he gets the jolt, he asks himself,
"What else can I do to increase my competence?" He
comes up with all kinds of things: He starts showing up for work
earlier than his employees, giving himself time to get one step
ahead. He makes notes on his breaks and after work of things
he is learning and reviews these at home. At night he reads books
about his job. He asks managers in other departments for advice,
and he picks the brains of his employees continually.
His competence rises quickly and he earns
the respect of his employees. And the more competent he gets,
the less often he gets adrenaline rushes.
RESISTANCE IS FUTILE
It is a good idea to take actions in your
life that will lead to a lower level of stress hormones in general
change the way you think about things, meditate, stretch,
whatever. But at the time you feel anxious, find a way
to welcome the feeling. Never try to resist or get rid of the
feelings of anxiety or insecurity or worry when you're feeling
them. Use the feeling for a positive purpose. Use it as
an opportunity to practice one of the methods on this web site.
Or use it to remind you of something.
This principle converts anxiety into determination.
It doesn't try to get rid of the stress hormones; it uses
the hormones as fuel for determination rather than fuel for fear.
It works well. I've used it hundreds of times.
I originally got the idea when I read about
an experiment by researcher Stanley Schachter. He had a group
of students in one room who were acting happy. In another room,
the students acted anxious.
Then he took a volunteer who didn't know
what was going on and gave him a shot of adrenaline and put him
into one of the rooms.
The unsuspecting student was then asked
later what effect the "drug" had on him. They didn't
tell him it was adrenaline.
As you might guess, when he was jacked
up on adrenaline and put into the happy room, he later reported
the "drug" made him feel excited and elated.
If he was put in with the anxious group,
he reported that the "drug" made him feel nervous and
This was repeated with many different volunteers.
It was a consistent result and I'm sure it doesn't surprise you.
Adrenaline doesn't necessarily have a positive or negative affect.
It depends on "where your head is at." A roller coaster
can be terrifying or quite a rush, and both are caused by adrenaline.
The only difference is whether the experience is being welcomed
By finding a way to use your adrenaline
rushes to boost your determination, you begin to welcome the
rushes and the adrenaline stops feeling bad and starts to feel
I'm talking about determination
here, and I'd like to clarify the distinction between hope and
determination, and I can illustrate it with the true story of
the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes mountains. The plane
was the Fairchild and when it went down the pilots radioed
their position, but told the wrong position. They were mistaken
about where they were (that's why they crashed they thought
they were over the high mountains and they weren't, so the started
right into a mountain).
Thirty-two people survived the crash. They
were all wearing light, warm-weather clothes. At night the temperature
dropped far below freezing. Their plane was open at one end (the
tail section had come off in the crash. They assumed, of course,
that the pilots transmitted their position, so they expected
to be rescued. They held out hope, day after day, listening to
a little transistor radio for some sign. They heard a search
Then one day, they heard the search had
been called off. Many people were crushed by the news, some
weeping in despair. All hope was lost. But one man wasn't crushed.
All along, most of the others were fixated on getting rescued,
but Nando was determined to get back to civilization by his own
They didn't know where they were, how far
away from civilization they were, or in what direction civilization
lay. They knew Chile was west, but the way was blocked by enormous
mountains. They were at an elevation that was permanently snowbound
and they were ill-clothed for an expedition in these conditions.
The air was thin and it exhausted them to hike.
But Nando and his friend Canessa decided
to try it. Nando was determined to get back alive. He didn't
hope he might; he was determined he would. He loved his
father and knew how much his father was suffering. Nando's mother
and sister were killed by the plane crash and Nando knew his
father needed him. He couldn't let himself die on the mountain
and leave his father alone. This thought drove him on, spurred
his determination, made him impatient. He walked, not so much
to save himself as to save his dad.
The hike over endless mountains in thin
air, freezing in inadequate clothing, was pushing these young
men to their limits. At one point, Canessa said, "I can't
Nando replied, "You must go on."
They reached civilization seventy days
after the Fairchild crashed. Rescue helicopters, led by Nando,
found the others and brought them home. During the ordeal, they
all lost a lot of weight. Nando lost fifty pounds, and
he was a slim athlete to start with. One had lost eighty
Later in his life, Nando said, "When
I was at the top of an 18,000-foot peak with Roberto Canessa,
looking at the vast scenery of snowy peaks surrounding us, we
knew we were going to die. There was absolutely no way out. We
then decided how we would die: We would walk towards the sun
and the west."
Determination is different from hope. It
isn't as pretty. It isn't as pleasant. But it is more effective.
Do not try to turn your fear into hope. Hope is weak. Turn your
fear into determination.
When you get a jolt of adrenaline, stop
calling it feeling nervous or anxious or worried or afraid. Call
it a shot of adrenaline, accept it as a normal response to the
circumstances perhaps a stronger response than some people
would have, but only in degree and then go about changing
your mind-set from withdrawing to reaching toward. This is not
hard to do. It is not complicated. Whatever thought went through
your mind that gave you the adrenaline rush, think up a goal
for it. Think of a goal you really want. Make up your
mind you are determined to achieve it. Use the adrenaline rushes
to remind you to reaffirm your determination to reach that goal.
Use your adrenaline jolts.