Here the secret for shifting your thinking: Instead of trying to fight anxiety, focus on being curious. Cultivating this new way of thinking can effectively counteract anxiety.
Positive Psychology researcher Todd Kashdan, Ph.D., author of Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life, describes the process for changing our response to anxiety. It starts by making the decision to remain focused on the stressful situation by exploring it, even though you will initially continue to feel anxious or uncomfortable. After all, he notes, that’s also going to occur even if you’re trying to “manage” yourself in order to get rid of the flood of fearful feelings.
Kashdan’s studies have shown that we can consciously make the decision to be curious, and that making inquiries significantly lessens our sense of anxiety. First, by focusing on asking questions versus anxiously wondering what other people are thinking, we can transform our social interactions into enjoyable, interesting, and meaningful experiences. Second, we can direct our inner attention to posing questions to ourselves rather than focusing on stopping the thoughts that are flooding us with anxious feelings – a nearly impossible feat.
Here are some questions you can refer to while you’re building the internal capacity to automatically shift to curiosity in uncomfortable or uncertain circumstances:
- What would it look like if this situation turned out well?
- I wonder what other people think a good outcome would look like?
- What have I seen work well in similar situations in the past?
- Who could I talk to about this problem?
- What’s their perspective on what might work?
- I wonder what would happen if I tried doing _____?
- What’s the smallest step I could take that has the highest chance of success?
- How much progress did I make after trying that step?