How to crowd worry out of your mind

How to crowd worry out of your mind

I think worry and anxiety are two sides of the same coin – we are the only species that have acquired the capacity to envision and anticipate our future. We also have what’s called ‘theory of mind’, where I can think about what you’re thinking about.
This can be an incredible thing – envisioning your future can allow you to create and be the architect of the lifestyle you wish to lead. Your theory of mind helps build incredible relationships with other people – the relationships that normally thrive are those where you can perceive the other person’s point of view, or figuratively, ‘put yourself in their shoes’.
Our brain, specifically our pre-frontal cortex, has evolved to do this, but it also means that the same visionary mechanism can have opposite and negative effects if we don’t manage it. Your brain is like a Rottweiler guard dog – if you mind it, care for it and look after it, it will serve you for life, but if you mistreat it or don’t look after it, it can attack you, harm you and even kill you.
So what does that kind of negativity look like? It all comes under the same umbrella of worry. Instead of focusing on creating your dream body, life or job, you worry that you might not look good enough, that you will never meet the right person, have enough money or that people may not like you.
There’s an incredible chapter in the book Social by Harvard professor Matthew Lieberman, whereby they put people into an FMRI machine (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging) – like an MRI, but for your brain – which shows the section that lights up when we are left with our own thoughts. When patients undergo this procedure after having just performed a simple task and are then left to their own devices, the part of the brain that is responsible for social relationships lights up. It happens every time that we are not focused on a particular task.

This means that every second we don’t work, or when we are engaged in a conversation or focusing on a task, our brain automatically starts thinking about our social relationships – the ‘default mode’. Think about yourself. How often, as you’ve been driving home from work, have you replayed the conversations or interactions you had that day? ‘What did Suzie mean by that comment?’ or ‘I wonder if Paul likes me?’ We’ve all done it, and again, like most things, it constantly serves an evolutionary purpose. The more social awareness and theory of mind we possess, the more socially accepted we will be. Thousands of years ago, if you were isolated from your large hunter-gatherer group, it meant you ended up as dinner for some sabre-toothed tiger, so it was important to be accepted into the group.

This may explain why we have such a yearning to be liked and accepted. It’s an evolutionary survival adaption. Like most things, when used positively, it can enhance your life tremendously. Deep down, most of us want to be accepted and liked by our peers and build positive and thriving relationships with people.

But what happens when the desire to socialize isn’t positively channelled? Those social thoughts that allow us to integrate better into a society can consume every free moment, which leads to… you guessed it – worry!

So, the question is, how can I use this information to support my own life? As someone who has spent a large portion of his life dealing with anxiety and worry, my story and learning tips from it will hopefully support you in moving forward.

Crying into a steering wheel until the penny finally drops
I will never forget the night when I nearly reached my breaking point. It was a few months before my daughter Holly was born and I had just finished working with twelve clients back-to-back. I was also preparing myself for the Fitness Model World Championships in Las Vegas. I had trained twice that day. I had more or less given up sleep at this stage, and my anxiety and worry were at an all-time high. Whenever I got the time to think, I would regularly ask myself, ‘What if I didn’t make the show? What if there is something wrong with my baby? What if I can’t keep my business thriving? All fear and worry.

I love the acronym of FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real. Here’s why. I had worked myself up into a frenzy and I remember parking outside my new home and crying while simultaneously hitting my head on the steering wheel for what felt like an eternity.

My body felt encased in a vice while the jaws were being drawn tighter and tighter. All my worries and fears felt very real at the time, but looking back, they were all illusions that I had created. My brain was over-thinking everything that could possibly go wrong. I’ve since created strategies, discussed below, that support me when any worries or fear feel like they are taking control of my body or mind.

Socrates says, ‘know thyself’, and one of the greatest gifts that I will be forever grateful for is my ability to see things before they actually happen in the context of my own life.
I trained myself in this ability when I played top-level sports, when I travelled the world as a professional fitness model and when I left the teaching profession to start my own business that served people better and on a much larger scale.

My own philosophy in life that has supported me greatly over the years is, ‘Become the person you want to be and then wait for reality to catch up with that version of you’. I wanted to be a professional fitness model who travelled the world, so I acted, lived and became that person until reality caught up to me.

I wanted to create a business and a life that would help to serve as many people as possible, and I have tried my best to become that person. My biggest goal in life is to leave the world better than how I had found it, and to instil my life’s philosophy into my daughter so that if she chooses to stand on the shoulders of giants, she has the character and a belief in herself to do it. I want the world to be better because we were here.

Sometimes, we determine our character by what we have or do, and that allows us to become that person. For example, if I have a nice car or a big house, then I will be successful, or if I do well in this show, test or exam, I can become successful.
In my opinion, the sequence of actions in that model is wrong. It’s the ‘do, have and be’ model. If I do or have this, I can be that.

I think a better way to live life is by the ‘be, do and have’ model – if I can be this person, then I can do that and I’ll have this. If you want to be in a better shape, you need to become a person who makes better food choices and creates better habits that support that end vision. Become a fit person in your mind, do things like eating well, creating supportive habits accordingly and exercising more. Be, do and have.

The ability to see into my future in the context of my own life has been one of my biggest drivers throughout my life. That night was an example: staring into my steering wheel, contemplating why I felt this was my turning point.

As I sat in the car feeling horribly sorry for myself, I looked into my audio book library and re-listened to one of my favourites: Mastery by Robert Greene. Suddenly, I felt as if a huge load was lifted from me. I was deeply engrossed in the book, and I felt free, if only for a short period of time. This was when I discovered my first trick to dealing with worry, which I call ‘taking control of your free time’, which ultimately is your thinking time.
Take control of your thinking time
The biggest difference in my life over the last two years, alongside the birth of my daughter, is my ability to take control of my wandering and unhelpful thoughts. Two years ago, if I were left to my own devices, my mind would wander off to the social interaction conversations I had that day, and my life never really changed. I had the same income, the same shape of mind and body, the same network of people I hung around with – nothing ever really progressed.

Now, I spend all my thinking time with audio books, podcasts or media that supports my end goal in all the areas of my life. I consume information that helps me on my own journey. I know that philosophy helps strengthen my mindset, so I read Seneca or Marcus Aurelius before bed. I know that reading books, going to seminars and doing courses on physiology, biomechanics and nutrition allow me to build my own knowledge that can directly impact the people I work with.

My advice would be to make a list of all the things you want in your life – the body you want, the job you want, the relationships you want – and put them all somewhere visible, where you can see them. After that, consume as much information as you can that supports that end goal. When I wanted to build my own body, I read every book and magazine that I could find that would support the image that I wanted to create. Sixteen years later, I have the body that I dreamed of having when I was thirteen years old.

Use your free time to consume the information that supports you in creating the life that you want. Before you know it, even when you are left to your own devices, your automatic thoughts start to manifest themselves in ways that support your vision– not to the silly comment made at you during lunchtime.