Do you feel uncertain about your future or the future of your family?
Maybe the unknown is nagging at you when you think about your career, partner, relationship, or passion. If you are in this boat, you are not alone. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million people in America alone deal with anxiety. It's the most common mental health challenge in the United States, and the numbers have spiked since the pandemic.1
In this article, Jay Shetty lets us in on the ten categories of fears that hold us back in life. He then offers five solutions to help you stop worrying about the future and build confidence to put your worries to rest.
When you fear something, you do not necessarily fear that particular thing, says Jay Shetty. You fear how it will feel to go through it or how it will affect you. You fear the emotional experience it creates. There are ten categories of fear. Fear of change, loneliness, failure, rejections, uncertainty, bad things happening, getting hurt, being judged, inadequacy, and loss of freedom. Think about how many of those fears you are currently experiencing. Maybe, for example, you fear losing your job. You might fear failure and rejection. But what if you saw losing your career as an opportunity? It would become something you no longer fear. Many people fear standard parts of life. They fear unavoidable things that are guaranteed to happen. The question is, what can we do to live a meaningful, vibrant, engaged life in the face of the fact that many of the broad fears we face will come true?
When you fear things you know will happen, it can paralyze you and keep you from moving past that fear. You can curb that worry, build confidence, and thrive by applying Jay Shetty’s five solutions outlined below.
Stop Worrying About the Future
It is normal to worry about the future to some extent. For generations, people have feared the new and the unknown. For example, there was a time when people were reluctant to try coffee. Now you can’t go three blocks without seeing a coffee shop full of people waiting to get their cup of caffeine. “We often resist new technologies, not because we think they're so bad, but because of how we fear they'll change our lives and what we think they'll require us to give up,” Jay Shetty said, referring to a book by Calestous Juma, a professor in Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. “We fear they will make us lose some aspect of the identity of our lifestyle. We're afraid that innovations will separate us from nature and our deep purpose, which Juma feels are both fundamental components of the human experience.”2
When you don’t connect with your fears, you often resist change that is good for you. Change is going to happen whether you decide to accept it or not.
“If you learn to identify what it is you actually want to protect, such as a sense of identity, your relationship with nature, or your purpose, you can focus on the steps you need to take to protect these things instead of being afraid of everything,” explains Jay Shetty. If you're aware of what you're scared to lose, you can protect those things without losing everything. But not everything we fear makes sense.
Jay Shetty shares that in his home country of England, the umbrella was highly resisted when it was introduced. People didn’t want to have anything to do with it. It was already widely used in France, and the English felt it would interfere with their national identity. Looking back, the fear seems silly, but at the time it was valid. Jay Shetty suggests the following exercise to help identify what is important to you. Start by making a list of 20 aspects of your identity, then circle the most important ones to you. They will likely be the default pieces of your identity that genuinely matter to you. These are the things that you want to connect with and protect.
Focus on Your Target
Most of your everyday anxieties will never come true, says Jay Shetty. Instead, focus on what is essential, and everything else falls away. An excellent way to hone in on the kind of life you want to have is to write down five feelings you want to feel and five values you wish to honor no matter what. These are the things you are going to cling to and defend. Set your focus on these. Set five long-term goals as well. For example: more money or more travel. You can orient to these things, but hold on to them loosely.
Don’t Try to Over-Control or Plan the Future
Robert Leahy writes in his book, The Worry Cure, “The big payoff of worry is that it gives us the illusion of control. We think if we can imagine everything under the sun that could possibly go wrong, we can prevent it.”3
Wouldn’t it be amazing if that were true? Unfortunately, it turns out most people are terrible at predicting what will happen.
In a study by psychologists from the University of Pennsylvania, patients with generalized anxiety disorder characterized by widespread anxiety were asked to keep a journal for ten days. In it, they recorded all of their everyday worries, then they watched for the next 30 days to see which of their fears came true. On average, 91.4% of worries did not come true. For most participants, NONE of the things they were worried about came to pass.4 “Fear of the future doesn't protect you,” says Jay Shetty. “It distracts you from being powerful in the present, which prepares you for that uncertain future.” When you try to over-control and plan your future to avoid discomfort, you create fixed patterns. Maybe you decide that you want to be a nurse when you are in your teens, so you go to school to be a nurse. You discover that you hate it, but it’s what you decided, so you stick to it. You hope it will make you happy eventually, but it never does. “Change and disruption inevitably happen,” Jay Shetty shares. “When the winds of life blow, these undeniable plans often end up breaking apart and taking us along with them. Either the plan doesn't quite come together, or we execute it perfectly but we're miserable.”
Just because you make a plan doesn’t mean you can’t change it down the road.
Create a Flexible Framework
Jay Shetty is really into spoken word and music.
“I'm really inspired by a lot of rap and hip hop artists who put together lyrics and phrases so thoughtfully and intelligently,” Jay Shetty shares. “One of the things I'm most impressed with is old school rap battles. When rappers and lyricists battle, they might have some rhymes in their back pocket, but mostly what they've trained in is this technique. They can't prepare everything they are going to say in advance. They train, study and practice. They know how to get into the flow and create on the fly. They practice their craft diligently and then are free to create with a flexible framework.”
Creating a flexible framework allows us to deal with future fears. The pandemic taught us flexibility is a matter of skill that leads to better coping skills. When we employ those coping skills, we have a greater ability to face the fear and release the outcome knowing we did everything we could do.
Jay Shetty explains that knowing what happens is not a direct reflection of what you do and releasing the outcome gives you the greatest peace because it doesn't let the outside world control how you feel.
You will inevitably face tough times, but having a plan to get through them will benefit you tremendously. Try to devise a metaphor that works for you in tough times. Calling on this metaphor will engage your brain and diffuse your emotions. One example is cooking. When Jay Shetty’s wife is creating a new recipe and struggles to know if it will succeed, she has to work through all the steps it takes to get it to success adjusting the spices or the liquid to get it how she wants it to be. She knows with each step, she’s closer to creating something that will be a success. “It's kind of like creating a potion or an experiment to see how it's going to work out,” explains Jay Shetty. “It's a messy, middle kind of concept. We can use the metaphor of cooking a new dish when we hit that confusion and the path is unclear.”
Keep Things Moving Forward
The final strategy is to keep things moving in a forward direction. Angela Duckworth is a woman who grew up with a very regimented father with stringent beliefs about how to be successful in life. Duckworth attended and graduated from Harvard with a BA in neurobiology and went on to earn a master's degree in neuroscience and secured a job as a management consultant. Her father was ecstatic, but Duckworth was miserable, depressed, and unsatisfied with her accomplishments. At 27 years old, she decided to become a public school math teacher. She taught for many years. It was during that time that she realized how much she enjoyed working with students. She became intrigued when she saw IQ was not the best predictor of a student's success or failure. It sparked her curiosity about student motivation, and she became driven to learn more about what drives the learning process towards success.
She outlined her research in a New York Times best-selling book, Grit; The Power of Passion and Perseverance and was awarded a MacArthur Genius Grant for her theory. Her work on grit is some of the most popular, success-driven advice you hear today. Duckworth determined that grit is not about creating the shortest, straightest line to your goals possible and following it no matter what. Instead, she encourages people to do something called sampling, or trying things out and leaving room for discovery and learning. Grit focuses on the idea that as long as you're learning, you're moving forward.5
When you try to meticulously plan every step you take, you lose the room to be spontaneous and grow. Learn to recognize that the path is not straight. It is curvy, and sometimes you go through dark tunnels. It is in that dark tunnel where you need to look for wisdom. “If you're in that confusing time, and you're worried about the future, I want you to sit down and isolate just one to two small next steps you can take to help you move forward,” explains Jay Shetty. “It doesn't have to be totally clear. It doesn't have to be exactly linear. Just don't stop moving.”
More From Jay Shetty
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on “10 Things We Fear the Most” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.
1 “Understand the Facts: Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA.” Anxiety Disorders and Depression Research & Treatment. Accessed May 25, 2022. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety.
2 Juma, Calestous. Innovation and Its Enemies Why People Resist New Technologies. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2019.
3Leahy, Robert L. The Worry Cure: Stop Worrying and Start Living. London: Piatkus, 2006.
4 Smyth, Joshua M, Jillian A Johnson, Brandon J Auer, Erik Lehman, Giampaolo Talamo, and Christopher N Sciamanna. “Online Positive Affect Journaling in the Improvement of Mental Distress and Well-Being in General Medical Patients with Elevated Anxiety Symptoms: A Preliminary Randomized Controlled Trial.” JMIR Mental Health 5, no. 4 (2018). https://doi.org/10.2196/11290.
5 Duckworth, Angela. Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. United States: Paula Wiseman Books, 2020.
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