Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Split Concentration

I'm just finishing an amazing book called The Gift of Fear by Gavin de Becker and it's given me a lot to think about.  I know I'll be reading it again soon because I have not absorbed it all and it seems vitally important that I do.  While there have been a lot of important topics in the book, I've been struck by his late introduction to the concept of worry and anxiety and how it is different from fear.

Fear is a quick reaction to very real stimuli that may not be consciously acknowledged but which have been picked up on by the brain.  His point is to trust that instinct and act when it happens.  Much of the book made me worry that I wasn't being vigilant enough in my day to day life because damn, there are a lot of scary people out in the world!

But his finish actually suggested against becoming hyper-vigilant, or more exactly to become worried all the time. Worry and anxiety are useless distractions, obsessions of the conscious mind about things that improbable possibilities.  You have to stop worrying about everything so that you can hear the real fear messages your body will send you when appropriate.  Otherwise the signal will get lost in the noise of worry.  That makes a ton of sense to me -- worry is just a way to keep your mind busy and when you need those resources to survive, you find the bandwidth already taken up with useless crap.

I'm reminded (again!) of X-Men First Class and the scene where Erik pulls the barbell that Raven is working out with above her.  He chides her for wasting energy and concentration on maintaining her "human" form and points out "If you're using half your concentration to look normal, then you're only half paying attention to whatever else you're doing. Just pointing out something that could save your life." He then drops the barbell back on her and she returns to her real form to catch it before it hurts her.  I know it is just a movie, but I think it makes a great analogy of what happens when you waste your energy on things you don't need to do.

For a while now I've been trying to remove "I'm afraid that...", "I'm worried", and "I'm scared that..." from my vocabulary on stupid things like at work.  While I'm making predictions of what might happen if someone doesn't do x, y, or z, I'm not really afraid of any of the results, I just don't want them to happen. But like so many things, language is important and always casting ourselves as afraid, worried, or scared leaves us in those victim modes unnecessarily.  When you are a victim for too long, you grow accustomed to it, and then you wind up staying there when there is nothing really there.

Likewise I have a lot to do with my life and I'm tired of wasting it worrying about improbable things and in so doing making myself ironically more vulnerable to real threats.  So I'm trying to catch myself when I am worrying on things and letting them go.  I'm hopeful that the extra time and energy I get back from not spending them wastefully will allow me to do and accomplish more.

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