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Dealing with panic when starting a new job or relationship

Watch the video above, or read the unedit transcript below


Right, looking like we’re live here on Facebook. Got a spontaneous one for you guys today. I just got a message from a friend of mine, who I’m going to keep anonymous. But basically, they’re about to start something new in the career space but are afraid how it’s going to go. And in particular, they’re about to start something that they’ve had problems with in the past over and over again, kind of like a really bad history with. And so there’s a kind of fear of going into it thinking Shit, am I going to fuck this up again? People get this a lot with their career, you know, if they’ve had a bad history with jobs, or with relationships and dating, if they’ve got a bad history there, or even exercise and eating healthy, you know, constantly sort of failed.

So I want to talk a little bit about how to get back into it, without actually sabotaging it from worrying about sabotaging it. That thing we do, where we’re so worried that we’re going to fuck it up again, that that worry actually causes us to fuck it up again. And we know that and so we’re worried about the worry causing the fuck up. The joy of being a fucking human being, right?

So I’ll give you the context without giving a specific details. This person has basically been unemployed for quite some time, and quite miserable about that – self loathing, kind of depressed about it. But recently, they were given an incredible career opportunity. Something that they’re really interested in. It looks really promising and kind of a new start that could be quite good. They applied for the job, they got it, it starts soon. But the last couple of career situations that this person has been in went really bad. They’ve got quite fragile confidence already, and then it would be knocked quite badly by these experiences, to the point where they’ve kind of given up. But they’ve taken this opportunity, which is fantastic.

I’m so glad that they did – not quite giving up completely, which is awesome. But now, they’re worried that they’re going to repeat the things that happened in their last jobs that caused them to crash and burn. They’re worried that’s going to happen again. Or the other things that happened; there are other problems that they’ve had in their life that interfered with their career that – those problems will happen again. And so, as they put it, there’s zero faith left. “There’s no hope of me doing well in this thing. And I don’t want to fuck this up. But this could be great.” So that’s kind of as much detail as I can give you without getting too specific. And like I said, this is a real common situation. And what I can see the person doing is a couple of things.

One is there’s a cognitive bias at play here, as a certain reaction to fear. Well, there’s a few going on. One is there’s something called ‘recency bias’. Now, the recency bias means that whatever happened to us most recently is kind of the biggest in our mind – it’s given the most weight. So let’s say you have a relationship with someone for three years and the last six months are bad, you won’t remember the two and a half years of good times, you’ll only really remember the six months of bad times, or you remember that so much more strongly than you will the good timesIt will seem like it was always bad. If your last few job experiences were awful, you’ll think that every piece of work you’ve ever done was horrible. Which might be true. Or it could just be that the ones you remember, most recently occurred, take up the most space in your mind and seem the most real.

There’s also confirmation bias, which is if you think that you’re basically someone who sucks at stuff, and that you make mistakes all the time, and that you’re useless, and so on – the kind of thoughts that we get, when we’re chronically depressed or we have low self esteem – your brain will actually look for evidence that it’s true, and will dismiss evidence that it’s not. So for example, this person looks back and says, “Yeah, I lost every job I’ve ever had,” and misses the point where you got all of those jobs too – there was a good bit there. Or that you were able to survive despite having a rocky career, up until this point. Or that they’re strong enough to get back on the horse.

Again, despite all those successes, your brain will kind of dismiss the things you did well, all the strengths and the wins, and kind of go “It’s just exceptions, or it was luck” or whatever, it just kind of brushes that aside. But everything you did wrong, “Oh, my God, that’s big. That’s important. That’s more accurate than anything else. That’s the real stuff there.” It’s a bias that we all have. If you believe that you’re a loser, your brain will try to prove that it’s true. By cherry picking evidence and dismissing the counter-evidence and just making stuff up, you will actually think I’m going to be bad at this job. This hasn’t even happened yet. And you’re now looking at that fantasy as evidence, and that’s the human brain. That’s what we all do it.

It can go the other way, you can be arrogant with it, too. “Yeah, I’m always awesome.” Even though there’s plenty of times where you weren’t. And you think I’m always going to be awesome in the future, even though that hasn’t happened yet, and so on. Just whatever you believe, your brain will seek to make it more true rather than seek to disprove it, even if it’s wrong. And it almost always is wrong. Whatever you believe now, there’s a better version of it – a more accurate one. Unless you’re the most skilled and trained and brainy-ass scientist in the world, you don’t know shit, right? And even they don’t know everything. So whatever you think is true about yourself, the only thing you can be sure about is that it’s at least a little bit wrong.

But your brain is not wired to do that, your brain is wired to lock it in because it’s annoying to make new beliefs. The hassles of learning and new pathways of neurons have to be built. It’s a big, big hassle. So your brains go “Look, you already believe something, let’s run with that. Let’s make that true.” We can see that coming in here with this career dilemma. Where you’re like “I’m doomed.” The outcome of those belief systems is a self-fulfilling prophecy. Your your brain is actually scared of success. Failure, while it was miserable, is at least familiar.

When we talk about the comfort zone, what we’re really talking about is familiarity. I haven’t heard anyone describe their comfort zone as a being an actual comfortable place. There’s always lots of fear of missing out and regret and self-loathing and boredom. That’s what the comfort zone feels like. But that’s not the comfort part. It’s the familiarity. “I know this.” If I’ve always been a loser, then I understand being a loser. In a way I’m psychologically comfortable with always losing – it’s a win that fucking terrifies me. Because I don’t know what to do with the win. That’s a whole new world – a whole new set of challenges, a completely different set of problems that I’ve never had to solve before. You know, sSo quite often, this fear of success builds up from this determination in your brain to stay the same. To stay familiar. And when you’re at risk of losing your familiarity, your brain is going to work very fucking hard to keep shit the same.

Because winning, doing well, having a great career, that would be new. It’s exciting but it’s terrifying. And it’s okay to be terrified of that. It’s really important that you understand:, you’re allowed to be scared of success. It would be weird not to be because success really just means change. There is no success, there is no final line you cross where you’ve got life all sorted, there’s no such thing. But there is getting out of your current rut, which is essentially what success is: an improvement of your problems. You go from this crappy set of problems, to another completely new and slightly less crappy set of problems, but still problems.

I was in employee rut for a very long time, making money for someone else most of my life. And that had its problems, like not having the freedom to do what I want, and this kind of frustration with being bossed around, and of course, only keeping a small fraction of what I earned for myself and everything going somewhere else. Yeah, that was frustrating. That was my set of problems. But I was familiar with that set of problems. I bitched about it every week and did nothing about it. That was just my set. And then, when I became an entrepreneur, and ran my own business, all those problems went away, and they were replaced by much bigger ones.

So success was just bigger problems. The problem of like, how am I going to pay my rent this week is seemingly a much bigger problem than a guaranteed paycheck. But this problem comes with being free. I get to decide how I’m going to pay my rent this weekend, I decide how many hours I work and what that word is going to be, and I’m creative. So it’s like a cost/benefit thing.

The point is, you’ve got these kind of biases, “Everything’s always going wrong with me, because I’m somehow wrong. I’ve got toxic shame, there’s something fundamentally wrong with me that destroys my career doesn’t matter where I go.” And now your brain is going to create a self fulfilling prophecy, which is “Okay, so how do we keep that bad time going? How do we make that happen again? How do we get back to familiarity after this brief holiday of success? How do we get back to failure?”

And what it’s going to do is the trick that it’s already playing on you: it’s going to start overwhelming you. Because if you’re an anxious person or a panicky kind of person, then your brain knows that the best way to get you to fuck things up is to overwhelm you, is to get you panicking. And how’s it do that? Well, it piles every potential future problem on you now.

These are problems that haven’t occurred, and certainly don’t need to be solved yet. But what your brain tells you is that essentially they’re so likely to happen that they might as well be occurring now. And that they do need to be solved. The message this friend sent through to me shows quite clearly they think that all the problems they’ve had in their previous jobs are basically already happening in this new job… that doesn’t even start till next week. And that they have to solve that now – they have to prevent that from happening. And there’s been absolutely no evidence that it is going to happen let alone that it is happening now. But that’s the trick that the brain is playing on them. It’s going bananas – “Go solve it now quick, this weekend, or it all goes to shit!” And that’s a really, really common dilemma.

So that’s just to give you some background, understand this isn’t what it seems. This is just human fucking psychology, we all do this all the time. And rather than taking it seriously, and think “This is me, this is just my specific issue. I’m this fucking broken thing that’s different from all the other humans.” Realise this is just the price of being a human. We didn’t ask to be human, we’ve didn’t ask to have this fucking brain with all its flaws. But we got it. That’s the hand you were dealt.

Because the truth of the situation is, the only thing you know for sure about this new job is that it hasn’t started yet. That’s the only factual information you have. There is nothing else to go on that gives you any evidence whatsoever that your previous work experience is even relevant for consideration. Your brain is trying to make it sound that way but there is absolutely no evidence of that whatsoever. Which means it’s all fiction. And one way to know that fear is at play – that fear is manipulating you and playing games with you and tricking you – is when you’re in a fiction. Because fear only lives in the fiction, fear doesn’t deal with reality.

I always think about this way: when you’re falling off a cliff, the reason you scream is not because of the fall, it’s because you’re imagining hitting the ground. But that hasn’t even happened yet. So the fear is about something that has not happened yet. And that’s always the case with fear. And that’s the key thing to keep reminding yourself of. It’s the same as watching a horror movie, it’s not real. Now we can react with fear to a horror movie, but the movie is a fiction, there aren’t actually zombies out there. We’re reacting to the potential rather than the actual. Which means the the solution is kind of obvious: find a way to come back to the actual because, in the actual, nothing bad is happening.

Since becoming an entrepreneur and going from a decade of guaranteed paychecks to “Oh my god. Am I going to eat today?” I developed a really, really big fear about money that I hadn’t had before. I was never really a money guy, I don’t need much, I don’t care about money. But all of a sudden, now I do because I thought it was affecting my survival. And for a long time that was really bothering me. Until I developed this practice, where I just look up.

What I do is I look up and I see that there’s a roof over my head. That’s my first point, whenever I’m feeling panicky about money I go, “Roof, check.” Now that roof tells me that at the very least in the next five minutes, I am not going to die of exposure. My survival will not be destroyed by exposure at the very least. No matter how little money I have, I still have a roof. And then I might walk out into my kitchen and open the fridge and just see if there’s enough food for one more meal. Just one more. Even if we haven’t gone shopping there’s a bit of flour and some raisins, I could probably throw something together. “No matter how big my money issues seem, I have survival sorted. There’s a roof over my head, there’s clean running water, there’s enough food for one more meal.”

So the idea that this this panicky feeling I’m having about money does not match the situation. It would probably be the right feeling to have if I was in a ditch dying of starvation and exposure – that would be about the right time to start panicking. But while I’m still comfortable in a house with food and running water, the money panic must be based on a fiction because nothing that bad is actually happening to me. I’m just imagining bad things happening.

And this is what I relate to in the case of what my friend has sent through to me. They’re imagining a lot of bad things happening. But none of these things are actually happening. And what they need to start doing is practicing bringing themselves back to actual.

The challenge with this practice is how frequently you have to do it. Like you might have to do it 10 times in a single minute. Sometimes we have to keep coming back.

Let’s say that the previous example from workplaces is you had a big, big blowout with your boss. And they fired you. That’s how to measure your new job in terms of actual risk i.e. “Am I currently having a big argument with my boss? No. Okay, that hasn’t happened yet”. And you can do this thing where you pat fear on the back for doing a good job and say, “Look fear, that was a good idea. It turns out it’s not actually happening yet. But you let me know as soon as that’s happening. So fear, kick in when we’re having a big blowout with the boss, and the boss is about to fire me. Then you tell me about it. But that’s not happening. You can go back to bed. You’re not needed right now.”

This kind of conversation you have with your emotions. It sounds weird, but I really do this. When I look at my bank account and my blood runs cold – anybody who runs their own business knows what I’m talking about – it begins. “OMG, last week I was flush, this week I don’t know if I’m going to eat!” Then I just look at it again and go “Okay, is it actually at crisis point? No? Ok fear, I’ll welcome you back when it has, and I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing for the next half now.” And this is essentially how I deal with the situation that my friend is in.

Just show up on Monday to this new job. Feel all panicky and anxious and all stuff that’s definitely going to happen. That’s fine. Then just look around – “Is there any actual danger signs yet? Like, is anyone saying ‘look, we need to talk about your future here.’ Is anyone yelling at me? Is anyone handing me a written warning? Is any of that happening yet? No, I’m just standing here. The person is showing me where I sit and stuff. Ok. So the fear is there, but it’s not based on anything actually happening. So just take a breath. Okay, for the next half an hour at least I know I got a job. I’ll check back in and half an hour see if that’s still the case.”

And I’d suggest doing this until you don’t have to do it anymore. Essentially, first couple of weeks. As maybe set a reminder on your phone, a little beep that goes off every half an hour or something. Just check in and go “Okay, do I see any actual proof them about to lose my job?” Not just worried about it, but proof: like someone’s saying ‘You’re going to get fired tomorrow’ -actual evidence. “No, okay, well, I’ll check back in half an hour.”

So you’re kind of managing fear, but you’re not fighting against fear. You just saying, “Look, it was a false alarm, we’ll come back to it. But thanks for reminding me, I’ll keep an eye out for that.” You just keep doing it until you start to see where actually, it’s been two days now and there’s been no signs. It’s been five days, it’s been three months, still no signs. And you just countering those cognitive biases. Those ones that tell you your previous work experience is so important, when actually the most important thing is what’s happening right now – the real evidence. So youstack up evidence, every half an hour, showing yourself that things are good.

It’s not a fight against fear. It’s more of a mindfulness or grounding in reality while your fear goes, “Oh my god, everything’s fucked!” and you go “Really? Is it though? Is it? Where’s the proof? Just prove it. If it is, I believe you. I’m not gonna fight against you if you got this evidence, please. But let’s start with proof.”

And on that note, it’s it’s really important to know the difference between what looks like a warning sign and actual proof, because anxiety will turn everything into ‘proof’. Somebody will look at you funny, and you’ll think “Oh, my God, I’m definitely gonna get fired.” No, they just looked at you funny. That doesn’t mean anything. That’s not evidence of anything. You’re fine.

Wait until someone says, “Please clear out your desk, you’re done here.” Is your boss saying “Come into my office so I can fire you”? It has to be a measurable proof that somebody else would look at and go “Yeah, you’re going to get fired. Definitely.” It has to be 100%. If it’s not 100% and there’s no proof, it’s just fiction. If it’s just fiction, then it’s okay.

That’s just how I would manage the situation. And understand, what your brain will try to do, if you’ve got a string of bad experiences – a string of bad relationships, bad job experiences, failed diets, whatever it is – your brain use this as ‘evidence’ that this one’s not going to work either. And it’s a weird logic because while all of those situations look similar, they’re not. Every job you’ve had before was a completely different job, completely different people, completely different activities, it’s so different. It’s weird to even put them in the same category together. You might as well throw going to the beach in there as well, it’s so different. But your brain just goes “CAREER – that’s one category so we’ll just jam everything in there.” But really, it’s just activities and connections with people and doing tasks.

It only has to work once. Maybe you’ve had five what you call “failed relationships.” You’ve conveniently overlooked that you’ve learned from each one of them and they made progress each time . They’re all going to be “failures” until the one success – that’s everybody’s track record, right? Everybody has nothing but failed relationships until they have one that doesn’t – that’s how human relationships work. Same with career – everybody has a shitty career until they have a good one. Keep looking.

And if this job hasn’t turned out like the others yet, then just stay another day. If the person you’re dating now isn’t showing the red flags and warning signs of the previous ones then stay another day. And that’s my final piece of advice on this: in order to bring down the overwhelm, rather than thinking like “Oh my God, this job will either work out or it’s a failure,” just say “Look, is it going to last another day? Do I want to do it another day?” If the answer is yes, then all you need to do is postpone this worry until tomorrow. You’ve got one more day coming up at least, you’re not fired yet. You don’t hate the job yet, so do one more day before you decide about how bad this is. And you just keep doing that at the end of each day

So that’s my thoughts on it. That’s how I deal with my money insecurities which still come up. I still just have to breathe and go “Am I dead yet? No. Okay, one more day.” But this is very common.

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