When You Feel Dread - Ask Yourself This Question

Photo by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash

“It’s not as bad you think. It’s all in your head.”

This is what my mom told my 5-year-old self before seeing the doctor for a standard shot. Like many young kids, I was fearful of getting a shot. The thought of a stranger injecting a needle into my arm was cause for concern.

“It will just feel like a pinch in the arm.”

Ok, sure mom.

But in reality, it was exactly that — a pinch in the arm.

All that worry and dread, and for what? The shot may as well have been filled with excruciating pain; at least that would have justified my anxiety.

But no, just a little pinch and I was well on my way with a grape-flavored lollipop.

This childhood story is relevant for all my loyal 5-year-old readers, but it’s also relevant to any adult reading this.

How so? It turns out, adults aren’t so different from children. We don’t grow up as much as we think.

Defining a Pinch

How exactly should we define a pinch? Literally speaking, it’s the act of gripping something between the finger and the thumb.

But metaphorically speaking, let’s think of pinching as playing things up in our minds as bigger deals than they actually are. As adults, we can think back to childhood where we played up our pinches.

But here’s the catch — we play up the pinches as adults.

Even as adults, there are things we dread to do. It could be doing the dishes. It could be finishing up a write-up for work. It could be waking up early.

We dread seemingly mundane acts. And for no good reason. For our own sanity, we ought to rid ourselves of our unnecessary dread.

Analyze the Act

When faced with an act accompanied by dread, ask yourself one simple question:

“What am I actually doing?”

For a moment, don’t answer the question yourself. Instead, imagine an alien observed your actions. How would an alien describe what you’re doing?

See an example below:

What I dread: writing a paper.

What the alien observes: myself lying on a couch using my fingers to tap keys on an electronic device.

Think about that. According to the alien, what I dread is lying on a couch moving my fingers to a device.

No, I’m not getting waterboarded. No, I’m not being chased by lions while hunting for food. I’m lying on a couch, typing letters on a screen.

Seeing your life through an alien puts things in perspective. What you dread, the alien sees as completely mundane.

Sounds like a pinch in the arm if you ask me (or not even).

The Pinches of Life

It turns out, much of what we negatively anticipate is no more than a pinch in the arm.

The examples are endless. Think about things we dread, and then ask yourself, “what are you actually doing?”

  • Doing the dishes — physically washing glasses and popping them into the dishwasher
  • Writing a paper — moving your fingers to a keyboard
  • Waking up early — opening your eyes and pulling yourself out of bed

It’s easy to play up each of these acts. Humans are fantastic storytellers, and the stories we tell ourselves about seemingly mundane acts can turn into nightmares.

If if you’ve created a “nightmare,” ask yourself the same question.

“What am I actually doing?”

Asking yourself this question gives us perspective. And we can all certainly use more perspective, especially when we’ve taken seemingly mundane tasks and blown them out of proportion.

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