Our language often suggests that we are the passive recipients of our feelings. When we say, “I’m down; I’m sad” or even, “I’m in love, I’m happy!” there’s an implication that feelings just happen.
In choice theory language, however, instead of, “I’m angry,” we might say, “I am choosing anger” or even, “I am angering.” Now the implication is that I’ve made a choice, there’s no external force making me do it. Thus, I could make a different choice! That is—if I want to, and if I know how to choose differently.
Anxiety-related behaviour is associated with an odd word: anxietying. In everyday language, we say, “I’m anxious.” Choice theory suggests, “I am anxietying.”
With this anxietying choice comes an entire assortment of behaviours. Along with anxious feelings are our anxious thoughts, our anxious actions, and if you have ever “anxietied,” then you know the queasy stomach that comes with an anxious physiology.
Because of my environment, I sometimes see people who choose test-anxietying. This can include paralyzing fear beforehand or blank forgetfulness during a test. Either way, it’s counterproductive.
Test-anxietying is just one example. We practice anxietying around health, money, relationships and more.
Some people believe that’s just the way they are. They have always had it, always will, and there’s nothing they can do about it.
Is it helpful to think of this behaviour as something over which you have no control? Or instead, to think of it as chosen, that you have some control?
I can’t answer for you. However, if you have had enough of it and want something else, I can offer a few actions that may be worth a try.
First, give yourself a little speech. “I am choosing anxietying about this test. Is this choice going to improve my performance? If it isn’t helping, is there another choice that would be more effective?”
What other behaviour could you choose? Don’t limit yourself to the “sensible.” Consider the absurd! Try choosing to look at the test as an adventure, a vacation, a learning experience, a meditation practice, whatever works.
Second, take control of what is controllable. If you are test-anxietying, then study, prepare, get tutoring, etc.
Third, remember that you have gotten through stressful situations before. If this isn’t true for you, then realize that other people certainly have, and have succeeded. Take inspiration from them, and see your test as a means through which you are building resilience and becoming stronger.
Finally, draw on perspective. The test is important, and it may seem like the biggest thing in your life. But it pales in perspective to bigger issues: life, death and relationships.
Habits can be hard to change. If anxiety is a behaviour that you often choose, then even though it’s painful, it’s familiar, almost comfortable. Don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t disappear with your first attempt to change.
Some of the language of choice theory sounds strange, but it has a purpose—to show that we have choice in our behaviours. And if we have choice, then we have hope!
Do you sometimes choose anxietying? Have you tried a different choice? How has that worked?