What if, instead of assuming something was wrong with you, you just assumed that whatever reaction you were having to something was…normal? Okay? That wherever you are, that’s where you’re supposed to be?

Before I start spouting tautologies that are both useless and actually deeply true (wherever you go, there you are!), let me say, I’m not talking about normalizing shitty things and making them somehow acceptable when they’re not–for example, someone treating you like shit and you saying, “well this is normal, so what else can I expect or hope for?”–I’m talking about not rushing to judgement about your own experience of something.

When I was getting trained as a coach, one of the most fascinating and completely new to me concepts I was introduced to was that anxiety is not a feeling, at least not one of the primary ones. Anxiety is what’s called a “secondary feeling”–it’s not a primary emotion, like anger, or sadness, or joy. It’s a feeling that we get usually in response to other feelings or thoughts. It’s there, believe it or not, to cover up or distract from the intensity of those feelings or thoughts, with its own intensity.

Think about the last time you experienced anxiety–it could be right now. (A lot of us are walking around with low levels of anxiety pretty much all the time.) If I asked you what you were feeling, you would say, anxious. And then you would describe a feeling of tightness in your chest or stomach or shoulders, coupled with an ungrounded sensation, kind of like you’re floating away (and not in a euphoric way, more in a clutching at clouds way). Now, before you go accusing me of being a witch because I somehow know the secret workings of your body, that’s how most people experience anxiety. It can feel pretty intense and overwhelming itself. Because that’s exactly what it’s there to do–to be intense and overwhelming.

So intense and overwhelming that it actually distracts you from anything else going on in your body and mind–from sadness, or anger, or excitement, or fear.

A while ago, I wrote a post on telling the difference between fear and intuition. Today I’m going to revise that a little bit and tell you that the real thing I was talking about then was anxiety produced fear and intuition produced fear.

Intuition produced fear, can actually be really useful–it usually gives you something to do (fight or flight, for example). Anxiety produced fear gives you exactly jack shit to do, except feel anxious.

It doesn’t give you a lot of insight into what you’re feeling, and why, and what you could do about it. It just sits there, like a cloud of chloroform, dulling your senses and making it hard to move. It’s job is to keep you stuck. It’s a form of resistance. It leads to internet rabbit-holes and unconscious eating.

One of the biggest sources of anxiety I see in creative people is the anxiety that comes from judging yourself about where you in some kind of process–worrying that you are somehow not normal, that wherever you are in your process (of work, or of relationships, or of creating) is not where you are supposed to be.

Tautologies aside (how could I be anywhere but here? how am I not myself?), instead of worrying that where you are is wrong, that it’s not normal, that you’re on the wrong track, why not just assume, it’s totally normal and you’re on track, that you just need to course correct a bit?

It’s totally normal to be initially successful at something and then struggle with it.

It’s totally normal when something you thought was going to be a huge success completely bombs–it’s supposed to bomb and it’s right on track.

It’s totally normal to get bored in a relationship sometimes–that doesn’t mean that you are doomed to be alone forever or that your relationship is wrong. (It’s totally normal to want to be alone forever.)

It’s totally normal not to want to dominate conversation with expert wit–it’s totally normal to feel like you rarely have something to contribute in conversations. It’s totally normal to be more of a quiet consider-er than a loud jumper-in-er. 

In other words, there is nothing wrong with you. Except letting your judgement tell you there is. And then letting that judgement create fear-anxiety. And then letting that fear-anxiety keep you stuck.

Radically accepting who and where you are in any given moment–even and especially if it’s not who or where you want to be right now–is the most effective way to loosen the grip of anxiety and resistance.

So, when you experience a setback, or even outright failure, allow yourself to feel the disappointment, sadness, anger, whatever, that the experience provokes. But don’t pile anxiety on those feelings by telling yourself there is something fundamentally wrong with you. Don’t globalize it, in other words. Let it be local, painful, but local and specific. And assume it’s normal. And that you’re supposed to be experiencing it–that it’s a normal part of the path you’ve chosen.

When we are able to see our setbacks as intrinsic to whatever path or process we are choosing, as opposed to personal indictments of our characters and abilities, it’s powerful: it allows us to keep going instead of giving up.