You’ve just spotted her at the other end of the grocery aisle. That girl from the other team at work. What was her name again? Shit, I can’t remember.
You only ever speak with her at the coffee machine… mostly about the weather and whether or not your weekends were good.
You quickly look the other way. Maybe she hasn’t seen me yet.
You like to avoid awkward interactions. They make you anxious. But what’s so awkward about them? Why are we afraid of a little chit-chat?
How to snap out of an anxious mood with a co-worker
The above example is awkward because we’re meeting Coffee-machine Girl in a new and unfamiliar setting. We know how our espresso interactions go, but we don’t know how this grocery-aisle interaction is supposed to go. We haven’t had time to prepare, and we panic about what to say.
The above paragraph is the Elephant In Your Head.
It’s using pretty much all of your brainpower, but you ignore your Elephant and say something like this instead:
Oh heyyyy, how are you?
Oh heyyy, I’m good. How are you?
(Ggyyyhhh this is awkward… *lump in throat* )
Yeah I’m good. Just getting some groceries.
Cool, me too. What are you buying?
Ahh, some noodles, and some veg. What about you?
Nice, ahh, I’ve got some chicken.
Cool, well I’ll see you at work.
K, see ya.
It’s awkward because your words are incongruent with what’s in your head. You’re anxious because you’re ignoring your Elephant.
You (1) didn’t expect to see Coffee-machine Girl here and you (2) don’t know what to talk about. THAT’s what’s going on in your head, right? So say that. In a fun way.
Hey, how’s it going? It’s (1) so weird seeing you outside of work. My (2) brain’s trying to work out what to talk to you about.
Heyyy, haha. Yeah, it’s so strange.
You’ve acknowledged that you’re a little uncomfortable. She’s accepted your feeling about the situation. The Elephant In Your Head is happy.
The anxiety comes from hiding that you’re uncomfortable. From resisting it. Now that you don’t need to hide it anymore, the anxiety fades.
You know what I just realised… we talk at the coffee machine every few days but I know like nothing about you, except that you drink coffee… and eat asparagus (looking into her basket).
Haha, and it looks like you eat chicken. Lots of chicken. What do you want to know?
Whenever you’re anxious because you can’t think of anything to say, acknowledge your Elephant. You’ll notice the difference. He stops rampaging and gives you your brainpower back.
How to snap out of an anxious mood in a job interview
You’re at a job interview. The interviewer asks, “What makes you the right fit for the job?”
You’ve got (1) so many responses that you (2) don’t know which to choose… What’s (3) the correct answer?!
That’s what’s going on in your head. That’s your Elephant. But you ignore your Elephant and rattle off a list of the same generic skills as the interviewee before you:
I have experience managing people. I have great communication skills. I learn from my mistakes.
The interviewer is no closer to knowing if you are the right fit. Your anxiety prevented you from actually answering the question and connecting with the person, because you’re too busy pretending your Elephant doesn’t exist.
Give your Elephant a soft pet on the back. Like this:
Why am I the right fit? I have (1) so many reasons that I’m (2) not really sure where to start. What (3) do you need most from the person you hire for this role?
Good question. It’s a sales role, but we also need you to be able to talk basic tech with the developers to help improve our product. Because we don’t understand what they’re saying half the time.
Oh, I’m your man. I used to be a total nerd. I spent my teenage years building computers and taught myself basic programming when I was 13. It’s not on my CV but I know my stuff.
Now you’re less anxious because you acknowledged your Elephant, AND you gave a kick-ass answer.
How to snap out of an anxious mood on a date
This is the last example. You’re on a date. You think it’s going well.
The sexual tension rises and that thought pops into your head: Kiss?
Does he/she want to? Is it too soon? What if they pull away? :/
That’s your Elephant. You ignore it and waffle on about how good the burgers were.
The connection fades because your Elephant is running amok. You feel like you missed the moment.
But what if you soothed your Elephant with your words?
You: I’m terrified right now, because I’m about to kiss you.
Future Lover: I don’t bite.
You have your answer, and you’re not anxious anymore.
FYI: Not quite as sexy as pausing, looking into their eyes and just going for it if they hold your gaze… but lightyears better than NOT going for it because you’re too anxious.
Whenever you feel that familiar panic, stop charging through it in vain hope for the best. You won’t out-muscle your Elephant. Say what’s on your mind and watch your anxiety fade.