An illustrative story...
It was early fall in Kiev, I was strolling by Taras Shevchenko park when a beautiful silver Maserati caught my eye. Kiev, Ukraine oddly has the highest concentrations of high end performance luxury cars that I've seen outside of Miami or Los Angeles.
It parked just ahead of me and a muscular, middle aged driver wearing stylish athletic gear got out.
I thought to myself...
I should approach him and compliment his car.
...but of course a bunch of reasons jumped to mind why that was terrible idea.
You have no idea who the hell this guy is! In a city and a country like this with a car like that he might be a real mobster. You're just a solo tourist here. You're in no position to be taking risks! You'll probably annoy him. Just mind your own business! This is not a country where people appreciate strangers starting conversations with them. He might not even speak English.
I pushed those thoughts aside and just started walking towards the guy. I clearly unenunciated in English
Excuse me. That is a beautiful car.
(I do speak enough Russian to say this but I've learned over the course of at least a thousand cold approaches that unless you speak a language fluently, just go with English)
The guy smiled just slightly and responded in a thick Slavic accent
Thank you. It's new.
We actually chatted for a few minutes there about cars before heading our separate ways and he told me he was a dentist...
A likely story!
The Paradox of AnxietyWe tend to think of anxiety as kind of a problem of wimpy people, we hear anxiety and we think of...
- The lady who just locks up when she has to speak publicly in a meeting.
- The college graduate who is paralyzed by nervousness before a big job interview.
- The shy guy who is afraid to introduce himself to the pretty girl he fancies.
- The grumpy old man who watches too much television and is always angry and worried about politics.
But these are not the only manifestations of anxiety, anxiety is also an inevitable side effect of ambition. I would suggest that if you don't suffer from a little anxiety you are not really ambitious.
Risk and reward are inextricably entangled, meaningful accomplishment entails danger and brilliance requires getting rid of the safety net. If you are doing something that really matters there is a very real chance of failure and this naturally produces anxiety. If failure in the pursuit to which you dedicate yourself is not a weighty enough possibility that it's actually disturbed your sleep in recent memory, then what you're pursuing is insufficiently ambitious (unless you are really just an elite sleep hacker). You may have some great redeeming qualities but if you're not at least moderately fearful about your future, you are not ambitious.
Entrepreneurs and business people are infamous for how they self medicate for their anxiety...
- Booze and marijuana.
- Cocaine and hard drugs.
- Medication and pharmaceuticals.
- Sex addiction.
You might say...
So anxiety is just part of the deal. If you want to do something that matters in the world anxiety and stress will be your companions.
If you were living at any other time in history that sentiment would be spot on - the cold undeniable reality of the human condition (especially for men) - but you more fortunate than you know to be living in 2017 and it's not really true anymore...
I don't subscribe to the idea that fear is something to be disregarded. In fact I think this is one of the stupider self help platitudes that has permeated pop psychology and mainstream consciousness. Perhaps some well meaning guru convinced you that fear is really...
This is true some of the time but a lot of times fear is a useful reaction to very real evidence and many people make bad decisions because they disregard it. This acronym is such a convincing absolute generalization that I'll encourage you to throw it out of your vocabulary and internal narrative.
So what is a more rational response to fear?
Embrace acute fear arbitrarily.
Biohack general fear categorically.
I'll elaborate and illustrate...
Embrace acute fear arbitrarily
Often visceral fear is the compass that we can use to navigate to success. The more guttural the fear we have about something that we intellectually know is not deserving of avoidance the more we should lean into THAT fear.
Often your powerful subconscious mind will notify you of opportunities with a heuristic gut reaction; tension in the chest and gut, increased heartbeat and raised blood pressure - you know exactly what I'm talking about. The confusing thing is that this feels like fear but it's actually an opportunity signal.
You'll hear successful people talk about how they just follow their instincts which can be super frustrating to hear if you have met with failure in the past and perhaps have some scars as a result of just following your instincts or impulsive decision making.
You can develop much more keen and helpful gut instincts by arbitrarily persuing the things that stimulate a hueristic reaction. I'm not encouraging you to do things that you actually know are dangerous but if you get an acute hueristic reaction to something that you logically know is not actually very dangerous - like talking to the Ukrainian guy with the Maserati - that's your sign!
I did a video on this topic a few years ago...
Gut React: Hueristics as a Productivity Strategy
...about how to habituate heuristic decision making.
Biohack general fear categorically
The side effect of ambition, doing things because they are hard and a lifestyle of pursuing challenges is chronic anxiety - a background hum of stress and worry.
In 2017, unless you're living in a war zone or struggling with a chronic illness that immediately threatens your life, there is really no reason for you to suffer from chronic anxiety when there is so many options for Biohacking your anxiety...
- Meditation or a mindfulness practice.
- Exercise or weightlifting.
- Yoga, martial arts or some flow state inducing activity like surfing.
- Cold showers.
- Taoist breathing techniques.
And of course there's a lot anxiolytic drugs that people use to deal with anxiety but the problem with almost all of them is that they also blunt performance and retard cognition; 500 milligrams of Phenibut will marvelously clear your head of all your worries in about 30-45 minutes but it will have a detrimental effect on your ability to do intellectual work.
Luckily there's a handful of Nootropics at the intersection of enhancing performance and assuaging or eliminating anxiety. I'll list them here in descending order of effectiveness, potency and efficacy...
- Panax Ginseng
- Kratom - I list this last because while it is very effective for some people's chronic anxiety, it does a have dark side for some. Some of the science indicates it may have a negative effect on cognition.
So the wise Biohacker has a complex relationship with anxiety;
- They take on ambitious projects with a modicum of risk that will stimulate anxiety.
- They arbitrarily pursue things that viscerally scare them but are logically benign.
- They habituate stress management using a variety of Biohacking tools and supplements.
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