A few years ago I signed up for a continuing education workshop that was conveniently being held right here in my hometown of Frederick. No getting up super early or sitting in traffic on I-270 South, it was right in downtown at the Delaplaine and so I signed up. It probably didn't even matter what the topic was going to be, it was a convnience thing! Keep in mind that CEU workshops are very often a big disappointment. While the topic may sound appealing, the presenters often take half the morning talking about themselves and then spend the rest of the day getting off topic by answering the personal questions of the audience memebers. I have to get 40 CEU's every two years, so sometimes I go for convenience.
I arrive, see several colleagues and do the whole "networking" thing, and now it is time for the prevention to start. After his introduction, the presenter tells the audience that he does not answer questions during his presentation. He basically insinuates that if you attempt to ask a question that is not completely relevant to the whole group, that he will be quick to embarrass you. OK, so I may like this guy. He definitely has my attention.
About an hour into the presentation there is a technical glitch. After a couple of attempts at fixing it the presenter says "Fuck!". I text my husband, "I am really enjoying this presentation. The presenter just said 'fuck'." My husband texts back "OK, well I"m driving past where you are, wave to me" and I reply, "Hell no, the presenter will think I'm trying to ask a question!".
So all of this would probably be funnier if you had been there. I tell it because these are memories from a day that changed the course of my career and my life. The presenter was Reid Wilson and his presentation was on how work with Anxiety. I resonated so much with his approach that it started the ball rolling toward what is now my Auntie Anxiety "brand" of coaching and counseling.
One of the key components of Reid's work is distinguishing the difference between signals and noise in our heads. It is the first step in learning how to "talk back" to your anxiety. He has a great book that I often recommend to clients, "Stopping the Noise in Your Head". He also has some cool videos about how to do this (as well as other great resources) on his website www.anxieties.com (a direct link to the fun videos is www.noiseinyourhead.com)
Worry is supposed to be a trigger for problem solving. When worry becomes pervasive, it becomes a problem (no solving going on!). Noticing the difference between Signals and Noise opens the space for worry to do it's intended job without become a pervasive pain in the ass!
Here are some ways to get started with this proces of noticing the difference between signals and noise:
1) When you notice an anxious thought or worry has popped into your head, Step Back. If you are stuck in the worry, you can't determine if it is a Signal or Noise, so the first step is to Step Back and examine the worry as if you are an observer.
2) Determine if their is an Action that can be taken. Remember that Worry's job is to trigger problem solving. If there is an Action to be taken, then take Action! If there is no action to be taken, then the Worry is just Noise and it is time to go back to whatever you were doing (you know, like sleeping!).
3) One tricky piece of this Signal vs. Noise game is that Anxiety will attempt to trick you into staying with the worry and doing irrelevant things like "checking to make sure". If the Action step is irrelevant to actually solving a "real" problem, then it is time to work on sitting with the uncomfortable feeling of being uncertain about all those pesky thoughts like whether you locked the door or washed your hands.
So now if is time to go about your day and see if you can incorporate this distinction between Signals and Noise. Notice it, play with it, and leave me a comment telling me about your experience with this practice.
The voice behind Auntie Anxiety is Lynn Dutrow, Courage Coach and Counselor