I’ve always been a pretty brave person, but even now — I fall victim to anxiety.
Most of these anxieties are irrational. For example:
I. Fear of going bankrupt:
I grew up poor, with a dad who was a chronic gambler. He would gamble away the rent money. Therefore the lesson I learned as a child:
I better use the money I have now, or else my dad might find it and gamble it away.
Really sad: my mom put away maybe $200 into my savings account when I was 5 years old, hoping that one day it could be my college fund. When I was around 10 years old, my mom found out that it ‘mysteriously’ disappeared. My dad probably took that money to Reno (like the Las Vegas in California, which was closer to us, to gamble)
Anyways, growing up — I always had anxiety about money. My family wasn’t so poor that I went hungry, but I was always in fear whether we would be able to pay rent or not.
I remember when I was in high school, my sophomore year (I think 15 years old), my mom went to my room and said:
Eric, I want to let you know, your dad just gambled away the rent money. We might have to go into a homeless shelter next month. I think we will be OK, but I just wanted to let you know.
In one way — it was good. I learned to build a thick skin, and I was ready for shit to hit the fan whenever.
Yet, it was bad. I lived thinking that ‘Money was the root of all evil.’
II. Overcoming fear of going broke:
To overcome my anxiety of going broke, this is what I did:
- Cutting living expenses: Living below my means. Putting more cash into savings, to not have anxiety that I will go bankrupt. For example when Cindy and I were in Berkeley, we ‘downgraded’ from a 2-bedroom to a 1-bedroom subsidized university student housing. A lot less anxiety about paying rent.
- Eating minimum food: I know I can survive on eggs, water, and coffee. I often try to eat like I were in poverty, for less than $2 a day — to know that my fears of going bankrupt and dying are irrational.
- Hustle hard to make more money: Starting to build more of my personal empire, by valuing myself more, creating more value, and charging more money for my services.
III. Anxiety of public speaking
I used to get anxiety (butterflies in stomach, cold sweats) before public speaking.
I overcome it by thinking to myself:
It really isn’t a big deal. Most people are going to not pay attention anyways, and get distracted on their phones.
By removing all pressure, I no longer had social anxiety of speaking in public.
I also have learned a good tip:
Before speaking and if you’re nervous, tell your audience: “I’m scared shitless — please forgive me for stuttering or mumbling.”
Then your audience will feel more compassion for you — and will actually be rooting for you to succeed.
Or by saying:
I don’t know about you … but… [public speaking scares the shit out of me.]
So in other words by prefacing ‘I don’t know about you, but…’ you will get the audience to be put in your shoes, to give you more of a more attentive audience, and more support.
IV. Anxiety over the future
The future seems bleak, with low employment rates, terrorism, unstable politics, blah blah blah.
For me, the best way to conquer anxiety:
Remind yourself: you will die. And everyone you love will die. And eventually, your grandchildren’s grandchildren will die.
Personally, I don’t believe in ‘heaven’ after I die. I believe in perhaps the ‘immortality of the soul’ — but it is a more abstract concept, like the ‘circle of life’ in the Lion King. My DNA, my bones, and my body will disintegrate into the earth — and perhaps some trees will use my nutrients to grow.
After I die, the only thing that will exist: the information I create (blog posts, books, videos, ideas), and the DNA information in my future children.
To embrace you are gonna die, and to not be afraid of death is the best way to conquer anxiety about the uncertain future.
As a suggestion, I recommend studying STOICISM.
Anxiety is a part of daily life. No matter how hard you try, you will never remove it 100%. Just embrace it.
Another suggestion, when you feel anxious — re-interpret that emotion.
Re-interpret your anxiety as excitement and enthusiasm.
So before I do a public talk and I’m feeling anxious, I tell myself:
Eric, you’re not anxious or scared. You’re just very excited and enthusiastic about speaking!
This re-interpretation has empowered me.
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The Stoic Masters
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