Last night I read an article by James Clear on the evolution of anxiety. It was so good, you might want to go and bookmark it right now for future reading.
As Clear described it, the human brain has been optimized over the last 200,000 years to function in what he called an immediate return environment.
This is sometimes also referred to as the animal brain, or the reptile brain. What it means is that our brain has been fine-tuned for survival. Even as we have evolved into thoughtful, planning individuals, there is still a major component of our brain that is wired up for the immediate action. We still have a strong fight-or-flight mechanism, as well as intuition that has been fine-tuned over all these years to best protect us from danger.
Other animals operate within this immediate return environment. They fear that which is directly in front of them, threatening them, and they react. The rabbit in our garden runs away when it sees us coming out to water the lawn, and as soon as it reaches the neighbor two yards down, it feels safe enough to stop for a bit of home-grown dinosaur kale.
That rabbit is not worrying about whether we’ll suddenly let the dog out in to the yard two weeks from this Tuesday. The rabbit is only thinking about what’s right in front of it. When there is danger, it feels fear and reacts. When all is clear, the rabbit relaxes.
The challenge we have as humans is that our brains were designed for this immediate return environment, and yet what we live in now is a delayed return environment. We are no longer animals out foraging for food and water, evading predators. Our daily actions are not life-and-death decisions.
As a hunter-gatherer, the choice to eat a particular mushroom could mean life or death.
Today, the choice of whether to eat a Snickers bar has no discernible immediate reaction. (Other than a possibly a sugar rush or a peanut reaction, I suppose.)
Because so many of our actions today have results which show up incrementally and into the future, this causes us to consider the future, and to worry. As far as I can tell, humans are the only animals that worry. And it’s because of this delayed return environment.
What you can measure, you can control
Clear has a handful of strategies on how to deal with anxiety, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Do a google search on how manage anxiety and you’ll discover pages and pages of information, including links to a good many books on the matter.
One method in particular stood out to me:
Clear notes that a big problem with the delayed return is uncertainty. We do all these things in a given day, week, month, year, and yet how do we actually KNOW that our actions will lead to a result that we desire? The universe can seem capricious at times, lobbing unexpected challenges into our path, and we may feel unsure about whether we’re even really in charge of our direction.
And yet when we measure something, we are in control. There is order.
For example, if you are a real estate agent and you want to make $100,000 in income this year, you might feel nervous and worried about whether or how you are actually going to make that happen. (And if this is the case, you are in good company.)
The best way to alleviate this worry is to measure your activities. And the more of those you measure, the greater your chances of reaching the goal.
How many conversations are you having with people every day about real estate?
How many appointments are you going on every week with prospective buyers and sellers?
How many agreements are you signing with those buyers and sellers?
How many of those signed clients ultimately get to a closing?
In measuring these items, over time we can discern the patterns.
We can see how many agreements we need to get in order to reach our closing goal. We can see how many appointments we need in order to reach out agreement goal. And we can see how many conversations we need in order to reach our agreement goal.
There are two benefits to this process:
First, this daily measurement helps us to focus on the right now – the immediate return environment. When we look at our world in this way, we receive internal gratification from hitting our daily activity goals.
Second, the data that we receive from measurement of our daily and weekly actions helps us to remove the uncertainty about reaching our goal in the future. We begin to see that through a step by step process, we WILL get there.
Even if the universe throws us a curve-ball in the middle of our process, we know that we can continue around it. Because even if our environment or circumstances change, even if we change careers, for example, we still have the formula of measurement, and that can be applied anywhere.