A Coaching Power Tool created by Rossella Pin
(Transformational Coach, ITALY)
That anxiety makes its appearance is the pivot upon which everything turns. S. Kierkegaard
How many times have you been floating from excitement to anxiety and vice versa? Can you remember your feelings?
Just close your eyes for few minutes and think about a time you received a great announcement when you graduated from school when you signed your first job contract when you said the “yes” that changed your life when you discovered that you were expecting a baby,…
Probably you experienced energy coming through your body, you started breathing fast as your heart beating, you couldn’t stop smiling, you were willing to go out to scream and jump, you wanted to hug the person in front of you, you rushed to the phone to share with someone your happiness, you couldn’t stop saying thank you, you started praying, you could see all your future clearly and just wanted to start planning your next great moves,… Whatever you were feeling, you just wanted it to last forever!
Could we say that you were “excited”?
Now close again your eyes and think about the following days. How were you feeling? Did you have the same energy as that great day?
You had finally achieved what you wanted or worked for… maybe you started asking yourself:
- So, what next?
- What would happen now?
- How should I behave?
- What my colleagues will think of me?
- Will I be able to keep doing what I like?
- How will my everyday life change?
- Will I still have my balance?
Your heart probably started beating fast again, breathing became more and more difficult, you could feel butterflies in your stomach, heaviness in your legs, blood pressure in your head,…
You started being “anxious”.
Now imagine for a moment that someone comes to see you with bad news, you fail your admission exam, you receive a letter stating “Thank you for taking your time to submit your resume and application for consideration. Although your application and interview were impressive, another candidate was selected for the position.”, you receive that unexpected “No, I don’t want to engage for the moment, could we just remain friends?”, you have to undertake an unpleasant surgery,…
Probably you start experiencing cold coming through your body, you start breathing slowly, you feel a punch in the stomach, a sense of heaviness in your head, you want to stay alone, you can feel tears coming out, your mind is blocked in the dark, you just want to run away, you are paralyzed by your fears, you start thinking about what the others would say, you blame yourself for not having done more, you question your choices, you doubt about yourself, you can feel anger coming up, your heart starts beating fast, you don’t know what to do, you think you are hopeless, you start looking for the reason why this is happening to you,… Whatever you are feeling, you believe it will last forever!
Could we say that you are “anxious”?
In how many other occasions we experience anxiety?
Let’s list some:
- What about having to make a decision that can change your or someone else’s life?
- What happen when you feel free to choose?
- Think about the time you left your children take the responsibility of their choices, how did you make them feel?
Freedom and choices can also expose us to anxiety.
Even though it is quite easy to go from excitement to anxiety, going back or shifting from anxiety to excitement can be challenging.
Anxiety is an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behaviour, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints and rumination. It is the subjectively unpleasant feelings of dread over something unlikely to happen, such as the feeling of imminent death. Anxiety is not the same as fear, which is felt about something realistically intimidating or dangerous and is an appropriate response to a perceived threat; anxiety is a feeling of fear, worry, and uneasiness, usually generalized and unfocused as an overreaction to a situation that is only subjectively seen as menacing. It is often accompanied by restlessness, fatigue, problems in concentration, and muscular tension. Anxiety is not considered to be a normal reaction to a perceived stressor although many feel it occasionally. Anxiety is a mood, but it can become a mental disorder, that is, characterized by excessive, uncontrollable and often irrational worry about everyday things that is disproportionate to the actual source of worry, it is diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Wikipedia
In his book “The Concept of anxiety”, the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard defines anxiety as an essential human experience, without anxiety, we are not human, anxiety emerges from freedom, anxiety is “freedom’s possibility”.
Anxiety is so important that being human is both defined by it and in some way finds its end in it. Because anxiety is freedom’s possibility it is by nature a concept having everything to do with the infinite. Freedom’s possibility is not the question of whether freedom is possible; it is the possibility that is posited by having freedom. It is this possibility that is infinite. As such, anxiety defines the depth of humanity’s potential to engage the infinite. But it also gives humanity a goal. We set off into adventure to discover what anxiety is. Andrew De Fusco
The Oxford Dictionary defines Excitement as “A feeling of great enthusiasm and eagerness”.
Other definitions are:
the state of being emotionally aroused and worked up, the feeling of lively and cheerful joy, something that agitates and arouses, a feeling of eager enthusiasm and interest, the state of being excited.
Energy cannot be created or destroyed, it can only be changed from one form to another. A. Einstein
When you feel anxious you have two options:
- You continue to nourish your anxiety by living in the doubt, worrying about the present, fearing the unknown and increasing your sense of hopelessness.
- You positively embrace your anxiety and transform it into a source of energy: make a choice, do something, face the unknown, feel empowered.
In the first case, you are stuck and still. If you take the second option instead, you will move and experience. There are no possibilities of doing something exciting when being still. Excitement comes at the moment you decide to move.
Excitement is the feeling we experience between the action start and its end. It can be seen as a temporary state between two states of anxiety.
So how could we provoke that excitement?
When you feel anxious, you’re ruminating too much and focusing on potential threats. In those circumstances, people should try to focus on the potential opportunities. It really does pay to be positive, and people should say they are excited. Even if they don’t believe it at first, saying ‘I’m excited’ out loud increases authentic feelings of excitement. Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-Performance Anxiety as Excitement,” Alison Wood Brooks, PhD, Harvard Business School; Journal of Experimental Psychology: General
Emotions are similar, there is energy flowing in both, but excitement is stress plus happiness, whereas anxiety is stress plus fear.
Excitement is eustress. Anxiety is distress.
Scarlet is a hard worker. She has always achieved her objectives, even exceeding her boss’ expectations. She is considered a top performer, that’s why her boss decides to assign her a strategic project. She loves been challenged and feels excited when appointed as the project leader. She knows the Company relies on her: she has just been promoted and has received a salary increase. She starts working on the project. Everything is new, but she likes making new experiences and learn: it’s so exciting! While preparing the project feasibility plan, she immediately realizes that the deadline is shorter than expected, not all resources are available and the colleague, who was supposed to support her, did not appreciate her appointment and is not willing to cooperate with her. The project was assigned to him first. She starts feeling more and more anxious and starts doubting about the possibility to complete the project successfully. She starts focusing on problems, not sleeping well at night, being nervous, putting pressure on project team members to move faster, blaming her boss for not telling her the entire story, arguing with her colleague for not being supportive,… Fear of failure increases every day so do her frustration and sense of hopelessness. She is not enjoying herself anymore, she doesn’t know what to do. She never felt like that. She has always succeeded. She has always been positive. Her boss calls her in a meeting and she is incapable of saying anything.
It is evident that reality did not match Scarlet’s expectations. This has unconsciously made her shift from a status of excitement to anxiety.
How could she react? How would you react in that situation?
Accept the reality: empty your brain
The first step is to accept the status quo: situations, feelings, emotions, behaviours, beliefs,…
Stop the “What ifs” approach!
All this worrying puts a tremendous burden on the body and the mind. Breath and relax. Empty your brain to leave space to new positive thoughts.
Embrace the anxiety: use your fear
Even though you have never experienced that fear in the past, it is there now and for a reason, a positive reason: to save you from danger. Fear makes you react. It can make you stronger and take you away from the status of stillness that can lead to depression.
How can you overcome your fear?
Listen to it and start doing what you are fearing.
Believe in yourself: transform your energy
Resources and possibilities are infinite, you just need to use your strengths and abilities to look for new ones.
Use your energy to create new positive energy!
Like a dynamo, the more you do the more energy is transformed into useful energy.
Go for it: move forward to your AIM
Defining your aim helps you in getting clarity on what you want. When the aim is clear, start creating your action plan.
Planning gives you the freedom to enjoy!
You just need to do what is in your schedule: tick off all completed tasks to get a sense of accomplishment and celebrate your achievements. Look at the next tasks with excitement!
Trust your intuition: the power of the will
When you feel anxious is worth listening to what your heart is telling you. It has been demonstrated by recent research of the Institute of HeartMath that the heart picks up intuitive information a second or more quicker than the brain.
So go with the gut!
Your will is there to support you: you are the master of yourself and can decide how to feel. So you are the only one who can make you choose to replace enjoyment to fear when feeling anxious and be just EXCITED!
The Coaching application
In Scarlet’s case, how could her boss support her in making the shift from anxiety to excitement?
Using a coaching approach can be very powerful when dealing with people stuck in an unproductive mindset.
He could ask her powerful questions to encourage her to explore her anxiety and vent her frustration and fears: “What would you like me to ask you?”, “How do you feel about it?”, “Could you tell me more about that?”, “What does this mean for you?”,…
Then by listening carefully to her words, he could create a supportive environment by acknowledging her efforts and investigating on the support needed: “Let me acknowledge you for …”, “What ideally would you like to see happen?”, “What would be a good chance for you?”, “Which structures could you put in place to support you?”, “May I offer you further support?”,…
Finally, he could let her rediscover her strengths, express trust in her, make her accountable by providing ongoing support, enthuse and celebrate with her all achievements: “Think about a challenging project you completed successfully, which strengths did you use?”, “What is your take away from that experience?”, “Would it be helpful if we spend a little time talking together every week?”, “What is your action plan?”, “Let me know when you achieve that objective so that we can celebrate together!”,…
Excitement vs. Anxiety as a coach
Bear in mind that as you can feel your client’s feelings, also your client can feel yours. How can you support your client to shift his mood if you come yourself anxious into the session? Even though you are not responsible for your client’s shift, you are responsible for bringing positive energy, lightness and humour into the session. You have to ensure to be fully present during the coaching process, confident, trustful, open to know knowing, going with the gut and self-managing your emotions.
Determine a process to ensure that you come positively excited into the session and that you rapidly go back to that status whenever you feel shifting to anxiety. Trust yourself and stay positive!
- How is your energy level now?
- What does being excited mean to you?
- Think about a situation in which you shifted from the state of excitement to anxiety. What did cause that shift? What were your thoughts and feelings?
- Consider a time when you were feeling anxious and then you were able to find back your excitement. Which of your strengths and abilities did you use?
- At what time of the day or day of the week do you notice yourself becoming more anxious?
- What are the techniques you could develop to stay positive in challenging situations?
- Why do you think people become anxious so easily?
- What could you do to look at the future without anxiety?
- What gives you excitement?
- What brings you joy in life?
 See « THE AIM: the coaching model of a lifelong learner », by Rossella Pin
 See « Trust your intuition! », Thought Leadership Article by Rossella Pin
 See « Coaching Presence » in ICF Core Competencies.