Tip #39: Use the Socratic philosophical method to reason your way out of a negative spin-cycle.
The why: “Woah woah woah. Slow down.” I hear you say. “You really want me to dress in a toga, grow a beard, build a time-machine to go back 2,000 years and stare quizzically into the distance?”
Dear reader, as fun as that may be to see, that is not quite what I had in mind.
Socrates is arguably (if you’ll excuse the word choice) the most famous philosopher in human history.
But the thing he is most remembered for is his argumentative method: the elenchus.
The elenchus follows the same pattern in each debate, and is how Socrates won over even the most hard-headed opponent.
He would begin by asking a series of questions that the opponent would have to say ‘yes’ to, and through this questioning, he would cleverly lead the opponent to his original conclusion, meaning that if the opponent were to disagree, they would, therefore, be disagreeing with themselves.
“This is all very interesting, but what has this got to do with anxiety?”
Well, anxiety is developed through a series of irrational thoughts and fears, therefore a great way to combat this irrationality is with rationality. Something Socrates was very good at.
You can reason and debate yourself out of your anxious thoughts.
Allow me to demonstrate:
Anxious alter-ego Lord Voldemort: “Okay so you’ve been asked to present something in a meeting. What if you really badly mess up and everything goes wrong and there’s accidental nudity?”
Me: “Everything is going to be fine, even if you mess up.”
Lord Voldemort: “How can you be sure?”
Me: “Have you prepared heavily for this presentation?”
Lord Voldemort: “Well, yes.”
Me: “Have you practised without messing up in front of friends?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes. Quite a few times.”
Me: “And so is it fair to say that if you have done it before in front of friends and it’s been fine, then the only difference would be that it’s in front of strangers?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes.”
Me: “So, it being in front of strangers is the thing that is causing the anxiety and fear?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes.”
Me: “So, if you’ve done it in front of friends and haven’t messed up, and the only difference is it being in a room full of strangers which causes the anxiety and fear, then the anxiety and fear is what would cause me to mess up?”
Lord Voldemort: “Well, I suppose so yes.”
Me: “So, if you shut up and stop causing me anxiety then I won’t mess up?”
Lord Voldemort: “Again, I suppose yes. But what if something else happens that means you forget and stumble? For instance, like that time a pigeon flew in and you got so frightened yo…”
Me: “We agreed not to speak of that incident again. But let me ask you this, have you seen others mess up presentations before?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes, many times.”
Me: “And did you think any worse of them, or remember the instances until prompted?”
Lord Voldemort: “Well, no.”
Me: “So, it follows that even if I mess this up a bit then it is unlikely anyone will judge me or care?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes, I suppose so.”
Me: “And aren’t all times we make mistakes a chance to learn and improve?”
Lord Voldemort: “Yes. Cliche, but yes.”
Me: “So, we’re good?”
Lord Voldemort: “Fine. I’ll leave you alone now.”
Even if the reasoning doesn’t itself work, the tactic forces you to think, so is so distracting that you will feel your anxiety melting away!