Close your eyes for a moment and imagine: Suppose that one night there is a miracle, and while you’re sleeping your anxiety disappears. How would you know that it was really gone? What would be different? What would you notice the very next morning that would tell you that this miracle has occurred. What about others? What would they notice?
Does the possibility of such a miracle seem ridiculously outlandish? Something that can’t happen in the real world? Perhaps surprisingly, it really can happen.
The concept of the miracle question comes to us from a research-based therapeutic approach known as solution-focused therapy. The premise is deceptively simple: when we change our focus from what is wrong to what is right, a shift will occur and we’ll begin to see beyond our anxiety. When we see beyond our anxiety, anxiety weakens.
To be sure, solution-focused therapy is not a Pollyanna approach. It doesn’t tell us that we can wish away our anxiety. It doesn’t advise that we transform into ostriches, burying our fuzzy heads in the sand. What it does tell us is that when we actively and intentionally think about solutions rather than being mired in problems, we can overcome what ails us even when what ails us is as debilitating as anxiety.
1. Take the Miracle Question seriously.
That’s the starting point. Peek back at the questions above. Take time to fully ponder them and write out the answers. Think of them not as some supernatural miracle but as life goals.
2. Think of anxiety as an “it.”
Anxiety isn’t you. It’s just an inanimate thing external to you and unwelcome. When you remove it from your concept of “you,” you see the truth that it isn’t who you are. Instead, it’s an object that can be removed. You can take out the trash.
3. Look for positive exceptions.
Yeah, anxiety can feel pretty severe, all-encompassing, and debilitating. But take some time to ponder your life. Despite how it may feel, no one feels intense anxiety 100% of the time. When are those times that you don’t experience anxiety (or, at least, when is it a bit less intense)? Find patterns. What is going on (including the “who” and the “where” of it) when it’s better? What did you do differently during those times when anxiety was better? What would you need to do for this to happen again? Start to do more of what brings the exceptions. (These can be hard to identify, so be patient with yourself.)
4. Focus on new behaviors rather than merely stopping the old ones.
Rather than just saying you want to get rid of anxiety, concentrate on replacing it with something else. Why do you want to be free from anxiety? Answer the question thoroughly and intentionally live for those goals. It’s not enough to just get rid of anxiety. It needs to be replaced with something better.
5. Use scales.
Scaling is a common tool in solution-focused therapy. It’s a rating system that people use on a regular basis to assess where they are and help themselves move forward. Ask yourself: On a scale from one to ten (with ten being the most severe), how severe is my anxiety right now? Then, ask yourself what it would be like for you to move down the scale just one single number. Next, know that the movement is in your control. What can you do to move down that one step?
Solution-focused therapy helps you shift your focus away from your anxiety away from what is wrong to what is already right. Then you build on the “already rights” to make things even “righter.” It takes work, but that’s part of the process of reclaiming control over your life.