Why Is Neuroticism So Toxic?

As an athlete, I have a wide range of tricks up my sleeve that I use to avoid neuroticism and negative emotions. The most basic is to recite mantras or quotations and to use my imagination to create a parallel universe filled with pragmatic optimism[27] and positive emotions. 

For example, after seeing the movie Jaws as a kid, I developed a neurotic fear of sharks that caused me to avoid swimming in the ocean at all costs. As an Ironman triathlete, most races require that you swim 2.4 miles in the ocean. The most terrifying swim I’ve ever completed took place in the breeding grounds of the Great White sharks at Ironman South Africa. I used a variety of tricks to overcome my shark phobia[28].

First, instead of filling my head with the John Williams’ soundtrack from Jaws and seeing myself as prey from the underwater perspective of a Great White, I would hum the upbeat pop song “Cherish[29]” by Madonna and pretend that I had a mermaid tail and was in a Herb Ritts video. Secondly, I put myself in a trance by focusing on my breathing and the physical sensation of the water against my skin to stay in the reality of the present tense.

I also kept postcards of all the Ironman swims I had successfully completed on my fridge door as a type of talisman that signified that I had returned home safely from all of these odysseys. Over time, facing my fear of sharks head on, “slaying the dragon,” and living to tell about it, diluted my neuroticism and anxiety to the point that it became a non-issue.

Another simple visualization[30] that I use regularly is to imagine that my positive thoughts are covered with Velcro and superglue, which allows them to stick to my neurons. Conversely, I visualize my negative emotions and neuroticism as being Teflon-coated and covered in chicken fat, which prevents these thoughts from sticking to my mind. The core tenets of these techniques can be used to “decondition” phobias and neuroticism for people from all walks of life. 

Finding Your Sweet Spot Between Neuroticism and Being a Pollyanna

“I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” –Jimmy Dean

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