Why Is Neuroticism So Toxic?

Source: Debono66/Wikimedia Commons

Neuroticism is necessary for human survival. Your life would become a trainwreck if you didn’t have periods of being conscientious and slightly neurotic. That said, it’s often a difficult tightrope walk to navigate the thin line between not giving a damn, and caring too much about things that are out of your control, which leads to neuroticism.

In my opinion, being a Pollyanna—who always pretends that everything is A-OK when in fact it’s not—is the polar opposite of neuroticism. I strive to find the sweet spot between these two extremes which I identify as being a “pragmatic optimist.” 

As an athlete, I needed to be dialed-in and a control freak about certain aspects of training and competition[31] such as my equipment, nutrition[32], and hydration. For example, I always lace my running shoes fastidiously so they fit like boxing gloves that allow me to pound my feet into the ground without any slippage. I am never laid-back about lacing up my sneakers prior to a race … But once they’re laced up, and the starting gun is fired, I take a very laissez-faire attitude during any triathlon or marathon. 

Over the decades of being a professional athlete, I learned how to find my “middle way” between extreme states of mind. As a fundamental concept of Buddhism and other philosophies, I interpret the “middle way” as navigating between two extremes to find the mean. In 330 B.C., Aristotle alluded to the principle of finding your “middle way.” In the Nicomachean Ethics[33], Aristotle writes, 

“We must draw ourselves away in the opposite direction, for by pulling away from error we shall reach the middle, as men do when they straighten warped timber … How we face dangerous situations, either accustoming ourselves to fear or confidence[34], makes us brave or cowardly. In a word then, activities produce similar dispositions. Therefore we must give a certain character to our activities. In short, the habits we form make no small difference, but rather they make all the difference.”

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