Drop Those Anxiety-Related Behaviors
Limiting yourself is comforting, but only in the short term.
Posted Nov 20, 2018
An enlightening interview came out recently with Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee, in which he discussed his self-limiting beliefs and behaviors from the early part of his basketball career. (Read the article by Kyle Goon of the OC Register here.) McGee's interview is a good lens to help us understand how anxiety-related behaviors hurt our ability to achieve our work, relationship and personal goals.
In McGee’s early career, he was prone to making mistakes that seemed to jump off the screen. His blunders became fodder for a sports recap show, where former NBA great Shaquille O’Neal compiled clips of half-baked plays, calling the recurring segment “Shaqtin’ a Fool.”
The NBA world is unforgiving, especially in the age of social media. McGee says he became hyper-conscious of his mistakes, fearful of the constant lampooning. The repeated embarrassment changed the way he approached the game, and he began to choose what we call anxiety-related behaviors.
Later, we’ll look at how he escaped this trap. But first, let’s examine four of the most common anxiety-related behaviors, as outlined in The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin Antony and Richard Swinson, and consider how they may relate to your own struggles:
- Avoiding anxiety-building situations. Do you look for ways to politely turn down social opportunities? Do you shy away from work projects that may require a presentation or speaking to a group? There are also more subtle avoidance strategies, such as standing near a buddy the whole time at a party, avoiding eye contact, or running for the bar in any social situation.
- Overcompensating for perceived faults. When you have something coming up that is causing anxiety, do you spend a lot more time preparing for it than is necessary, obsessing over every detail? Do you try to project an image that is different from who you really are, due to fear of being rejected?
- Seeking reassurance over and over. Do you ask for feedback repeatedly, even after it’s been given?
- Comparing yourself to people you perceive to be better than you. Are you often comparing yourself to the “ideal” or the top of your profession or hobby?
McGee noted that he lost the joy of the game—and this hindered his ability to work on improvements and continue to develop. He used the anxiety-related behavior of avoidance and likely that of comparing himself to unrealistic expectations while he was still a young, developing player, and this slowed his growth.
So what helped him break out of this trajectory, embrace learning and making mistakes, and become a productive, respected NBA player? McGee credits a former team, the Golden State Warriors, for most of the transformation. From teammates, he incorporated some skills and habits that led to improvement, such as more consistent weight training. From a coach, he received public support in the face of the media criticism. And from himself, he learned to dismiss the negative image that the public forced on him at such a young age and to continue to build confidence day by day.
The insidious aspect of anxiety-related behaviors is that they do give us relief—but at a cost, since we are unlikely to develop skills, attitudes and experiences that will help us grow.
It’s worth exploring how you are limiting yourself—whether through avoiding, overcompensating, seeking reassurance or unfairly comparing yourself to others. From there, try to target that self-limiting behavior first by making an effort to stop it, and then by allowing yourself to practice new skills and make mistakes without the weight of those limiting behaviors. And don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way.
Antony, Martin M. & Swinson, Richard P. (2017) The Shyness and Social Anxiety Workbook. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications, Inc