This SELF DIMENSION Zoom-Out emerged from a juncture of my passion for personal productivity and personal wellbeing. It combines elements from “Getting Things Done” by David Allen, Positive Psychology, Stoicism and various Cognitive Behavioural therapies. It can be helpful to reduce anxiety and move oneself forward with positive momentum.

Uneasy Tension

We often experience a sense of ‘uneasy tension’ that arises from the gap between how we perceive something as being at the moment and how we would prefer it to be. This can apply to a myriad of things from the most mundane, such as paying off a debt, to something more existential, relating one’s own life situation or attribute of oneself.

This state of ‘uneasy tension’ can cause anxiety and worry. And what’s more, we may have more than one instance of ‘uneasy tension’ existing at the same time, each associated with a different aspect of our lives. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed as well. I’ve experienced this personally, going through a protracted and painful divorce for example whilst at the same time being out of work and at risk of having my home repossessed, all at the same time.

ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts

One way in which anxiety can arise and express itself when in a state of uneasy tension is in the form of ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts. There are many approaches to dealing with ANTs including mindfulness and CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). You can cultivate the skill of recognising your ANTs and “stamping on your ANTs’ as they arise. You can focus on something else, such as the ‘here and now’ (mindfulness). Or you can change the way you view and think about the situation itself which is core to the cognitive behavioural approaches, Buddhism, Stoicism and indeed Zoom-Out.

Some situations, however, do require some intervention from yourself. You do need to do something on a practical level.

‘Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-free Productivity’

David Allen wrote a brilliant book in 2001 entitled ‘Getting Things Done – The Art of Stress-free productivity’. The book had a great impact on me personally and I’ve been implementing variations of the core concepts in the book ever since. The approach looks at how we organise our projects, activities and tasks in order to maximise our productivity and reduce our stress at the same time. How we process incoming demands for our attention and efforts are summarised in a workflow flowchart as follows:

One of the most powerful concepts and the one leveraged by this Zoom-Out lies at the heart of the workflow:

The idea is to identify the Next Action associated with something that is placing a demand on your attention, time and effort. Some things only have one action and so you may then decide to just do it straight away, defer it or delegate it. Some things require multiple steps (entitled ‘projects’ in the method) but even then, the most important thing to identify is the Next Action. The idea of a next action is incredibly powerful. Part of that power comes from being able to reduce multiple concurrent ‘projects’ or things that need resolving down to a single Next Action for each one. This can lead to feeling less overwhelmed and a sense of clarity and order out of chaos.

The Next Positive Action

This gives rise to the idea behind this Zoom-Out and is reflected in the title – The Next Positive Action. It simply takes the idea of a Next Action and utilises it within the context of anxiety and those pesky ANTs – Automatic Negative Thoughts.

So our workflow looks like this:

Uneasy tension >> Automatic Negative Thoughts >> Next Positive Action

Or abbreviated as:

UT >> ANTs >> NPA

‘Next Positive Action’ in Action

Here’s how to apply it to a situation in your life that is causing anxiety and Automatic Negative Thoughts.

Uneasy tension >> Automatic Negative Thoughts >> Next Positive Action

  1. Uneasy Tension
    Identify and write down the source of the ‘uneasy tension’ – you would prefer something to be different from what it is now or to be resolved

  2. Automatic Negative Thoughts
    Notice and write down the ANTs associated with this particular uneasy tension

  3. Next Positive Action
    Identify a Next Positive Action for the uneasy tension

You may choose to do the Next Positive Action straight away, defer it or delegate it. It may be the first of many actions needed to resolve the uneasy tension but the next action is what counts right now.

This approach can be effective because:

  • It shifts the focus from ‘uneasy tension’ to ‘a path to resolution’
  • It switches the focus from something negative to something positive – from a negative thought to a positive action
  • It switches the focus from helplessness to empowerment
  • It focuses on something you can control – and you can only ever control two things, your own thoughts and your own actions
  • It enables you to put the unresolved tension to one side – to get it off your mind – at least for the time being, knowing that you have a Next Positive Action to take either now or at some time later (or to delegate)

You may then find that the Automatic Negative Thoughts do not arise as much and if one does, you can switch your focus to your Next Positive Action. This can be an effective way of ‘stamping on the ANT’.