Home » The Funny Side of Fear – Conquering Anxiety Through Comedy: Daniel Hardman at TEDxDouglas (Transcript)

The Funny Side of Fear – Conquering Anxiety Through Comedy: Daniel Hardman at TEDxDouglas (Transcript)

Daniel Hardman

Daniel Hardman – TRANSCRIPT

Rewind five years to 2009. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was developing a severe issue with anxiety.

A part of the problem was, I was completely unaware of anxiety as an ongoing condition. The main component, however, was I felt like there was something I needed to do to feel worthy. Not only that, I didn’t know what that thing was. The journey I was about to embark on was to teach me some major life lessons, that I’d like to share with you today. And these have drastically improved the way I see the world.

So what does anxiety look like? It begins with negative thinking patterns, such as catastrophizing. It’s viewing situations as far worse than they actually are, or anticipating things to go wrong. Black and white thinking: thinking either I’m amazing or I’m rubbish, and nothing in between. Perfectionism: the need to do everything in the correct way. Anxiety rejects the rational thinking that combines both positive and negative aspects of the situation.

In its extreme form, it can result in avoidance and withdrawal. This instigates a cycle of guilt and shame that further reinforces the anxiety. On a biological level, a threat is recognized and the emotional center of the brain called the amygdala instigates the fight or flight response. This is absolutely necessary if you’re running away from a bear, for instance. But the problem is when the threat is imagined.

Full of adrenaline, you may feel short of breath, tight-chested and raised heart rate. One-third of people will suffer from anxiety at some point in their lives. However, could it be that it has gone even beyond that? In a world that’s getting faster and faster, we’re overworked, we’re overspending, and so on. Could it be that more and more of us are existing in a mild but perpetual state of angst? From media reports, as well as from those I know personally, I know this is becoming an epidemic, especially among my generation, known as the Millennials. We’re the most educated generation there has ever been.

However, we’re the most materialistic, in debt, obese. Celebrity and media culture have convinced us we can have everything instantly. Many say they feel frustrated not being able to find employment that motivates them, if employed at all. So how do we tackle anxiety? Is what’s needed nothing more than acquiring some rational perspectives? Back to 2009 I was at university, and anxiety was beginning to take a strong hold.

A further year passed, and I was beginning to become significantly withdrawn. From the lad who would be the life and soul of the party, I’d got to the stage where I didn’t even want to come out of my room. There was an instance when a flatmate invited me out for the evening, and, as usual, I declined. He shouted at me, “Would you just come out for once?!” It was those words that hit me. I had to make a change.

That night, turning on the TV, I saw a comedian named Russell Kane. I watched as he confidently commanded the stage, and I wondered what it would be like to feel that sense of freedom. Sometime later, I was given a book called “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” The title itself says enough. However, this was a big turning point.

I discovered that confidence isn’t something you’re born with. It’s something that comes to you after you’ve made the jump. Something united in me, I was excited. So I did what any self-respecting agoraphobic would do, and I put myself on stage at stand-up comedy night. Two days later, I canceled.

My mind went frantic with imagined consequence, fear of situations that had never and would never come into fruition. Weeks would pass where I kept telling myself, “I’ll book it after that exam is finished,” or, “Once Christmas is done, then I’ll book it.” Eight grueling months later, I’d had enough; I resolved that feeling anxious was just as bad as making a complete fool of myself I had nothing to lose.

I’d submit to imperfection and I would face failure. That night, I waited patiently for my turn. As the act before me made his exit, terror struck. The fear I felt as I was introduced to the stage was so extreme, I genuinely felt as though I was going to die. I felt as though I had a belt around my neck and chest.

Baffled by my own name as the MC called it, shell-shocked by the honor and applause, I made my way through the dense crowd. A sea of faces flickered with candlelight, and hundreds of eyes followed me to the stage. My cheeks spasmed, I forgot lines, I mumbled words, the audience looked at me like I was a madman I ran out of material, I ran offstage, and to my amazement, the sky didn’t fall in. It had gone terribly, but the only thing I felt was relief.

I didn’t have to be perfect. The acclaimed teacher of comedy improvisation by the name of Del Close famously said, “Follow the fear.” It seems counter-intuitive, but if you accept the anxiety and act with it, the anxiety will go down. I found that putting myself in feared situations has helped me recognize destructive thinking patterns that could seem so automatic that they seem normal. In my first ten gigs as a stand-up, I’d do well, and then halfway through it, I would eject, I’d screw up and I’d run offstage.

Then one night I realized why I caught myself thinking, “I can’t do this.” I’d never noticed that I was sabotaging myself. And it was in that moment that I made a conscious decision to ignore my own internal dialogue, and I pushed through, and I kept going. That night, I made the final of a weekly comedy competition, and the triumph was immense.

I came away with a genuine appreciation of the failure and hardship that had come before. Three years and 40 gigs later, I hadn’t conquered comedy, but I had conquered anxiety. Through constant trial and error, I was able to observe my thinking and re-frame anything that wasn’t helpful. I was able to decipher my own unique emotional language. You decide what you think, and ultimately, you decide how you feel.

It’s a long-winded process, but if you commit to it, the wonders can be amazing. So, here’s three points to take away with you. Let life happen. Control is an illusion. There’s a Buddhist proverb that says “Those who grasp, lose.” Focus only on what you can control and leave the rest to life.

Secondly, self-investment — the idea that only you can approve of yourself, and no one can tell you what you do is good or bad. This last point came from a psychology author called Mark Manson; he’s given me his permission to cite this to you today. He asks, “What pain do you want?” For instance, everyone wants the great physique without the pain of going to the gym every day, to start the business without the risk, the amazing job without the 60-hour work weeks. He says, “What we get out of life is not determined by the good feelings we desire, but by the bad feelings we are willing and able to sustain to get to those good feelings. You can’t win if you don’t play.”

So back then, I never felt as though I was quite there, but the truth is, you’re never there. So this is the idea that I believe is worth spreading: You don’t need to be anything or do anything to be deemed as worthy. You make that decision at any moment you please, and I invite you all to do that right now. Have you done it? Nice.

We all have the same human potential, and all you need to do is move. Move towards the thing you instinctively feel is the right course of action. And if that path is wrong, then good. You can eliminate focus, then carry over what you’ve learned to the next course of action. I’ll leave you with a quote by Frank Herbert; it’s called “Fear. ” “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And then when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

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