Free Will – And Your Anxiety

Research carried out in relation to free will and the freedom to make decisions as been questioned over the years.


Are we free to decide or is it just something we are taught as children? You know that moment when we are told that everything we do is our fault and we have to take the consequences of our actions.  I am sure you can remember a time in your life when a decision to do something has turned out to be the wrong decision.  You hear the words.  “I told you so”.


Of course there is some truth in that we are totally responsible and we have to be aware of our own decisions and who they affect, but as you will find out as you read on further there is some evidence to suggest that our decision to do something has been decided a long time before we take the action.


There are many psychological theories, for example Hebbs Theory, that probably determine your behaviour, but in this blog post I am not going to go into any details (that might be for another time).  However, you need to understand that the premise of Hebb’s Theory is why you find yourself dealing with your anxiety the same way every time, especially if you have been suffering for years.  Just think of this – behaviour determines our actions, actions determine our behaviour.  Cells in the brain that fire together, wire together.

Behaviour determines our actions



Here is the science behind what I am trying to say. Our decision to do something is purely instinctive and driven by a process far faster than conscious thought, in fact there are approximately 85-100 billion neurons in the brain and each of those are connected to approximately 1000 and 10,000 other neurons, forming complex physical interconnected networks, with millions of neurons actively engaging in relation to what has been or is being experienced.


Patterns are being recognised and some sort of response is being produced, and by the time we are aware of the compulsions created they have been examined millions of times and we either know what to do, or we realise that we do not know and have the drive to find out and if this process is laboured we then experience anxiety and stress.


Because our brain is receiving numerous messages, looking for patterns that have worked before, working very fast and not being particularly logical, when it receives something unfamiliar it simply avoids it and when it finds something that it thinks of as a threat, it will use your anxiety to navigate you away from the situation.


So, if for example you experienced a situation like giving a presentation and you were very nervous the brain might associate these types of situations with the feelings of anxiety and every time you gave a presentation those anxious feelings would appear.


Eventually, avoiding this type of situation and thinking you cannot deal with it becomes a habit and although forgotten and not that important when faced with a similar situation in the future the anxiety returns, but we can retrain that part of the brain to accept that nervous anxious situations can be dealt with in a positive manner.


You just have to embrace those anxious sensations, feelings and thoughts and see them through, engage with them, making sure to welcome them to your world.  No matter how long they lasts stay with them do not be restrained from your determination to see them through.  Give your anxiety an ultimatum, either it acts within a certain time frame, otherwise you will simply ignore it.


Now it might sound a bit like a fairy story, but believe me, once you get to grips with the concept and learn how to do it, your anxiety will have nowhere to turn.  I know it can also sound a bit of a cliche, but the more you practise the easier it will become.

Here is the science bit.  We have a tendency in our modern world of making too much of a song and dance where anxiety is concerned, we give every day occurrences too much of a voice.  We literally believe everything we are told from the noise and endless chatter in our heads.  And if you are dealing with more anxious thoughts, sensations and feelings than most people, then Wow – what do you do?


Look our ancestors were just as anxious on occasions and did not always deal with things very well, but just got on with it because they had to and that is what you have learned to do, otherwise you will be plagued for years to come.


Our earliest ancestors only had to fight for survival or procreate to increase the population.  They did not have to deal with the social media trolls, the perfect Instagram image, becoming famous at any cost, saying and doing the right thing, looking and dressing in a certain way, the list goes on.  And you ask yourself why do I feel anxious?


I have heard people say that they have had to deal with anxiety or the metaphor ‘albatross’ over their heads for years and I say why?  Why?  because you are told that you have to.  To manage it, to nurture it, to appease it, to deal with it, to breathe it out, to visualise it, to accept it, to live with it, to take medication for the rest of your life, and it goes on and on and on.  But, am I telling you that you do not have to do any of those things – you simply have to EMBRACE it and go with it.  But, how do you do it?  Subscribe to my list, indicate what you would like to receive information about and I will give you a few tips and tricks.


But, before that I want to explain one part of the thought process that you can learned to understand and its impact on you, the cognitive gap.

The Cognitive Gap



The decision to act on an anxious thought is taken long before we are consciously aware of it.  1/10th of second before, in fact and what you need to know is that you can get into the space between deciding to act in a certain way and before acting and in so doing change your reaction to your anxious thoughts, sensations and in turn change how you deal with them.


Like I said it is all about embracing your anxiety and working with it and not against it.  But, it is also about showing it who is boss.  Teach it your language, teach it to listen to what you want, teach it to know when you are fed up of it, teach it to follow your lead and take notice of what you want.  Give it an ultimatum.

Although the cognitive gap exists, we are not even remotely aware of it in the normal way – you can logically understand that it exists, but you will never consciously experience it.  There is nothing unusual about this, since your thought processes are yours, you are not fully in control of them.  The reason is simple.  While you are occupied with whatever conscious thought you are experiencing, your lizard or reptilian brain has already started processing your next thought. Except under certain circumstances, the process is continual and you are only aware of the end product that has been brought to your conscious awareness.


This gap is not simply some form of safety mechanism or a limiting process so we do not overload our thoughts, it is simply biology.  Evolution does not replace complex working organs with a better
version, the reptilian process or early brain, was special, consisting of billions
of neural pathways all working perfectly, keeping complex organisms safe and


In the 1960s American physiologist and neuroscientist Paul D. MacLean discussed the idea of the Triune Brain a much more complex brain which was needed for pure survival as mammals appeared and an extension of the reptilian complex, the paleomammalian complex, capable of more sophisticated processes.


There are other parts of the brain, the neomammalian complex, which is said to be the part which is aware of self, but at this point I am not here to discuss the wherefores of the brain I just wanted to give you a flavour of how the brain has evolved.

But, you are not your brain.

Do we have free will?



So, do we have Free Will? Yes and no. We have free will to make decisions and how we deal with our thoughts, feelings and sensations, but not whether we experience them or not.  But, the good news is we can change how we view these thoughts, feelings and sensations.


You are not your brain



Just remember you are not your brain, although you might think you are.  You are in fact the consequence of your life experience, your DNA and your subconscious and your conscious mind, you belief system, the outcome of a misinterpreted message, a glib comment mistakenly thought of to be about you, the feeling that you are worthless, because someone said you were, possibly when you were 5.


The result of the loss of your identify, self-worth or confidence when your girlfriend, boyfriend or partner broke up with you.  Your husband or wife divorced you.  Your mother or father, shouted at you or you thought your sister or brother were jealous of you or you were ugly and nobody would love you.


Your pool of false brain messages and untruths has stiffled you most of your life and as caused untold damage to your psyche and anxiety has become your ally, to hide behind or your security blanket.  To come out of your hiding place, to  fold up your security blanket and get rid of your anxiety forever, you need to get to grips with all of these false thoughts and learn to control your ‘conscious critical mind’.


Start to believe things can change.  It will be challenging, but oh so worth it.  If you read my blog about therapy being uncomfortable, well I truly believe that for any form of therapy or change of mindset to be successful, it certainly has to have some element of discomfort.  Not discomfort in the way of physical pain, but a mental journey of discovery, rebirth and enlightenment.


What are your ‘pain points’?


When talk ing about a ‘pain point’ it is not anything to do with a physical pain – it is simply a term for something which you are struggling with or to achieve, something which is holding you back and you need help to do it.


When anxiety is holding you back and is your lord and master, when you wake up every morning with the same thoughts that you went to bed thinking.  You are certainly struggling to see what is real or imagined.  You quite literally cannot see the wood for the trees and your pain point is your constant negative thoughts, feelings and sensations, which are controlling your existence.


But, by simply coming to terms with these negative thoughts, you are well on your way to an anxiety free life and a firm hold of your ‘conscious critical mind.


Of course there is a lot more to this story, but I do not want to give it away all at once.  It is really more profound if practised in small steps, towards the bigger goal.


All I am asking you to do initially is to step into your anxiety and see it from the outside looking in, totally detached from it, like it is happening to someone else, and then step into it, become attached to it.  Do not ignore it or disregard it, it could be teaching you something, enlightening you to a situation that you have not thought of before.  Quite literally, although not immediately obvious your anxiety is a golden opportunity, an open door to more than you ever thought possible.


They say that we learn something new everyday.  What we learn is not always what we want to, but it is always something which comes in useful eventually.


My anxiety brought me to you.  It taught me that other people would benefit from my knowledge my ability to teach, to write about what I am passionate about, my ability to stand up in front of people and guide them, to becoming a psychotherapist, a politician, a leader, opening more doors, to finding or being given more opportunities than I ever thought possible and to understanding how my conscious critical mind was for many years holding me back.


Follow my blog for more information on how your conscious critical mind is holding you back and how its hold on you might be why your anxiety is so powerful, out of your control and affecting your free will.


To Your Ultimate Success


The BrainWave Therapist


  1. Really interesting article, having suffered with “anxiety” for the last few months I’ve never thought of thinking about it like this. Will give it a try and see what happens.

    • Hi Alun
      Thank you for your comment.
      I also have a Free ebook, which I am sure you will find interesting and please follow my blog for more information how you can end your anxiety forever.
      Please let me know how you get on using some of my advice. I know it will definitely help other sufferers.

      To Your Ultimate Success
      The BrainWave Therapist

  2. Hi
    Thanks for this great article. You explain anxiety in a way that I haven’t heard it before.
    Like most people, I don’t like to think that I’m not in charge of my own thoughts, but it’s interesting to read that my old brain has formulated my next thought before I even know what it is!
    I’m looking forward to reading some more of your insights.


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