Last spring, Paul Ford was sick of the self-sabotaging, disparaging voice in his head, so he decided to do something about it. He’d been living with anxiety all his life, but it was getting in the way of his professional career. So Ford, a longtime tech tinkerer, decided to turn his anxiety into a bot that he named AnxietyBox.
Ten times a day, at random he’d receive an email from his Anxiety with subject lines like: “Ask yourself, do you always want to be exhausting to know and undesirable?” The messages were nasty and uncannily channeled that negative voice in his head. “Dear Paul,” one email read. “I heard you when you talked about how you wanted to exercise. Where would you put your chances for success? Zero percent? Greater?”
Psychologists call these negative voices “cognitive distortions”—moments when your thinking goes awry and your anxiety gets the best of you.
Ford was just trying out a silly experiment, yet with a little distance between that negative voice and himself (about as much space as you give yourself from your email inbox), he could see just how disparaging and mean so many of his anxious thoughts were. Suddenly they didn’t have as much power over him. “My thing sends you emails that tell you you’re garbage,” he says. “You start to laugh at how bad your anxiety is.”