It usually doesn’t pay to take life advice from fictional characters. The lens of drama has a way of distorting things.

Sitcoms teach us that fate, coincidence and poetic justice will slap us down in the funniest way possible.

Rom coms teach us the best way to find love is to utterly destroy all trust with someone.

Action movies teach us the limits of biology (heck, even physics) are optional.

But sometimes fiction gets it right and shows us something worth learning.

Consider Heath Ledger’s Joker.

He’s a deranged psychopath whose only goal is chaos. That’s a hard message to sell – chaos can be fun, but it’s exhausting.

It’s hard to sleep in a riot.

Even so, he builds an army, using folk so crazy they can’t function as adults. You get a glimpse of his process when one now-loyal fanatic says the Joker promised to replace all the angry voices in his head with beautiful lights, like at Christmas.

Which, naturally, reminds me of the Mother from How I Met Your Mother.

She meets Barney, playboy extraordinaire, who wants to settle down with the girl of his dreams. But he starts talking himself out of it, saying when it comes to women, he’s at the top of his game.

The Mother simply asks him: do you want joker123 to keep playing the game? Or do you want to win?

That’s the push he needs to realise what he really wants.

What do these examples have in common?

Neither is about fighting the obstacles.

It’s not about imposing change.

Imagine if the Joker had ordered someone with schizophrenia to do his bidding. Or threatened him, or tried to pay him off.

And if the Mother had given Barney some sappy speech on the power of love.

Blech.

Good luck with that approach.

Impose your answer on someone and they’ll reject it.

Or…

You can join them in their reality.

Yes, this voice in your head is real… and I can help you with that.

Yes, you are at the top of your game… but what’s the point of a game, exactly?

This gives you a juicy way to handle anxiety – or pretty much any other problem. The temptation is to fight them emotion, suppress it, ignore it, maybe even medicate it.

In other words, to impose your view on how things should be.

But what if you met the anxiety on its level?

What if you approached the emotion with curiosity – genuinely interested in what makes it tick?

Then you can figure out a way to change it how you want.

When I use hypnosis for things like anxiety, I could, in theory, overcome the anxiety by sheer power. I could use the trance to erase the emotion from their mind.

But that’s me fighting against a powerful, primal instinct – one that has something to say.

That’s a lot more work for a much worse result.

Instead, I invite my clients to engage with the anxiety. Treat it like a person in pain who needs their help. Meeting the anxiety on its level and its reality.