I define worrying as imagining unpleasant or unwanted outcomes as if they had already happened.
Worry itself serves no useful purpose. It’s a thief. It robs the present moment of its joy.
And then it gets even worse…
Worry warps a person’s ability to see reality clearly and take effective action.
Over time, worry can become a habit, a habit of thought. Not at all good because we now know that thought habits lead to real, physical changes in the brain.
The more you worry, the more you are wiring your brain to do it in the future.
Fortunately, habits can be changed.
It may not seem like it, but the degree to which we engage in worry is, in fact, under our control. This is despite what many people believe. That’s not surprising since there are many mistaken beliefs about worry.
Here are a few…
Many people believe outside events trigger their worry and therefore they have no control over it.
Others believe that worry is necessary and useful.
Or they believe that worrying somehow protects them from bad events.
Some people think worrying proves that they’re concerned.
The list goes on…
So to begin, look at your assumptions about worry. Do you worry a lot? Why? Do you think it somehow serves you?
As I mentioned, some people think that worry is necessary and useful.
They may even think that worrying is a sign of maturity and being responsible, or that worrying is a way to figure out an answer to a problem.
None of that is true.
Excessive worry is more a sign of inability to gain proper perspective.
Rather than producing a solution, it keeps you stuck in the problem.
This is a good place to apply the Pareto principle, the idea that 20% of activity produces 80% of the results.
Spend 20% of your time or less identifying the problem and 80% working on the solution.
Another reason some people worry is that they feel it somehow protects them from bad things happening.
That feeling borders on superstition. All worry does is keep you from enjoying the present moment.
If your mind is filled with thoughts of terrible things that could possibly happen in the future it’s hard to recognize and enjoy what’s going on at the moment.
As you consider your beliefs about worry and why you may engage in it, you may find you want to stop worrying so much. Here’s how to go about doing that
An important first step for many people is to develop a tolerance for uncertainty.
Many people who worry chronically do so because they have difficulty accepting uncertainty.
Alas, uncertainty in this life is inescapable. The old saying that nothing is certain except death and taxes carries more than a little truth.
Worrying does nothing to change life’s uncertainties.
Here’s a principle of cognitive restructuring that can help you deal with uncertainty: question your thoughts.
Many people go through life never questioning the accuracy or usefulness of their beliefs or automatic thoughts.
Often just taking a step back and asking yourself about the accuracy of a given thought gives you a better perspective. Very often you’ll realize that a thought has little validity. Then you’ll be able to move beyond it.
Is it possible, or even desirable, to be certain about everything in life? Is it possible to accept the inevitable uncertainty and still enjoy life?
Here’s a question for you to consider:
If something is uncertain, do you tend to envision a bad or a good outcome?
It’s equally valid to imagine a positive future as it is a negative one. Which way do you tend to go?
Imagining something bad happening can be about as bad as actually experiencing it.
For many people, worrying becomes a way of life. For these people, worrisome thoughts intrude throughout the day, distracting them from their present moment.
If they could focus on what was going on in their immediate experience, they’d almost always realize that their current situation was actually pretty good.
When most people question their assumptions and beliefs about worry, they realize that it isn’t serving them. Yet they still feel compelled to worry.
It can be a tough habit of thought to break. But it definitely is possible.
First, what generally doesn’t work is trying to stop “cold turkey.”
Fortunately, there’s a way to taper off that works for most people.
The better strategy is to accept your tendency to worry, but agree with yourself to confine it to a set period of time once or twice a day.
With this technique, you set some time aside, say fifteen or twenty minutes, a day where you allow yourself to worry to your heart’s content.
Then when you catch yourself with worrisome thoughts at other times of day, remind yourself that you’re going to do your worrying later.
Most people find that this allows them to stop worrying in the immediate moment because they know they can do it a little later.
This frees mental and emotional energy to focus on what’s working and solutions for what isn’t.
Once you’ve delayed the worrying, refocus your attention on your immediate environment. Even better, look for something to appreciate in the present moment.
The next step is to gradually reduce the daily time allotted to worrying.
Actually use a timer and set it for progressively shorter intervals. As an example, if you start at 20 minutes gradually work down to 15, then 10 and then five.
Remember that worrying is not problem solving. It’s more of an emotional drain that actually makes taking effective action less likely.
Freeing yourself from worry spares you emotional turmoil and allows you to focus your energy in more productive ways. You might also want to use some of the time you free up to develop the knack of living in gratitude, but that’s a topic for another day.