Why worry? How often does what you worry about actually manifest? Yet how much are you in your “left brain mind chatter” considering what could go wrong?
Why Worry (Audio)
How much time do you spend worrying? You know, concerning yourself about something that may or may not happen? How often does what you worry about actually manifest? Are you better known as a worrier or a warrior? How much time do you spend in your “left brain mind chatter” considering all the things that could go wrong? Or are you one of the few that has managed to bring this wasteful energy consumption under control?
Wikipedia defines worry as thoughts, images and emotions of a negative nature in which mental attempts are made to avoid anticipated potential threats. As an emotion it is experienced as anxiety or concern about a real or imagined issue, usually personal issues such as health or finances or broader ones such as environmental pollution and social or technological change. Most people experience short-lived periods of worry in their lives without incident; indeed, a moderate amount of worrying may even have positive effects, if it prompts people to take precautions (e.g., fastening their seat belt or buying fire insurance) or avoid risky behaviours (e.g., angering dangerous animals, or binge drinking).
I’ve also seen it described as tormenting oneself with or suffer from disturbing thoughts; fret. In my blog Dealing with Fear I called worry using your imagination to create something you do not want.
There are many well known, humorous clichés or references to worry: like “no worries”, often used in Australia, or the attitude “ akuna matata” from the delightful animation movie The Lion King. Some suggest more simplistically: You worry – you die; you don’t worry – you still die; so why worry? And we all know the song “don’t worry, be happy”, don’t we?
All good, if somewhat flippant advice, isn’t it? But often true nonetheless, right?
It’s made in the head anyway, so why worry?
I’ve spoken about beliefs or worries “made in the head”, that is created by our overly creative “left brain mind chatter”. Why is this important? The way I see it, it means if it is “made in the head” it doesn’t have to be (and probably isn’t) real, which if that were to be true, means that the opposite can be just as true, and that we have a choice. Ahh, there’s that word again.
That’s right; it means that whether we worry about something or not is up to us. We can in fact “turn it on or off” as per our choosing.
Example of why worry?
My wife and I recently caught an exciting Inter City Express (ICE) train in Germany from Frankfurt airport to a town down near the Black Forest. Notorious for their punctuality, we were surprised upon arrival at the underground platform below the airport that our train was to be approximately 20 minutes late. Having to switch trains in Stuttgart, where we only had 6 minutes to change platforms (which included having to manually lug our luggage down and up stairs, I noticed how our mind immediately went into “worry mode”.
Well, we had an extra 20 minutes, didn’t we, so we went to the nearest rail office to find out our alternatives. The worst case was a 2 hour delay for the next connection from Stuttgart. With mobile phones today it is so easy to SMS or call ahead to tell those collecting us we will be late. Granted we were tired and jet-lagged, so it became a good opportunity to have a real solid worry, didn’t it? However, smiling at the unnecessary worry (it wasn’t going to help us much, was it?) we calmed down and relaxed with our options. Turned out the train arrived only 10 minutes late, made up 8 of those 10 minutes en route and our connecting train waited a few extra minutes and we were fine. No worries mate.
However, can you relate how easy it was to get into worry mode to start with?
Go on – worry!
We worry about so many things, don’t we? The primary worries we all experience from time to time seems to be whether we will be or are Good enough. We worry about being late, or what others might think of us. We worry about failure, even success. We worry about running out of money before we run out of month. We worry about being loved or not being loved. We worry about being involved in an accident. We worry about whether we will lose our job or get that promotion. We worry about whether we have enough insurance (or perhaps too much). We worry about ….. We worry about….. the list can go on and on and on, can’t it? There seem to be no limits to how much and what we can worry about.
Yet most of these usually serve very little purpose to worry about, do they? In many cases, if we stop worrying about them and just do something about them, we realize that and they often go away. Which is why Procrastination is such a poison, in that it feeds on worry and it contributes to worry; a lose-lose situation.
On the other end of the spectrum “Managed worry” can also be very healthy. I’m sure you all know that “butterflies feeling” in your stomach before you do a presentation? I find that level of anxious anticipation to help bring the best out in me; when it’s “Show Time” we need to be “switched on and firing on all cylinders”. So I believe a degree of worry that I am doing everything I can to be my best is “useful worry”.
Of course when it comes to goal setting and the related planning, we need to worry about all the things that could get in the way of a successful outcome. Perhaps just calling that planning or “prudent thinking” would be better than having to call it worry.
But this isn’t what most of us struggle with, is it? It is that paralyzing, anxious concern that our left brain seems to keep feeding us that I’m talking about now.
If we allow it to, worry can incapacitate us; make us feel lame and prevent us from achieving what we otherwise know we can actually do. I’m sure you’ve heard the feeling of “being sick with worry”, particularly if we are anxious about the safety of a loved one.
Big picture and purpose (goals)
I have become pretty good at arresting worry, by recognizing “worrying thoughts” as what they are – just thoughts – not reality. That’s easily said, and probably harder to practice, right? I have learned that: “to know and not to do is not to know”.
Have you ever noticed it’s usually only in our “spare time” that we resort to worrying, never in our “prime time” when we are engaged or focused on what matters at that time? I have often used the metaphor whereby when “the dog is in the hunt” he doesn’t notice any fleas nor does he have time to look for any, does he? He is absolutely focused on the chase (his purpose). However, when he isn’t in the hunt and lazing around without purpose, isn’t it amazing what “fleas” we can come up with?
I have just spent a week in Singapore (working) and two weeks in Germany (playing). Lying awake at 2h00 in the morning unable to sleep overcoming 10 hours of timezone related jet-lag is a great test of “mind control”. If allowed, isn’t it amazing what the mind can come up with that it thinks we should be worrying about? I am sure you can relate – isn’t worry often a by-product of insomnia? We have the time, so why not dig into something really worrisome?
So how do you overcome or avoid worry?
When we “were still up in the trees” we needed to use fear as a survival mechanism to prepare us for fight or flight against predators and other dangers to our staying alive. In most first world environments that is no longer necessary. And so our overly active left brain mind chatter has taken it upon itself to protect us from all sorts of “perceived fears” like making a fool of ourselves in front of others or to protect our ego, to prevent us from “having a go” at something so that we can’t fail and have to “beat ourselves up about it” when we do.
The first step towards overcoming this: Awareness
If we can make ourselves more aware of our thinking, and observe our thought patterns enough to notice what we are thinking, we will detect patterns that represent well trodden neural pathways which we have become quite accustomed to and comfortable with. They have become part of our comfort zone. Yes, even with worry; and so we allow them to play out, often no longer even noticing that we are doing so.
We have spoken about strategies in the past, whereby we unconsciously play out many of our “tried and trusted” behaviours and attitudes without being consciously aware of them anymore. And so we rationalize them by saying: “that’s just the way I am” and justify all sorts of sabotaging and unsupportive behaviour or thinking. Can any of you relate?
Does that mean I am saying that we can turn worry on and off? Yep. And you know that is true too, don’t you?
The next step: Mind control
If it is a choice whether we worry or not, then it is up to us to take control of that and catch ourselves every time we allow ourselves to slip back into that trap. The left brain loves to wallow in a good old worry. So stop it.
And then? If we can do something about mitigating that which we are worrying about – why not “just do it”? And if we can’t, why not “park it” until we can? And if neither of those can be done at that point, why not recognize that and put it into context of our “bigger picture” and then “flush it”? Not easy, I know. But would you agree with me that it’s possible? And if it just might be possible, wouldn’t it be worth having a go to see if it is?
My experience is that as Gary Player said: “the more I practice – the luckier I get”.
So next time you fear that chilling or sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach and you find your mind racing to try to find things that could go wrong, so that you indeed have something to worry about, why not try Using “the Gap” to reframe yourself and remember the metaphor that when the palm of your hand is touching your nose, that you can’t see your fingers: that when you stretch your arm and therewith your hand away from your face – there they are – easy to be clearly seen.
Why? Because that is akin to having “stepped back” and given yourself some room in which you can look at your current situation from a few different perspectives, many of which might help you to frame a more positive, constructive or beneficial approach to it. And more importantly if necessary, to have your awareness consciously directed away from engaging in any worrisome thoughts and into areas that you can actually do something about instead.
It is a choice, isn’t it? So why not exercise it?
What if you could?