We all worry. It's part of what it means to be human and it used to serve us. Back when we were hiding from sabre tooth tigers and needed to use our in-built fight or flight responses with alarming frequency, worry was useful. Today, statistics reveal (rather worryingly; ironically) that we have become more anxious than ever before. And yet worry doesn't serve us as much as it used to. Not only does it not, as Charlie Brown famously said, "stop the bad stuff from happening, it just stops you from enjoying the good", worrying actually impedes our cognitive ability and makes us less able to find solutions to the problems we are actually worrying about!
So what do we tend to worry about the most?
- Money? That's a top worry-inducing issue. Whether we have enough or are spending too much.
- Relationships? What other people think of us is a primary concern and something which, again, used to be vital when the tribe and our position within it could mean the difference between survival or doom.
- Regrets and failure? Making the wrong decisions is a worry. What if we do that? What if that happens? Sigh!
OK, so let's explore these a little before moving on to some solutions.
- Re decision-making worries. Here's the thing - you'll make mistakes and you are quite likely (scrap that, highly likely) to do stuff that you regret, even if you say you have no regrets, but each of those mistakes will teach you a valuable lesson, they just will. So if you DO make the wrong decision from time to time, (which you will) unless it is a life and death decision about whether or not to walk out in front of that rapidly approaching car, it is highly unlikely that the decision will kill you. Rather, you will learn something that you wouldn't have learned, had you made a different choice. That's why mistakes are so useful.
- Regarding relationships. Yes you will say the wrong thing and obsess about doing so to varying degrees (I confess to being a prolific over-analyser-and-subsequent-apologiser-via-text-for-saying-something-I-thought-I-shouldnt-have-said-but-the-other-person-barely-noticed-and-certainly-did-not-mind). You may lose friendships, befriend the wrong people, hurt or offend others. But, in doing so, you will learn what matters to you, what matters to others, what triggers you, what triggers others and what offends you and others. You'll learn empathy and consideration. You, as a flawed human, which we all are (nobody's perfect) will be a perpetual student of effective communication and engagement with other people FOREVER. The learning continues until you breathe your last breathe. So, once again, those face-palm moments and disagreements, they will all teach you something valuable.
- And as for money. Ok. This is a tough one. You'll spend too much, struggle to afford stuff, have to find ways to be frugal or reduce spending and figure out how to make more. When you have more you'll wonder how you've spent so much of it and worry about how to save more or give more.
But, one thing I know for sure is, worrying about not having enought of it will not help you earn more of it, nor resolve your money issues. Worrying about money may help you to spend less but worrying, in all instances is not helpful. Worrying actually makes you less able to solve problems and find solutions.
So how can you go from being a mind-worrier to a mind-warrior?
- Accept that life has its hiccups, mistakes, bad decisions and poor relationship choices. It just does. But you will learn more from those hardships than from moments of life's rosiness, for sure! As such, hardships and errors are USEFUL! Knowing that even the worst decisions and poorest responses can offer you gifts of knowledge and experience, can help shift how we feel about the choices we make; from a place of fear of failure to a place of acceptance and relief. Because when the sticky stuff hits the fan, we learn.
- Dispute your harmful thinking. Take your thoughts to court. Human beings have just 4 types of thought. Fact (e.g. "I'm hungry,"), Fantasy, (e.g. "I wonder what we should have for dinner?"), Future (e.g. "What if he's late?" or "What if I burn the pie?") and Judgement thoughts (e.g. "He's always late" or "I'm crap at cooking.") The latter two types of thought can lead to anxiety and depression. Yet, by taking our thoughts to court and considering evidence for and against our more judgemental thoughts, we can become less judgemental and reframe our thinking to be, not just kinder, but, well, more ACCURATE.
- Get perspective and keep it real. Consider whatever you are worrying about. Now imagine what the worst-case-scenario might be? Let's say you've missed a mortgage payment and you are worrying about that. Worst-case-scenario would be house reposession and being homeless with nowehere to go. Unlikely to happen. Now consider the best-case-scenario - you win thousands of pounds or discover you have way more than you thought in your bank account and can pay immediately. Equally unlikely odds-wise. Now consider the most likely scenario. Your bank understands, deals with this situation on a daily basis, and helps you find a way to ensure you can pay the arrears over time and don't miss the next payment. Getting perspective on the most likely eventuality often reveals it isn't as bad as you thought.
- Remind yourself of what you've been through (and survived) before. Unless you've sailed through life thus far, you'll have been through some tricky stuff. You handled that and you'll handle whatever it is you are worrying about. The fact is, even if a worst case scenario DID happen, you'd still have something to be grateful for (e.g. people who love you, future possibilities, a second chance).
- Fact check! Given that we have an in-built negativity bias, we can find our worries spiral out of control. But we have the abilty to reign them in if we consider the facts. For example, some time ago, a prospective client rang me to say he wasn't quite ready to go ahead with a book we'd discussed me writing for him. I had been banking on that project and my negative spiral kicked in imagining all kinds of worst-case scenarios, such as being kicked out of our home. I then considered the facts. He hadn't said, 'I never want you to write this book. He hadn't said 'no'. In fact, one month later he rang to ask if we could start and he paid an instalment up front and, in the meantime I'd written a paid feature, so everything worked out just fine. I just needed to consider the facts to reign in that negative spiral of doom.
By equipping yourself with this knowledge from the science of positive psychology, you can create adequate space to respond better. As a friend recently said, being more responsible and accurate with your responses, enables you to become more "response-able." And that's all about choosing how we respond, how we deal with our worries and judgements and how we move forward.
As Victor Frankl, Holocaust survivor and author of Man's Search For Meaning, wisely said:
"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom."