We all worry. And when we use it properly worry can be a strength. Because it can prevent us from making mistakes. Help us to deal with difficult situations. And it can stimulate us to take the actions we need to take control of our lives.
In fact, our brain is programmed to worry. To sort out the relevance or irrelevance of new information. Which helps you to identify issues you need to respond to quickly. And those you would be better off to just ignore.
You are also able to identify the 40% of worries that will not in fact happen. The 30% that have already happened. The 12% that you don’t need to worry about. The 10% that is unimportant. And the 8% that actually happens. The 4% of which are beyond your control. And the key 4% that are within some if not all of your control.
What do you worry about?
A simple experiment will reveal how much time you spend worrying about the wrong things. Listen carefully to the things you talk about to yourself. Do this for a week. Make a note of the main fears about the immediate future that you talk about to yourself.
Oliver Burkeman tried this a few years ago. He identified two main kind of fears. Firstly, the fear of some upcoming events going badly for him. Secondly, how he might handle some crucial conversations. Many of the things he worried about never actually happened.
What you can do about worry?
Having first identified what you worry about. Decide which of the five headings below each of them falls under. And use the ideas suggested below to deal with them.
Don’t worry about things that never happen
Your mind needs to be doing something. It never rests or relaxes. So if you can’t do anything about a situation your mind will just worry about it. Unless you are aware of it and stop yourself from doing so. Learning to do this is not as difficult as it may seem.
Don’t worry about what has already happened
Learn to let go of the past. And to forgive yourself and others for their part in it. Accept that you cannot change the past. It is over and done with and only lives in your mind. Worrying about it doesn’t change anything.
The past was bugging me so much. That I went over all the troublesome issues one by one. Beginning with year one of my life I worked through each decade. I learned to forgive myself for my shortcomings and misdemeanours. And to forgive my parents, siblings and others for theirs. It has been a slow but worthwhile journey.
Don’t worry about petty and unimportant things
One in ten of the things we worry about are petty and unimportant. Such as when we worry about what’s for dinner. About being late. About what to wear.
Don’t worry about things that are beyond your control
You cannot change the outcome. You have no control over a sudden health problem. The death of a loved one or news of an impending natural disaster. The reality of these events is usually easier to handle than the worry.
Only worry about things you have some control over
Most of us fail to consciously control what we worry about. We spend a lot of time worrying about the wrong things. And we tend to become preoccupied with negative possibilities. The more we do it, the bigger our worries become. We may even worry about all the time we spend worrying.
The answer is to focus on the problems and challenges you have some control over. Identify these and take sensible action to tackle them. Remember that it is often easier to worry about something than to tackle it. So the less time you spend worrying about the issues. And the more time you spend resolving them, the more successful you will be. The only thing we always have control over is the way we respond to the issues that arise and the people involved.
References and URLS
Burkeman, O. (2011) HELP! How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done. London: Cannongate.
Gallagher, W. (2009) RAPT – Attention and the Focused Life. London: Penguin Books.