We’re all agreed that worrying is as useful as eating crackers in bed. Now let’s put an end to it.
What is worrying, exactly? It’s restless, pointless sifting over and over through our fears and concerns without getting much out of the time and emotional energy spent. It’s like you want to walk to the store, but you get on the treadmill instead and twenty minutes later you wonder why you’re no nearer the store. That’s worry.
Where we want to end up is a place where you either deal with something you’re concerned about or you let it go. You’re either making progress with something or you’re not wasting time with it. Sounds pretty cool, right?
Here’s how to get to that place.
Step 1. Ask yourself, “Do I have any control over this?” For example, anyone who’s had kids will tell you that we spend a hell of a lot of time worrying about them. A lot of that worrying is tied to how our kids are going to turn out. And we work ourselves into a lather of worry because we think—incorrectly—that we have a lot of control over how our kids will turn out. But we don’t.
This is not even a controversial point. Most of the time, things are what they are. If you’re rich, you’ll send your kids to the best schools you can. If you’re poor, you won’t be able to do that, and that’s that. We do what we can do, based on who we are in life, and since WE are who we are, our kids are going to be who they’re going to be. Our book Parent/Teen Breakthrough, voted best parenting book of the year when it came out, is based on this reality. So much worry, and meanwhile we spend so little time just enjoying our kids. Sad.
In the same way, there are so many other things in our lives we think we have control over that we don’t. You know what you have control over? Doing the best you can. That’s about it!
Step 2. Don’t waste mental and emotional energy on stuff you have no control over. Think about it like this. You NEVER have to worry about being late for work because you have control of setting the alarm, buying a dozen alarm clocks if you have to, leaving for work early every single day if you have to.
What about being killed in a car crash on the way to work? Well, here you have some control: you can be a careful driver. That helps a lot. What about some crazy nut out there, though? You don’t have control over that, do you? Nope. So what do you do? If you’re smart, like most people, you don’t worry about it! You can’t control it, so why worry?
This is simply a discipline that pays huge dividends that you’ll get better and better at over time.
Identify a worry.
Ask yourself what parts of that you really have any control over.
Focus on the parts you have control over as problems to be solved.
As for the parts you don’t have control over, well, I mean, come on. What’s the point! It’s like worrying about that giant iceberg moving away from Antarctica. Yup, could do some big damage. Can you do anything about it? Nope. Any point in worrying about it? Nope. So...kinda dumb to worry about it? Yup. And it’s the same with the stuff in your own life you worry about that you can’t control.
But notice the progress you’ve made. You’ve already tossed out a bunch of stuff you can’t control from your mental inbox. I bet you feel lighter already. Still, what do you do if you can’t stop worrying about stuff you can’t control?
Step 3. Ask the key questions to manage pointless anxiety. Here’s what works to stop worrying about things you can’t control. Ask yourself these questions:
What exactly am I afraid of? Vague dread is the worst! Afraid of Covid-19? Okay, but what about it are you afraid of? The disease? Dying? Going to the hospital? The after-effects? Well, remember that there IS a lot you can control here. But even so, if you can focus in on what you’re most afraid of that you can’t control, the rest of this exercise will be a lot easier.
How likely is this to happen? We talked about this in the previous blog! Remember? 91% of the things people worried about never happened! We tend to vastly overinflate the likelihood of bad things happening. It’s as if we have to think somethings more likely to happen to justify the time we spend worrying about it!
Will it be as bad as I think? Uh, no. Well, probably not, anyway. We over-estimate the effects of negative outcomes by exaggerating the short-term outcomes, while forgetting that most of the time, over the long term, things work out.
Will I be able to cope? Uh, yes! We always forget this. Even the worst thing you can imagine: if it were to happen, you would be able to cope, to deal with it, to recover, to ultimately be okay. The ultimate, truest word you use to describe people is resilient.
And remember, we’re talking here about things you have no control over in the first place! But what about the things you DO have some sort of control over. They fill you full of worry too, right? So what do you do about that?
Step 4. Be constructive, one step at a time. Worrying is, in a way, an experience of being overwhelmed and helpless. The best analogy I can think of is waking up after you’ve had a wild party in your house and you go downstairs to find everything is a total disaster. You don’t know where to begin. You feel overwhelmed and helpless.
So what do we always end up doing if we’re smart, after we’ve sat there crying for a while? Well, for example, if you’re smart you could grab a big black garbage bag and walking around picking up all the cans and bottles and garbage lying around.
Now what just happened? It’s as if you said to yourself, “Don’t just sit there feeling miserable. Be constructive and deal with things one step at a time—and it probably doesn’t matter much which first step you take.”
Well, that’s what you do when you’re worried about a mess of problems you have some control over. Action is the antidote to worry! Whether it’s the middle of the night or whenever, just say “Be constructive” and do something. And then do something else. That’s how a small person can eat a big watermelon: one slice at a time.
One thing you can do that many people find is effective at tossing worry out the window is to convert the whirl of worry into a list. It’s amazing how just writing down a list—however disorganized—of the things you have to do can make you feel you’ve turned your worries into a plan. “I’m not worried! I have a list!!”
That’s about it. You figure out what you can control and what you can’t control. You let go of what you can’t control, as I’ve showed you. And you act constructively with respect to the things that you can control.
This is what people who don’t worry do. You can do it too.
(By the way, the title of this post--Worry is the cracker crumbs in the bed of life—is the title of one of the chapters in my award-winning book The Emotional Energy Factor. There are all kinds of solutions there for making your life feel much, much better. Check it out!