This curated column is authored by leadership & startup consultant Benjamin Hardy
The future is filled with unknowns.
There is so much uncertainty, not only regarding personal issues, but also global and political issues.
This uncertainty often leads to worry.
Some estimate that people spend nearly six years of their lives worrying about the future. Ironically, a primary regret in older people’s lives was the time they spent worrying, according to Cornell professor Karl Pillimer, who interviewed over 1,200 elderly people.
Over and over Pillimer heard the same thing.
I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.
For instance, John Alonzo, aged 83, said, “Don’t believe that worrying will solve or help anything. It won’t. So stop it.” Similarly, James Huang, aged 87, stated:
Why? I ask myself. What possible difference did it make that I kept my mind on every little thing that might go wrong? When I realized that it made no difference at all, I experienced a freedom that’s hard to describe. My life lesson is this: Turn yourself from frittering away the day worrying about what comes next and let everything else that you love and enjoy move in.
From the vantage point of being near-death, life seems very short. Time is a precious and very finite resource. The longer you live, the more you realize your time on this beautiful planet is brief.
The research is clear, worrying often leads to long-term health consequences, including cardiovascular disease and other chronic conditions.
Not surprisingly, research has found that people with an “external locus of control” spend much more time worrying than those with an internal locus of control. Your locus of control is what you believe dictates the course of your life.
External or internal. Either you’re in control of your life or something else is.
If something else is, you should be worried. After all, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Conversely, when you have an internal locus of control, you proactively take care of the situation. You don’t wait for life to come to you. You act, not react.
Worrying doesn’t solve your problems. Actually, when you worry, you perform worse. Your working memory (short-term), which should be focused on the task, is being used up worrying.
Worrying is a form of self-inflicted torture.
Write it Down
Several research studies have found that writing down what you’re worried about can calm you down.
There are two separate groups of researchers who have found that writing reduces your worries about the future. However, these groups prescribe different things to write about.
Researchers at University of Colorado have found that writing about your personal values, such as family and friends, helps you perform better. They call this “values affirmation.” According to the researchers, “It reminds [you] what [you] stand for.”
Conversely, researchers at The University of Chicago have found that having students write directly about their concerns helps reduce their worrying. According to Dr. Beilock at U. of Chicago, “When [you] write, [you] might reappraise the situation — thinking about what has to be done, rather than what [you] might lose.”
The cool part is, both “interventions” work. I’ve personally done a blend of both for a long time without being aware of the scientific findings to back it.
If I’m about to give a public speech, or if I’m worrying about anything in particular, I write down the things that are important to me and the things I’m worrying about. It puts things into proper perspective, helping me realize that it doesn’t really matter. Everything is going to be okay.
Another interesting approach, less scientifically-validated, is writing down what you’re worried about and then burning the piece of paper. Some call this practice “Write and Burn,” others call it “Burning Release.”
Thinking about what you’re worried about brings your emotions to the surface. While you write, you re-frame your thinking toward those worries. Burning what you’ve written down is a helpful way of “letting go.”
Write down what you’re worried about.
Let it go.
Keep moving forward.
Pain is Inevitable, Suffering is Optional
“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.” — Viktor Frankl
The sensation of fear or concern is actually highly beneficial. It reflects the body responding to a stimulus, directing where you should be paying attention. However, these sensations are meant to be learned from and responded to, not dwelt in.
Said Ryan Holiday in The Obstacle is the Way, “There is no good or bad without us, there is only perception. There is the event itself and the story we tell ourselves about what it means.” Worrying is when you take something and attach negative emotions and meaning to it, which leads to unnecessary suffering.
Looking Back, You’ll Regret Worrying
“What great thing would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?” — Robert H. Schuller
Worrying is generally focused on something uncertain about the future, like passing a test. Once you’ve finished or completed what you were previously worried about, you see it with new eyes.
Now that you’ve done it, you understand it. There’s nothing to worry about. You know the process. You’ve watched yourself do it, so it’s reasonable to believe you could do it again if necessary.
But if you haven’t yet done something, you don’t usually have that level of confidence and understanding.
But could you?
You absolutely can. This is what Tony Robbins calls “resolve.” To have resolve means “It’s done,” even before you’ve actually done it. You’ve decided you are going to do something, you’re committed to it for the long-haul, and in your mind, it’s already a done-deal.
You are resolved.
It is finished.
Hence, Ralph Waldo Emerson wisely stated, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”
Get out of your head, that’s where worrying will keep you.
Take a few breaths.
Quit torturing yourself (and those around you).
You are going to make it through this. You mid as well enjoy it.
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