Thursday, March 8, 2012

How Worry is like a Hamster Wheel........

Sometimes you just have to worry, right? Wrong! Worrying about something that might go wrong, is going wrong, or has already gone wrong is not going to change things, right? Right. So all the energy you expend worrying is not being spent productively on problem-solving. What it is doing is using energy and preventing you from focusing on the real problem. If your daughter is out too late, worrying about her is not going to get her home safely. If your boss is on a tear, and you fear for you job, worrying about his erratic behavior is not going to save your job. If a tornado is bearing down on your neighborhood, worrying is not going to save it.

Worry is a distraction--we take up mental space worrying, and we feel occupied, so we are less focused on hunting for that elusive solution or doing something else productive. But the worry itself is exactly like running in a hamster wheel--you are moving, you are active, but you are still in the same place. You might expend some calories, but you will not get any closer to solving the problem.

Worry is a uniquely human activity. And as with other activities in which humans engage, we tend to defend this one. After all, if it were not important, it would not worry me, right? I ought to worry about my daughter/job/house, right? The truth is that it is not the worry that is going to help you resolve the issue. Worry represents thinking things you have already thought rather than arriving at new ideas. Worry stresses your system, causes you to lose sleep, and generally moves you away from creativity into a rut. The issue at hand may indeed be serious, but worrying is not the answer.

Take that daughter--she is late, and you are rightly concerned that something has gone awry. You can actively search for her if you have some leads; you can call the authorities if it has been a seriously long wait and she is not answering her phone, or, if it is really the usual Saturday night teenager misbehaving, you can get some sleep and let her worry all night over the consequence her well-rested parents will impose. The point is that the actual process of worrying is not what gets her safe nor you closer to a resolution.

Your job is on the line; you have a moody boss, and today is one of those days. Recognize this for what it is and get to work--the hours you spend worrying that you are next for his wrath will not help you to avoid it. In fact, there is some chance that your worry makes you flustered and ineffectual that day and indeed puts you right in the spotlight you had hoped to avoid. Yes, your job is important. The point is not that it is no cause for concern if your boss is unpredictable, just that the actual process of worrying is not what is going to resolve the issue.

A tornado is reported in your area. Batten down the hatches and find the safest place to wait it out. Worrying and fretting will not keep you safe without action. Alternatively, it is tornado weather and you sit frantically by the radio listening to the reports--you lose a day of productivity, and nothing comes of it. Better to have a preparation plan for this season and know how to implement it, then have your ducks in a row come the actual threat.

The thing about worry is that we do it all the time. We worry about our kids. We worry about our jobs, our houses, our health, the economy, our weight, and whatever else we can find to fret over. This is a bad habit. It wastes resources, stresses our immune system, and achieves nothing. Humans get attached to the thoughts that run around in our brains. We hear that subliminal chatter and assume it is meaningful and important. In reality, our minds tend to run in the same ruts they always run in, and this limits creative problem solving. The problem is that we become so accustomed to the chatter in our heads, we never question its validity.

Time to get off the hamster wheel. Learn new habits of thought and reduce your stress instantly. Yes, it sounds easy, and with practice, it is. And the new habits you learn will help you for a lifetime.

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