For many people, worrying about things can become more vexing than the original problem they were grappling with.
[First, a caveat. Some of you (and you know who you are) are addicted to “worry” and “anxiety.” If , in your eyes, this is, perhaps, who you are, It is part of your Identity. You may not like the feelings, but you may get a certain comfort from the certainty of having them. If so, you may actually feel anger when reading this. You might feel the urge to protest that this is not true, that there is no way to eliminate such things. Okay. For the rest of you, here goes:]
Imagine that you are on trial and facing 20 years in prison. You’ve hired a lawyer, and you’re praying she’s going to be able to help you. She leans over and says, “Don’t worry. I know I never do. I never worry about a thing. Instead, I just try to think positive.”
Now ask yourself: Is this the kind of person I want representing me? Someone who doesn’t worry about anything — not even what’s going to happen to her client?
The answer, of course, is a resounding NO. You want a lawyer who’s going to worry over details. And cover everything that needs to be covered, so you don’t end up in prison for 20 years. What you want is for your lawyer to worry, and then take appropriate action so that she is prepared.
(In the exact same way, you want a tax professional who is going to pay attention and “worry” over details so you don’t have to. My accounting firm does that, too, But I digress…)
Now imagine a lawyer who leans over and whispers to you, “Wanna know my secret? I never prepare for a case — I just worry. It’s why I’m known as such a great attorney. All I do is worry. As a matter of fact, a lot of times I actually worry myself sick and have to go into the restroom and throw up.”
Do you want this person representing you? Nope. What you want is an attorney who can help you solve your problems. And that’s exactly what your worry should do for you: help you solve your problems. If it doesn’t, you’re probably participating in unproductive worry, which is unlikely to get you anywhere, except on your way to becoming overly-anxious and, probably, depressed.
And yet, we will always have problems. I remember watching a video of Dr. Norman Vincent Peale over 30 years ago. He said that he told someone in his office, “Do you want to see people with no problems?” And he pointed out the window to the cemetery.
We will always have problems. The idea is to have higher quality problems. For example, when Apple comes out with a new product or phone, there is usually a back order. That’s a problem. But it’s a higher quality problem than having a warehouse full of products they can’t sell.
And, like the lawyer I just mentioned, we need to prepare. Worry doesn’t help anyone. Preparation is essential. Preparation allows us to raise the quality of our problems.
Worry creates anxiety. Anxiety is a hallucination about something which has not happened yet.
Shakespeare wrote that “ A Coward dies a thousand times before his death, but the valiant taste of death but once.” The coward vividly imagines the worst, over and over again, until it happens. The valiant, the hero, takes it as it comes.
So here is the exercise which has kept me from worrying needlessly — but rather doing it productively. I start by asking these two questions to keep worry in its proper place …
1. Is the problem plausible or reasonable? If you’re getting ready to take a trip to a national park, for instance, it’s appropriate to worry about getting accurate directions and your car tuned-up before you go. Worrying about a bear crashing through the windshield along the way, which is unlikely, is probably a waste of time.
2. Can something be done about the problem immediately? If you answer “Yes” to this question, then you can probably come up with an action plan to get something done that will alleviate your worry. If your family’s cashflow is down, how can you INCREASE it by earning more, and obtaining more sources of income — rather than worrying about the expense side of your family budget. If your production at work has suffered recently, what are the positive steps you can take … rather than fixating on who to blame?
3. Is it really a problem, or an opportunity? Since we will always have problems, what opportunity does this situation have to turn it into a higher quality problem?
You get the idea.
Use these questions, and start sleeping better at night! I know I do…
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