Worrying is a bit of a foreign topic to me, because to be honest, I’ve never really spent a lot of time worrying about much. It’s just not something I do. I’m not sure why, because I remember I used to worry a lot about things when I was little but I outgrew it. Being of the correct age to have grown up during the cold war, I used to worry about global thermonuclear war. Can you imagine anything more useless than a ten year old worrying about nuclear Armageddon? I remember back in the second grade I used to worry whether or not I would be a good father when I grew up. I used to worry about saying the right answers in class, mispronouncing words, making people like me, burglars breaking into our house, misplacing my birth certificate, whether or not my cat really liked the taste of her food, and other earth-shattering dramas.
Then after a while I just stopped. Of course I did, because I would have died from stress by now. I can’t say whether I made a conscious decision to stop worrying about dumb things (mostly because a childhood concussion at a water park robbed me of a lot of my formative memories-funny story), but at a young age I just stopped letting these things bother me anymore.
So, as someone who leads a relatively worry-free life, how can I offer advice on the subject of worry? Well, I don’t need to smoke to know it’s bad for you. I also don’t need to get run over by a truck to warn you not to play in traffic. So listen up.
An ancient Chinese proverb says, “Worry is like rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but you won’t get anywhere in it.” Worry tends to paralyze the mind. The time you spend worrying about subject “A,” is time not spent on coming up with a solution for subject “A.” Hold on, it gets worse. Our minds always move in the direction of our dominant thought. The act of worrying is basically concentrated thought on a problem or potential problem, so the more time you spend worrying about it, the more likely you are to achieve exactly what you were worrying about.
Second, almost without exception the only things we worry about are things that we have no control over. That was important, so I’m going to repeat it: “The only things we worry about are things that we have no control over.” So why worry about it? We have no control over it! When you finish your final exam, there’s no point in worrying about your grade is there? Any mental effort you allocated to that test should have been put in before the test. Any mental effort expended on it now is a complete waste of energy. And if you happen to believe in the power of the mind, worrying on a bad grade may send out psychic waves that could cause your professor’s TA to accidentally mark some of your correct answers wrong (“Anyone in the audience with mind control powers, raise my hand.”).
Third, most of the things that we worry about never happen. I heard a speaker say that of all the things that we worry about: 8 out of 10 never happen, 1 out of 10 turns out for the better, and the last 1 out of 10 we had no control over it anyway so you were better off not worrying about it.
So, my advice is this: (and this is way better than “don’t worry”) replace worry. Most people don’t know this, but the human brain is only capable of experiencing one emotion at a time. That’s why in speech classes, some instructors encourage their speakers to get excited before they take the podium. Depending on the subject matter, they may want the speaker to get mad. Roll up a newspaper and pound it on the table for a while to replace fear with aggression and you’ll have a great speech (unless it’s a eulogy). So spend that worry time doing something either relaxing or constructive. Make sure it’s something that you need your brain to do-so a crossword puzzle is probably much better at relieving your mind of worry than a long drive by yourself listening to The Cure. If you insist on thinking about something that you’re worried about, then think about it like this: “Well according to those undocumented statistics that Matt printed, there’s a 90% chance that this situation will never materialize. In fact there’s a 10% chance that something good will come out of this! Maybe I won’t get fired, maybe I’ll be promoted. I can’t wait to see how this is going to turn out in my favor. What a great day.” Then, even if you do get fired, at least you didn’t spend an extra day being unhappy about it first.