by Graham Price on Mar.17, 2016, under Acceptance, Development

One of the more unhelpful examples of our many unproductive human traits is our tendency to worry. We define worry as ruminating about negative outcomes. If we’re worrying about a worsening financial situation, we might have a thought that perhaps we won’t have enough money and we’re ruminating about that outcome and its potential consequences.

Some people think worry is helpful as it focuses us on the problem so we can think about solutions. Thinking about solutions is helpful. Ruminating about negative outcomes is not.  Worry contributes nothing. We need to remove it from our lives. Here are a number of tools that can help us achieve that.

Understand worry is irrational:

If we’re worrying, we have a negative image of the future that we believe we cannot control. If we believed we could control it, we wouldn’t be worrying. If we want something to be different in the future than the way we think it may be, and we’re right that we cannot control it, we’re having a thought that’s about as irrational as wanting the past to be different (we clearly have no control of that either). A more rational way of thinking might be to:

  • Think about how we can gain more control over the future and
  • If we can’t gain more control, accept whatever will be

So drop any worrying thoughts, focus on what you can do, if anything, to improve the future, and if you can’t control whatever you’re worrying about, replace the worrying thought with “whatever will be, will be”. If Doris Day’s song by that name could help drive the message home, you can listen to it here.

Refuse to maintain worrying thoughts:

Now we’ve established that worry is both irrational and futile, try getting tough with yourself. Refuse to maintain any worrying thoughts. Recognise they’re irrational and futile and drop them, replacing them with the thoughts mentioned above. If they return, drop them again.  Your mind will eventually get the message.

Identify exaggerations:

When we’re worrying we’re nearly always exaggerating one or both of two things:

  • The likelihood or something negative happening and / or
  • The consequences even if it did happen

If we’re worrying about a presentation we’re giving tomorrow, we’re likely to be exaggerating both these aspects of worry. It’s likely we’ll get through it OK and it will turn out we were exaggerating the probability that something would go wrong. Even if something does go wrong we’ll probably survive well enough and we’ll realise we were exaggerating our expectation of the consequences.

If we’re worrying that the plane we’re on might crash, we’re almost certainly exaggerating the likelihood of that happening, but we’re probably not exaggerating the consequences in the unlikely event it did happen.

Thinking about whatever we may be exaggerating helps us to put our worries in perspective and remove the exaggerations.

‘What If’ thinking:

Worry generally involves ‘What If’’ thinking. What if I mess up my presentation? What if our finances take a dive? Replace ‘What If’ thinking with ‘Then What’ thinking. ‘If my presentation falters, then I’ll make a joke about it and carry on’. ‘If our finances take a dive, then we’ll find another source of income”.

Worry time:

Set a time each day when you allow yourself to worry. If you find yourself worrying at any other time, defer it until your worry time. When your worry time arrives you’ll probably have forgotten all the things you were going to worry about.

Accepting worry:

If none of the above techniques work for you initially, try accepting your worrying thoughts. Worries often diminish when we stop resisting them and instead accept them. If your worry seems too intense to drop right now or you can’t stop worrying for any other reason, accept it.  Ask yourself what’s wrong with worrying for now. There’s no rule that says we mustn’t worry. We may want to eliminate worry as soon as we can, and using the above tools can achieve this. But there’s nothing that says we have to achieve it right away. So embrace your worries and accept them if this seems the best approach for you for now.

Different approaches may work best for different people. Or for some a combination of approaches may work best. Next time you find yourself worrying, try the different approaches outlined above and see which ones work best for you.

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