Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere. – Glenn Turner
We live in a culture where everyone seems to worry. Turn on the news – someone got shot, there’s mercury in the fish we eat, the cows have got BSE, a new super-flu is coming, terrorists are regrouping, … On and on it goes. If you take all of this stuff seriously, it’s likely that you’ll never go out, never eat, never travel, never take any kind of risk at all.
I’ve no doubt that people have always worried. Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,’ which was published in 1944, is packed with stories from the early part of the twentieth century (and even earlier in some cases) about people who worried about all kinds of things. But in fact, as Carnegie so ably and amusingly points out through his many examples, worry makes no sense at all. Here are some reasons why worry really is a pointless and damaging activity. I suspect we all know this deep down, but a reminder doesn’t hurt.
- Things never happen the way you imagine. When you worry, you are predicting the future. You are saying, “I know that things will turn out badly.” But this just isn’t the case. You have no idea how the future is going to turn out, except to say that it will not be what you think it will be. So why worry?
- Worry means you give away your power. Some people are so entrenched in worry that they cannot see any other way to live. But worry robs you of your power to be proactive. The truth is that you are in control and you can choose how to react to situations, so why choose to give that power away so easily and so unconsciously?
- Worrying is completely unproductive. Why waste your energy doing something that gets you nowhere. On a treadmill at least you get some exercise, but worry is a truly pointless activity. Spend your time and energy on something more useful.
- Worry distorts reality. We live in an age where people live longer, have better access to health care, have more opportunity for personal and professional growth, more chance to travel, greater access to information and lifelong education, and many other wonderful things. Yes, there are risks and potential dangers, but worry magnifies these disproportionately and blinds us to the wonders of our age.
- Worrying is bad for your health. Worry is not a normal state of mind, and it adversely affects your health, even your physical health. When you worry, physical changes are happening in your body which are very damaging. It increases stress which can increase blood pressure, cause higher levels of stomach acid, cause muscle tension and headaches, among many other things.
- Worry is not natural. Do little children worry? Do animals worry? Do all adults worry? There is nothing inherent in being human that means you have to worry. Worry is a pathology, a distortion of our natural, healthy state.
Do you know the most frequent instruction given in the Bible? Surprisingly, it is not ‘love one another’ or ‘love God’ or anything like that. It is simply ‘do not be afraid.’ I don’t know how many times it appears, but I’ve seen estimates between 100 and 366 times. You don’t have to be religious to realize that this is good advice.
So how can we break out of this worry habit? Like all habits, it might not be easy to do, but there are some clear, simple and effective steps you can take to eliminate worry from your life.
- Realize that you are in control. In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey tells us that the first step to a better life is the realization that we are free to choose how to react to circumstances. Worry is a choice – it’s inside our own head and, as such, it is within the sphere of our own influence.
- Recognize that worry is a habit. Like all habits, there is a momentum to worry, and it might not be easy to break away from this, especially if you’ve been a worrier all your life. But it’s possible to change any habit.
- Keep things in perspective. E. Joseph Crossman said, “If you want to test your memory, try to recall what you were worrying about one year ago today.” Are you still worrying about those things? Will all this stuff matter a 100 years from now?
- Face your fears. Nelson DeMille said that “Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.” After you do something that scares you, you’ll probably find it wasn’t as bad as you thought. With time, all your worry will dissipate.
- Stop trying to be in control of everything. You cannot control the whole world. Things happen that are truly outside our circle of influence, and so we need to relax and accept that sometimes things just happen as they will. This is part of life, and worry will not change it one little bit.
- Stop taking yourself so seriously. If you fail, so what? If you screw up, is it the end of the world? Are you really so important that the world will stop turning if you get things wrong? Life is not that serious.
Finally, one of my favorite quotes from the master of quotes, Mark Twain. “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” Worry is a dangerous and poisonous thing. Don’t let it eat away at you. Take Dale Carnegie’s advice – stop worrying and start living!