Stop worrying – get to the confirmed objective facts

Boat beachThere are numerous articles and blog-post that promises to help you get rid of worry. This won’t be one. Try as you might you’ll never get to a point where you’re free of worry in your life. You will probably have periods with more and periods with less, but avoid it altogether won’t happen. What’s way more interesting and important is how to deal with it once it arrives.

Worry is closely related to anxiety and stress. They are all fear based feelings, that try to tell you that something is wrong in an attempt to protect yourself from whatever it is that causes them. They are totally natural and occurs to everyone whether people admit it or not.

As they are natural feelings, there is no real reason to try to get totally rid of them. What you need is a better way to handle them once they arrive. Today we will focus on worry even though as said earlier; worry is closely related to anxiety and stress and can in some instances it can be hard to know one from the other. But as this advice will work with all of them, there is no real reason to really pinpoint which of the feelings you have.

Worry has a lot to do with control. When you are in total control you aren’t worried. If you had an exam where you knew all the questions in advance and could prepare so intensely that you knew all answers by heart – then you wouldn’t worry. Your brain would probably then try to worry about whether those actually was all the question, try to come up with potential “unknowns” that could hamper with the end result. But if we keep all what-if’s out of the question; you wouldn’t be worried at an exam where you knew you all questions and all answers. You would be in total control.

Seeing worry from this angle starts to point to a solution, or precaution that can help in situations of worry. You just have to be in control, then there is nothing to worry about. Well yes, thank you! I’ll just lock myself into a room where I’m able to control all the variables and live from there. NOT really viable.

What we need to do is take a stoic look at “events”. The stoics made this really good distinction between event. They divided them into 3 groups. Event over which you have total control, events over which you have some but not total control, and events over which you have no control.

The first and the last are the easiest and are the ones you should spend the least time on. If you have total control, then just make it the way you want. If you have no control, then do not worry because your worry won’t change anything.

Going back to the example with the exam. You are probably not worried whether you will show up or not to the exam. You decide to go or you decide not to go. Then that is out of the question. The cynic will probably then see any number of things that could go wrong on the way there. Again, some of those you will have control over, some of them you won’t. If you are worried about getting late, then go really early and spend the extra time waiting at the destination. Being hit by lightning on the way there is not something you can control, so don’t worry about it. These are of course simple examples but, they should be adequate to bring home the point.

Then we arrive at the last one; events over which you have some but not full control. This is where most energy is spent. The final grade of your exam is a good example of this. You can push it in either direction by more or less preparation, but you cannot control it fully. Even in the example of having all questions and answers in advance, you still can’t control the final grade from the censor.

But what you need to do to control your worry, is get to the confirmed objective facts. And the words “confirmed” and “objective” is there for a reason. “If I go talk to that girl and she rejects me, the whole world will laugh at me and my life will be over.” or “If I don’t get straight A’s in all my exams my life will be over.” – That could be felt as very strong facts inside yourself, but to an outside person or even when having the experience somewhat at a distance, it’s totally obvious that those are not “confirmed objective” facts. They are strong feelings, yes. But facts – no.

I love doing this on paper. If I’m very worried about something I start by writing whatever it is that I am worried about on the top of a piece of paper. Then I test my hypothesis.

“If I can’t X then Y will happen, which will be an absolute disaster.”

Then I start by saying am I absolutely certain that Y will happen. Can anything else be the outcome of this? If not, then I start to look at what it will actually mean to me if Y happens. Is it as big of a disaster as I have in my mind. It could mean a minor or major setback, but total disaster?

Then I just work my way through and test all the hypothesis and all my conclusions. The funny part about this is that even just the act of doing this calms me down. I am back in control, I am not contemplating all outcomes and can decide which of them I find most attractive or least disastrous. As said in the beginning worry almost always stems from a feeling of loss of control. Getting this control back, or even just working on getting it back can seriously dampen if not totally rid yourself of worry.

Try it for yourself. The next time you are really worried by something. Write it down and objectively test all your hypothesis and conclusions. I bet you’ll feel the worry lessen almost immediately.

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