“Worry is interest earned on trouble before it becomes due.”
William Ralph Inge
Worry is one of the most wasteful preoccupations of the human mind. When we worry, we steal the potential in the present moment and spend it spinning make-believe stories in our heads. What is worry, after all, but imagining the future — a futile, self-indulgent pastime, at best? None of us can predict what is going to happen even one hour from now. But when we worry, we delude ourselves into believing that we can.
Often, worry is an excuse for inactivity. We convince ourselves that by worrying about what will happen we can change the outcome without actually doing anything to effect a change. Paralyzed by worry, we are protected from making a mistake. But the price we pay for that safety is staying stuck exactly where we are, in the endless feedback loop of our thoughts.
Make no mistake–worrying is not planning. Planning is a purposeful activity: You identify a problem; you think of solutions; you weigh your options and then you develop a strategy to address what you need to do. Introspection, contemplation, reflection and attention to detail are absolutely necessary to a well-lived life. On the other hand, endlessly ruminating on every result, every outcome, every corollary, every wrinkle is a clever, albeit unconscious, strategy to avoid choosing how to live.
What will be left of all the fearing and wanting associated with your problematic life situation that every day takes up most of your attention? A dash, one or two inches long, between the date of birth and date of death on your gravestone.
― Eckhart Tolle
If you are an habitual worrier, you cannot change your behavior simply by telling yourself to stop. However, you can begin the process of change by acknowledging your behavior when your start to worry and consciously replacing it with something else.
Starting today, your journaling goal is to keep a running tally of every worry that enters your mind throughout the day. Whenever you become aware that you are worrying about something, no matter how trivial, write it down. Don’t think about it. Don’t try to come up with a solution — that just invites more worrying. Simply jot down the thought and then make a conscious effort to put it out of your mind. This may be difficult at first; your mind is not accustomed to letting go. It may be easier if you say to yourself “I’ll think about that later.” and then consciously give yourself permission go on with your day.
Later in the day–perhaps after dinner ( but not right before bed) take out your journal and review your “worry log.” Do you see a theme there… issues that crop up again and again? If you are like most people, your worries reflect your fears, and like all fear, they will dissipate if you face them squarely and ask the hard questions that obsessive worrying allows you to avoid. What is the worst that can happen? How will you survive if it does? Think, “If everything I dread actually comes to pass, what will happen then?” Facing the worst case scenario is enormously liberating and allows you to focus your thoughts on finding creative real-world solutions to whatever problems you face.
Practice this exercise every day and you will gradually see your worrying disappear.