Are you a worrier? Or maybe you’re ‘just’ worried about someting specific at the moment? You’re not alone. In fact, we are biologically programmed to worry in order to prepare for worst case scenarios. It turns out though, that worrying not only doesn’t do you any good, it’s also a massive waste of time.
I had a dream last night – about Obama. He taught me some incredible math tricks while we had drinks. It was awesome. What does this have to do with worrying? Absolutely nothing. However, apart from this dream leaving me with a great feeling of having bonded with the American President (and wondering whether, if I ever were to meet him in real life, I just might accidently greet him as if he were a friend of mine) it reminded me how dreams can sometimes be random (like this one) and sometimes carry an important message. Obviously we all have several of both, but I had one in particular – several years ago – that carried a strong message:
I was running up the stairs of a collapsing building, being chased by a huge, frightening beast. Bricks were falling everywhere and I was scared out of my mind, full of panic and completely out of breath. On each floor I would call for the elevator, which was the only thing still standing, but the elevator never made it in time. I could hear the beast approaching and had to run to the next floor in order for it not to catch up with me. As I finally reached the top floor of the building I realised there was nothing I could do. It was out of my hands. From here on it would be a matter of luck; Either the beast would get to me first or the elevator would make it just in time to save me and take me to the ground floor, allowing me to exit the building.
The beast made it first. Except it turned out it wasn’t actually a beast. It was a huge, soft, purple hippopotamus-like, peaceful creature, probably 10 times the size of myself. When it reached me it stopped. It never wanted to hurt me. It literally just stopped and stood there in front of me, looking into my eyes while we were both catching out breaths. The next thing I knew the elevator arrived, I stepped into it, faced the hippo while the doors closed and that was it. I woke up.
Imagine that. I spent all that time running up stairs, scared out of this world, only to find that really, there was nothing to be scared about. The ‘beast’ was a cute, purple hippo that never set out to hurt me. I had worried for absolutely nothing. Sound familiar?
Most of my life I have been a worrier. I never handled change very well and as a result I always analysed the 1000 things that could go wrong ahead of time – you know, just to make sure I wouldn’t be surprised by misfortune. What a waste of time.
Thankfully things have changed a lot since then. Sure, I still worry from time to time, but nowhere near what I used to. When it happens, I remind myself of a study in a book called ‘The worry cure’ (2005), which concluded that 85% of what the studied subjects worried about actually never happened. And of the remaining 15% that did occur, 79% of the subjects discovered that they could handle it much better than expected or the difficulty turned into a life lesson. So, to sum it up, this means that really, there’s absolutely no point in worrying. How about that? Basically, if you worry, you’re just spending time punishing yourself ahead of something that will probably never happen.
How to stop worrying? I posted one of my favourite memes the other day on facebook, instagram, pinterest and twitter. The text on the meme pretty much sums it up: ‘Stop being afraid of what could go wrong and think about what could go right’. This is probably one of my most popular posts to date, which I guess is because we all know it. We all know that we shouldn’t worry as much as we do, but we all struggle to shift our mind-set.
The trick is to stay away from all the negatives and focus on the positives – which, as a beautiful bonus, will also keep you mentally and physically well for longer.
As with any other bad habit it’s about making a conscious effort to stop worrying. Here are three very simple things you can do:
- Put a post-it on your mirror with the words ‘focus on the positive’ (or similar) across it – then every time you see this post-it you’ll be reminded to shift your focus in case you are worrying.
- Place a red (or any other colour) ribbon on your arm, which will remind you to stay positive whenever you notice it.
- Or, if you find it hard to change this habit on your own, involve someone close to you and ask this person to remind you to shift your focus when you start to worry.
Change takes time, but it’s worth it. And remember that what you focus on grows stronger. Focus on the positives. Focus on what can go right. Leave the rest behind.