Worry is nothing less or more than a habit.
It’s complex only insofar as our individual tendency towards it, but otherwise it’s pretty simple and, ultimately, a decision.
Worry is self indulgence masquerading as concern and love for others.
Worry is letting our mind indulge in thoughts and scenarios we have no control over. It’s a misuse of our imagination to create negative feelings for ourselves and those unlucky enough to be exposed to our worry.
Concern, on the other hand, is a result of thoughtfulness, mindfulness, and care. Concern is using our resources to help ourselves and others avoid extra pain and suffering, if possible.
Concern always offers the option of action in the present moment.
If I’m concerned that I left my key in my car, I can return to my car and check. If I’m concerned about my son driving to Tahoe in snowy conditions, I can make sure we think ahead and get some snow tires on his car. If I’m concerned about an early morning session, I can do everything possible to get a good night’s sleep.
This is concern, and it’s worlds away from the habit of worry that is the soundtrack of the lives of so many of us.
Worry is the mind gone awry. Worry is the toddler who has taken over as the driver and somehow against all reason has us buckled in helplessly in the child’s seat in the back of the car.
Seriously, we would never let a 4 year old take over the driving, but we do so constantly when we let our minds go wild, ruminate endlessly, and churn negative scenarios like cream that has long ago turned to butter.
Why do we do this?
By the time most of you read this, worrying has turned into a habit and like smoking, drinking, and any other negative habit, it has a mind of its own and is difficult (but not impossible) to undo.
But first, let’s unpack the reasons why we develop the habit of worry. You may relate to one or more of these reasons and my hope is that this understanding will produce a measure of self compassion — a vital prerequisite to change.
Here are four errors in thinking that lead to cultivating the habit of worry:
- We believe it makes us a “good” person. Isn’t this what our mothers and grandmothers did endlessly? This thought trap is especially applicable to women because historically we were unable to take effective action, so we had to settle for worrying.
- We believe if we worry about someone else enough and nag them incessantly, they will change the thing we want them to change. Please look back at real instances in your life and ask yourself when was the last time that this strategy worked. If you believe it works, it’s very likely that the other person is now hiding their actions from you or simply staying out of the conversation about the subject. Now you can be “concerned” for having created disconnection in the relationship.
- We believe if we turn the problem around over and over again in our head, we will eventually come up with a solution. First of all, neuroscience has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that a worried mind is unable to be creative and resourceful. No great ideas were ever the result of worry. Ever. And secondly, we are often worried about problems that have not occurred.
- We believe if we worry enough (like incessant praying) we can stop the bad thing from happening. That’s not true. Maria Popova explains it this way: “Worry at its core is the repetitious experience of the mind attempting to generate a feeling of security about the future, failing, and then trying again and again and again, as if the very effort of worrying might somehow help forestall disaster.”
So we let worry control our minds and our lives, and we wonder why we are generally unhappy, regardless of our positive life achievements and circumstances. It’s the same reason an alcoholic is unhappy even if he is a billionaire and has achieved extraordinary success.
There are a few books I use in my coaching, one of which is “The Five Regrets of the Dying” by Bonnie Ware. I recommend you read it cover to cover. But I’ll share only one of the five regrets that showed up consistently when people were aware of their lives coming to an end, and reflected on the truth of their heart.
Regret number five is, “I wish I had let myself be happier.”
Worry is not who you are, it’s what you do.
And like any other behavior that over time and through repetition has turned into a habit, we can undo it. If you’re fed up with the toll this habit is taking on your life and truly want to let yourself be happier, get the support you need and do it.
The best time to start was ten years ago, the second best time is today.