Worry can be overwhelming; and is a waste of energy when the only reality is the one right now.
Updated: Sep 3, 2018
We can spend an inordinate amount of time thinking and ruminating on the things that have come to pass, or on the things that are yet to happen. When the only time we can actually control with any level of certainty is the experience we're having right now.
I have been wondering about worry; and how, and why, it can occupy so much of our minds and the time we have in our lives. The time we could be spending enjoying the moments for what they are.
Your brain is pretty clever (understatement alert!). One of the most powerful things it can do, is to create existential thoughts.
This is where it can paint a vivid picture of a possible, negative, reality in the future - you can almost smell it, hear it and touch it. This is one of the significant things that differentiates us from other animals; because they can’t do this. They exist exclusively in the now and don’t care about what happens to them tomorrow, next week or next month.
As someone who has always been highly driven, I’ve always had an active imagination. For the most part I have found this was a great strength and I have regularly used this to help set and realise goals in my life. However, I have also realised quite recently that the quality of this sort of thinking is super important because otherwise it can be destructive. This ability we all have can be a great strength when applied in a more positive way, with positive thinking.
The downside, though, is when this turns to worry. When it takes a more negative track. And, unfortunately for us, our brains do this a lot more than taking the positive track. It has a much greater tendency to believe that every situation is going to end badly. This is a constant battle in the mind. It can sometimes propel us forward - but too much of this type of thinking can have a negative impact. And when we think about it, the rational side of our brain knows that the personal Armageddon scenario is pretty unlikely in any situation.
Man, though, have I worried at times! At the height of my worry during last year, I was regularly sat up in the middle of the night. I couldn’t sleep. Because all I could think (and worry) about was not being good enough, that people had lost faith in me, and ultimately I would lose my job and my career. This was going to happen soon, tomorrow, next week. It would mean I would need to sell my house. My wife and kids would be miserable. I would fail. Everything I had worked for would be gone. It felt so real. It was awful.
Well, nearly one year on, I am still living in my house; and my wife and kids are really happy. And I am much more fulfilled and happy in myself.
Once the cloud lifted it made me really curious about why I had this thought process. Why I had been locked in a really uncomfortable headspace.
I am learning how to process this type of thinking in more useful ways. Using mindfulness / meditation. One of the biggest things meditation is teaching me, is that all we have, the only reality, is the one I / we are experiencing right now. Of course, the past has happened as a collection of now moments which have come to pass; but the future hasn’t happened. Not yet. But we spend so much of our lives thinking (or worrying) about things that haven’t happened yet; and, as you will see below, are not likely at all to happen. But this type of thinking can really impact how we interact with the world around us.
During the last few months I have started to understand more about how one of the most powerful things in my mind is also one of its biggest flaws. Its ability to trick me and make me believe that these negative thoughts about my future will actually come true.
I read in a book recently called ‘End of Stress’ (by Don Joseph Goewey) that a study in the US found that 80% of things people worried about within the next 2 weeks did not come true at all. Furthermore, for the other 20% the actual worry was more intensified than the reality of what happened in 80% of cases. This means that more than 95% of what we worry about either doesn’t happen or has much less of an impact than our minds made us believe it would.
Perhaps this is worth thinking about next time you’re worrying about something that will probably never happen. Despite how real it feels, the future hasn’t happened yet. So spend time enjoying and experiencing the now. It doesn’t mean that you don’t plan for the future or think about what you want but if this turns to a negative track, try to catch the thought process and remind yourself that it hasn’t happened, and, furthermore it is pretty (or very!) unlikely to happen in that way. Do your very best in living for the now and the future will work itself out.