By Dr. Nancy Buck
Drag your thoughts away from your troubles – by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you manage it. — Mark Twain
Most of what we worry about doesn’t ever happen. One joke exclaims: “Worrying works. 90% of what I worry about never happens.”
The problem is that worrying robs you of your present moments, your current life, the joy or sorrow of ordinary moments that are your current life.
Worrying keeps you from being mentally healthy and happy.
You are not to blame. Our brain is wired to pay attention to the scary things. Our brain needed to inform our ancestors that the pretty kitty just out the cave was a lion, not a potential house pet. Thus we began worrying about potential dangers. Worrying is a way to anticipate possible dangers so we can problem-solve our way around or through the problems.
But worrying can become a bad habit. Just like your tongue seems to go to the new broken tooth in your mouth involuntarily, worrying is a thought your mind keeps going back to, over and over and over again.
The great news is that we have control over what we think about. No one can make you think of anything that you do not want to. Victor Fankl gave us the most profound example of this reality in his book Mans Search for Meaning. As a prisoner in the Nazi concentration camp he realized that his captors could never control his mind or his thoughts.
If this was true for Frankl in the most severe circumstances, it can be true for you as well. But it will take vigilant practice on your part.
Step 1. Pay attention to what you are thinking about. You need to catch yourself thinking the worrying thought as it is happening:
- What will my future be with this diagnosis? Will I live? Will I be in constant pain?
- She doesn’t love me anymore. What will I do? She doesn’t love me anymore.
- How can we find the money to meet our obligations? Will we lose our home?
If you don’t know what your repeated worry is, start listening to your thoughts. It might help to write your worries down so you will recognize them when they chime into other thoughts taking over all the room in your head.
Step 2. Decide ahead of time what you are going to “switch to” when you find yourself going back over and over again to your worry. For some this can be a meditative image, seeing the scene with great detail in vivid colors. Or you might sing a song, especially one with up-beat lyrics. Or you might repeat a favorite affirmation, or prayer. Practice this alternative thinking now, while you are not worrying. Practice, practice and practice this some more.
Step 3. When you catch yourself worrying, “switch to” your alternative thought.
Step 4. Repeat as often and frequently as necessary.
With practice you will decrease your worrying time allowing room for other, brighter and better thoughts. You can develop a different and better mental health and happiness thinking habit.
However, for you champion worriers, you will need to keep up this practice as new worries will replace old worries that you are letting go of. You need to practice, practice, practice switching your thinking until it becomes a new habit, replacing your habit of worrying thoughts as your new touch stone.
Don’t worry. Be happy.