In the second article of the happiness series, we’re going to discuss how you can combat anxiety and eliminate many problems in your life by using an old method borrowed from the Stoics. (read first article here)
“Let me show you how much time we waste in worrying about the wrong problems. Here is a reliable estimate of things people worry about: Things that never happen 40%, things that are over and past and that can never be changed by all the worry in the world 30%, needless worries about our health 12%, petty miscellaneous worries 10%, really, legitimate worries 8%. In short, 92% of the average person worries take a valuable time, cause painful stress even mental anguish, and are absolutely unnecessary.” – Earl Nightingale
Are you a chronic worrier? Do you waste precious time and energy worrying about what may happen in the future?
What if I lost my job? What if I don’t find the right one? What if I never meet the right guy/girl? Are these the kind of thoughts that run through your head? If so, don’t “worry”. You’re not alone. Most of us spend way too much time worrying.
In this article, I’m going to share how you can combat anxiety and eliminate many of your problems by sorting out you worries.
Combat anxiety by sorting out your worries
For every ailment under the sun,
There is a remedy, or there is none;
If there be one, try to find it
If there be none, never mind it.
Happiness is not so much the absence of problems as it is the avoidance of creating illusory ones.
If you wonder how to combat anxiety and eliminate most of your problems, you have to realize first that we often worry about things from the past that we can do nothing about. We worry about things that could (but probably won’t) happen in the future.
In general, we worry about things we have absolutely no control over. This creates unnecessary suffering and generates a lot of stress. Yes, it’s as insane as it sounds!
To avoid worrying and enjoy a happier life, it’s important that we learn to sort out our worries very carefully so that we can eliminate illusory problems and better combat anxiety.
There are three types of worries:
1. Things we have absolute control over
2. Things we have some kind of control over
3. Things we have no control over
Things we have absolute control over
Things you have total control over include the goals you set for yourself, the actions you take, and how you react to any given situation.
You don’t have absolute control over the outcome of a tennis match you’re playing, but you do have control over how much you practice. You also have control over your attitude during the game.
Will you get pissed off and give up because you lose the first set, or will you stay focused and get through the match? The choice is yours, because you have total control over it.
Things we have some kind of control over
To continue with our earlier example, the outcome of the tennis match is something you have some kind of control over. You can practice as often as possible, which will increase your likelihood of winning.
Of course, it doesn’t provide any sort of guarantee. You may get injured or your opponent may play exceptionally well that day. In this situation, you only have a certain amount of control. You have to focus on what you can control before and during the game rather than on winning, which is something you can’t completely control.
We all like to win, but there’s no reason for regret if you do your best. When you give it your all, you can feel good about yourself even if you lose.
Separating the things you have limited control over from the things you have absolute control over, can help you combat anxiety and eliminate some of your problems, or at least, mitigate them.
Things we have no control over
Unfortunately, there are many things we have no control over in life. Trying to control these things is pure insanity, and a guaranteed recipe for unhappiness. That’s not the right way to combat anxiety.
It’s our responsibility to see things we have no control over for what they are. Of course, that’s not what most people do. The majority of people get angry about what happens to them and dwell on it for days, weeks, months, or even years.
You can certainly do that, but, if you really care about your well-being, why would you?
Because we have the tendency to try to control everything, it’s imperative that we learn to place things in the following 3 categories: what we can control, what we can somewhat control, and what we can’t control.
That’s probably the best way to combat anxiety and it will eliminate many problems that fall into the last two categories.
While it sounds simple on paper, combatting your anxiety this way requires a lot of discipline. It must be practiced until you reach a point where you can shrug off worries about that which you can’t control.
A normal reaction to an unpleasant situation should be, “What can I do about it? Nothing? Okay then. Next!”
To better combat anxiety, ask yourself if you can do something about a particular situation before you start worrying. You should also ask yourself if worry is actually helping you, and if there’s anything you gain from it. If the answer is “no”, then there’s no point in fretting.
Now, let me give you some examples of situations you have no control of:
- Having your wallet stolen with no way to get it back
- Losing all the data on your computer with no way to retrieve it
Let’s say someone does steal your wallet and you lose your cash, driver’s license, credit card, and so on. What will you do about it? How would worrying help you? It won’t do anything for you besides increase your chance of having a heart attack. That’s not how you want to combat anxiety.
The question you want to ask yourself is this: What do I do next? Whatever it is, go do it. The faster you take action, the less time you’ll have to worry about what just happened to you.
As for the data loss scenario, it happened to me about a month ago. I may have been able to get my data back, but it would have taken 3 months and cost $1,500. And even then, there would have been no guarantee that anything would be recovered.
When I realized my computer was broken, I decided upon how much I was willing to pay to recover the data. Since the quote I was given exceeded that amount, I decided not to do it.
At that point, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my data back. Knowing that pushed me to get over the situation, as there was nothing I could do to change it. As a result, I immediately began rewriting drafts of the two books I lost. I didn’t waste a week or more crying about it.
Fortunately, I’m now almost done rewriting the books. I also learned my lesson: Always back up your work! I combatted anxiety by sorting my worries and realize their was nothing I could do about it. That’s how I like to eliminate problems.
A friend of mine who is also a blogger and writer told me that he would probably consider suicide if the same thing had happened to him. Hopefully, he was joking. He relayed this in the following email (printed with his permission, of course!):
Oh no, so sorry to hear that Thibaut. Can you not recover off the hard drive? I really hope you can. That’s one of my worst nightmares. I once lost a blogpost and I was distraught. Think I’d be suicidal if I lost a book.
As you can see, you can overcome worries in seemingly uncontrollable situations, it just takes some work. Some people may say that it’s perfectly normal to worry, but I would argue against that. Worrying about something you can do anything about isn’t normal. It’s actually just crazy-making.
I hate worrying, and the last thing I want to do is to freak out over things I can’t do anything about.
Does that mean I’m a living Buddha? Unfortunately, no. Far from it. I worry like anyone else, but I keep in mind that, to paraphrase Mark Twain, most of the things I’m worrying about will never happen. And when they happen, I ask myself what I can do about it. If there’s nothing to be done for it, I move on.
Worrying gives the illusion of control
Most of us are addicted to worrying. For some reason, we believe that worrying gives us control over a situation, but that’s just an illusion.
We have to get into the habit of sorting out our worries, as that is the only way to overcome them. As we categorize our worries, we’ll begin to realize that most of them are useless.
Yes, I know. You want to believe that your worries are legit. That’s how you probably try to combat anxiety. But if your worries aren’t legit, then what was the point of wasting so much time and energy on them?
That may be another reason we’re so attached to our worries. It’s like staying at a job you hate because you’ve already invested years of hard work into it. Or staying in a relationship that doesn’t work because you’ve been in it for years.
No one wants to feel like they’ve wasted their time, and we can make some pretty unhealthy decisions to avoid that feeling. It’s important to realize that the time we’ve “lost” is just a sunk cost.
Fortunately, zero-base thinking can help you deal with situations like this. If you could go back in time to when you were offered the job, would you take it? Knowing what you know now, would you accept the offer?
Knowing what you now know, would you start dating the person you’re in an unhealthy relationship with?
These are two very difficult questions that require a great deal of courage to answer. If the answer is “no”, however, what sense does it make to continue doing what you’re doing?
Coming back to your worries: Knowing what you now know about them, do you still want to continue worrying as much as you have in the past? Hopefully, your answer is no.
Exercise – Sort out your worries
Your exercise this week is to sort your worries on paper. Follow the 5 steps below:
- Get a pen and a piece of paper.
- Create the following three columns: “Worries”, “Level of control”, and “Next Action”.
- Write down all the things you’re currently worrying about (include both short and long-term worries).
- Write down whether you have, “absolute control”, “some control”, or “no control” of each worry.
- Write down what, if anything, you can do about each worry.
For each of your worries, remember to ask yourself these important questions:
- What can I do about it?
- How does worrying help me here?
So how about you? What do you worry about, and what do you think life would be like if you could worry less? Let me know in the comments section below!
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