“I worried a lot.
Will the garden grow,
will the rivers flow in the right direction,
will the earth turn as it was taught,
and if not how shall I correct it?”
Mary Oliver wrote this one of her most famous poems.
“Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven, can I do better? Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it, am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia? Finally, I saw that worrying had come to nothing. And gave it up. And took my old body and went out into the morning, and sang,” she concluded.
If you are someone who is prone to worrying, you know the pattern it takes: you become afraid of the one, singular, least likely scenario that you cannot control, and mull over it until you find some kind of conclusion, at which you get a feeling of release, and then relief, until you find something to worry about again.
In a lot of ways, this mimics the addiction cycle.
Something triggers you, you start the fear routine, and then you get the “high,” or the reward when you are able to find evidence to conclude that it was unfounded in the first place.
This is not only unhealthy; it’s also unhelpful.
It means that most of your life is going to be spent sidetracked by a least likely outcome that’s a product of sheer, irrational thinking — that is unless you learn to correct it.
Why you should keep a “worry log”
In the same way that you should write down what you’re grateful for each day to foster a sense of contentment, you should write down what you’re worried about to foster a sense of rationality.
Part of what makes worrying so addictive is the secretiveness of it all.
You will probably feel very resistant toward the idea of writing down, specifically, what you’re worried about, as though putting it on paper or a screen will make it more true. In other cases, it might be very humbling or humiliating. At last, you have to admit and fully come clean about the thing you are scared of. Doing this will not make it manifest faster, despite whatever your dark thoughts will tell you. Doing this will free you.
Keep a log of everything you worry about throughout the day.
In fact, try to trace back through the years of your life and write down everything you worried about that you can remember.
It will not take very much time at all to discover that 99.999% of your fears were completely unfounded, wholly irrational, and not predictive of anything that was going to actually happen. They did nothing but distract you from your own life.
If you do this daily, you’ll change the way you perceive your worries. Like all of the ones that came before them, you’ll realize they’re nonsensical, and you’ll laugh.
You’ll begin to see them for what they are, not what you believe they might be.
Worry is the weakest way to protect yourself
People don’t worry because they are gullible enough to think their illogical thoughts are true. They worry because it feels scary, and there’s an instinctual part of the brain that associates worrying with feeling protected.
In a sense, worrying can feel like preparing for the future. It can make you feel safe, seen, and taken care of.
However, worrying is actually the worst way to protect yourself.
#1 — Worrying distorts your reasoning skills
Anything you are scared of immediately becomes a thousand times more difficult to manage. So if there is something you are legitimately afraid could happen, worrying is weakening your ability to respond without panic, and actually make worse decisions.
#2 — Worrying is an avoidance technique
It is less about the actual thing that scares you, and more about the control that comes with trying to navigate potential outcomes.
#3 — Worrying becomes fear when it goes unaddressed
Worrying that goes unchecked becomes fear. Worrying that is addressed becomes another weird thought that you can laugh off because you know it’s not true.
#4 — Worrying is almost always irrational
The thing you are consciously worried about is almost never the thing you are actually worried about. The reason why your worries are so often strange and full of “least likely” scenarios is that you are projecting your need for comfort and control onto a situation that you know will most likely turn out fine in the end.
#5 — Worrying is a habit you have to break
If you worry constantly, you are putting yourself at a severe disadvantage when actual challenges present themselves in your life. It is very much like any other bad habit: it isn’t just going to go away if you ignore it for long enough. Instead, you have to identify the impetus and defy your urge to think back or ahead, and instead remain present with your actual discomfort, which is pushing your awareness to the past or future.
Worrying is a life-long affliction that can be debilitating if it goes unchecked. Fortunately, there are tools like these that can help us all be a little freer.