Why Being Worried Will Never Improve Your Future
Just because you are worried, doesn’t mean you are prepared and just because you’re prepared, doesn’t mean you won’t worry. In either case, the worry will not improve your future.
There's a famous experiment where participants are asked to imagine eating a lemon. As they imagine the texture of it's flesh and the juice running across their tongues they start to salivate. There is no lemon, but the body responds as if there is.
Because we are always living in the feeling of our thinking we have the same experience with good memories. That's why it's nice to remember past vacations, great parties, and other pleasant experiences we've had. We not only get to remember those fun times, but we also get to have those good feelings again.
Just like with the lemon and the vacation memories, worry works the same way. Worry is simply imagining a future that is scary, sad, frustrating, or even devastating. We imagine this future, then experience the associated bad feeling. If we continue to imagine this possible future, then we continue to experience the bad feeling. If we don't know that the feeling is coming from our thinking, then we might assume we're stuck with it until we ensure that the future we're imagining isn't a possibility.
Let's use the example of asking someone on a date. Lying in bed one night we might imagine what we would say to that person and as we play through different scenarios, our thoughts wander to the possibility of them saying "no". We imagine that they will laugh at us, or say something mean; and as these imaginings wander across our minds we start to notice that our palms are sweaty, our pulse has increased, and there's a tightening of the stomach...yet, if we stop and look around, nothing in the room, nor our circumstances, has changed in those few minutes. The only thing that's changed is our thinking.
We might hate that feeling we experienced when we imagined the person of interest saying, "No". We might hate that feeling so much that we decide not to ask them out. We have no real grounds for abandoning our quest except the need to escape the feelings created by our own imaginings.
Now, if we generalize this scenario to worrying thoughts in other areas of our lives...money, kids, work...it's easy to see that we're caught in creating our own misery. We imagine terrible futures, and then feel physically distressed. The thing is, this worry/distress cycle does nothing to improve the outcome of our lives. We're not actually very good at predicting the future, but we still spend a lot of time and energy imagining it and worrying about it.
Worry does nothing to control or fix anything. I could sit here for the next 3 years and worry that my husband will die prematurely. My thoughts will have no impact on his health, but I will make myself feel badly. In addition, if I’m caught up imagining a life without him, I won’t be very good company while he’s well and right here with me; instead I'll be experiencing the idea of him being dead.
Now, let's turn our attention to being prepared. Being prepared is more of a mechanical act. It's recognizing that things don't always go according to plan, and creating a fallback system; whether it's a spare tire in the car, teaching the kids to dial 911, or buying an insurance policy. We prepare to the best of our abilities. Often we prepare because we think the act of preparing will erase our worry. It's helpful to recognize that the two are not actually connected. You can be prepared and worry anyway. You can also be unprepared and not worry. The worry simply comes from where your thoughts are in the moment.
Lastly, there's being ready. We think of being ready as having a plan, or being organized. But the reality is, in so many ways, being ready is simply a state of mind. You'll hear sports coaches ask their athletes, "Are you ready?" The coaches don't mean "Do you have your gear together, are your shoelaces tied, do you remember the rules?". They are asking "Are....you....ready?" Are you mentally ready?
Being ready it’s accepting that we don’t have control over everything and whatever is going to happen will happen. It’s accepting that there will be bad weather, canceled plans, angry people and sick loved ones. It’s also knowing that while you can’t plan, predict, or calculate when these things will happen, they don’t have to ruin you. You were born ready.
Being ready means being in touch with your own resilience, being willing to try new things, or go into a situation without having everything figured out first. Being ready means that you can show up in the moment, because you're not living in worry of your imagined future. Being ready is a state of flow, ever changing to meet the world.
Being ready doesn't mean that you should give up on being prepared. It doesn't mean that you shouldn’t keep a spare tire in the car, clean your house, stuff extra snacks in your bag, or make a will. No, not at all. Stay prepared - keep your spare tire, clean your house, grab those extra snacks and write your will. And while you’re doing it, enjoy yourself, and your life. Your life that is happening right now.
So now I ask... "Are you ready?"