Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “How much pain have cost us the evils which have never happened?”
He was right, of course the human condition unfortunately does not include crystal balls.
Yet as a life coach and career coach based in NYC, some of the most common statements I hear from my clients are those predicting future troubles. While modern life leaves much to be anxious about, this type of “crystal balling” is a dangerous practice. It can create unnecessary stress and worry, and rob us of enjoyment in our personal and professional lives.
An article in the Daily Mail points out research showing nearly 40 percent of people worry every day. Some estimates have equated this level of worrying to more than five years of your life spent in mental turmoil.
And what do most people worry about? Uncertainty. Studies have proven much of what we agonize over never happens. Yet this same research revealed that most of those studied erroneously believed they could help ward off future bad events by “over-thinking” them.
Now that you know that crystal balling is a road to nowhere, here are some ways to kick the habit:
Distinguish thinking from worrying. Professor Ad Kerkhof, author of Stop Worrying, told the Daily Mail that “Thinking leads to solutions. Worrying leads nowhere. Thinking leads to action. Worrying leads to nothing. Thinking leads to relief. Excessive worrying leads only to powerlessness, tiredness and exhaustion.”
The difference is in your approach. Thinking involves actively trying to problem-solve, and brainstorming possible solutions. Worrying is simply going in circles in your mind about your anxieties, taking no steps to solve them.
Retrain your thoughts. To reduce the amount of energy you spend stressing out, Kerkhof advises treating your thoughts like fitness training by using repetition and perseverance. You can do this by setting aside specific times in your day to worry, and leaving the rest of your day worry-free.
By practicing this type of “controlled worrying,” you minimize the amount of time you’ll spend worrying. To start, try two 15-minute blocks of worry time, one in the morning and one in the early evening. Don’t take your worries to bed with you.
Distract yourself. Kerkhof also recommends shifting gears if you find yourself trapped in a cycle of worry. Physical activities like going for a walk or riding your bike can quickly help improve your headspace by providing a change of scenery along with an endorphin boost. Other ideas are to take a bubble bath, go to a movie, read a book you enjoy, or call someone who uplifts you. (Avoid calling a fellow worrier, if you can help it, or you may double your troubles.)
Practice smarter self-talk. Examining how you talk to yourself can hold the key to feeling better, according to Kerkhof. Are you creating your own worries with your faulty crystal ball? If so, look at the language you’re using when you feel stressed about the future. Are you “shoulding” too much on yourself and adding unnecessary pressure? If so, try to lighten up in your self-talk.
The power of your imagination can also help quash your inner fortune teller when it tries to rule you. Test out Kerkhof’s suggested technique of thinking about what the worst-case scenario would be if your fears actually came to pass. Then imagine getting through the event, and reflect on how you might feel one year after the dreaded event. Chances are, you’d handle it better than you think.
Mark Strong is a Life Coach, Career Coach, and Executive Coach based in NYC. You can find more information at www.markstrongcoaching.com.