Estimated Lesson Time: 7 minutes
At age 53, John D. Rockefeller made the wisest decision of his life by choosing to manage worry rather than accepting an early death. In the many years that followed, John D. no longer let the little things in life trouble him, he let go of his greed by giving away fortunes and he learned to accept the inevitable. He summed it up in a poem he wrote on his 86th birthday:
I was early taught to work as well as play,
My life has been one long, happy holiday,
Full of work and full of play –
I dropped the worry on the way –
And God was good to me every day.
Some “experts” proclaim that worry is not all bad. They say that worry pushes us to get things done and make positive changes in our lives. Worry, they say, has been the force behind many of civilization’s advancements. I believe that this force being referred to is not worry, but motivation. People can be motivated by worry just as horses can be motivated with whips. However, worry does far more emotional and physical damage than a few lashings of a whip. Bypass the worry altogether and use one of the many other emotions for self-motivation.
Even if you are one who feels worry is a powerful motivator in your life, then consider the following: it has been said that over 90% of worries are unjustified, that is, completely without benefit. These types of worries fall into one or more of these three categories:
- Can do nothing about. What if the sun burns out? We will all instantly die (well technically after about 8 1/2 minutes due to the speed of light). All the worrying in the world will not prevent this event from happening, if it ever does happen. It seems silly to worry about, because we have no control over such a disaster.
- Choose to do nothing about. What if the ozone layer gets destroyed? If one is really concerned with this they can devote their time and energy to one of the many causes to prevent this potential disaster. By working toward prevention, one should be contented by the feeling that he or she is doing all they can (or choose to) and worrying is pointless. If one chooses to do nothing about it, then the worry cannot really be that great, and once again, is pointless.
- Odds are will never happen. What if you get struck by lightning? According to several sources, the chances are about 3000 to 1 that the average person will be struck by lightning in their entire lifetime. Then, the chances are about 300,000 to 1 that a person getting hit by lightning will actually die as a result. Would you start packing up your home and call a mover if there was even a 2 to 1 chance that you were going to be moving? How much of your mental and physical health will you waste then on worrying about events that are unlikely to happen?
If the goal was to eliminate MOST of our worries, we could stop there. But our real goal should be to eliminate all of our worries. This is not the same as never worrying again; it is about devoting the time to eliminating our worries when they first become worries. I have adapted what I believe to be the best of over a dozen techniques to create the following multi-step process for eliminating worries.
- Write down what you are worried about. Do your best to carefully think of what you are really worried about. There is said to be only a few dozen or so general fears (no one seems to agree what a “general” fear is), and if you could overcome your general fears, you could eliminate worry completely. For example, one who is worried about the sun burning out is most likely really worried about death. Listing “death” as the real worry will eliminate the worry of getting eaten alive by house ants, being buried alive in tub of chunky peanut butter, and being sucked out of an airplane window over Africa and landing in a crocodile pit.
- Get all the facts. When I was suffering from severe headaches, I saw several doctors and read just about everything there is to know about the different types of headaches. With the facts, I no longer let my imagination run away with the worst case scenario. I did learn one very important lesson: the Internet is full of misinformation, exaggeration, and information from people at the extreme ends of the spectrum. Get the facts and don’t allow yourself to be misled to even more worry.
- Analyze the facts. Once you have enough information to help you face the worry, make some sense out of the data. What does it all mean, if anything, at this point?
- Ask yourself what is the worst that can happen. At this point, you can make a more realistic assessment of what the worst-case scenario would be.
- Accept the worst. Acceptance is often an instant cure for worry. Acceptance however, is not easy and often takes time. By accepting the worst, you are in a situation where things can only improve.
- Improve on the worst. Here is where you consider the law of averages. What are the chances the worst will actually come to pass? Is it really worth worrying about?
- Decide what you can do about it. Brainstorm. List everything that comes to mind that you can do about improving the situation. Spend as much time as needed on this part.
- Act on the decision. If there is any point to worry, it is about taking action toward making positive changes. From your list of possible actions, decide what you ARE going to do and take action right away. Do not procrastinate. The longer you let your worries build inside, the more emotional and physical damage you are doing to yourself.
It is probable that through this process you will end up eliminating the worry before you complete all the steps. This is fine! The point of the exercise is to eliminate the worry, not to complete all the steps of the process.
A final suggestion is to keep a separate section in your success journal entitled, “Worries.” Here list all of your worries on an ongoing basis. What will happen is you will review your earlier worries when entering new ones and you will begin to realize that it was foolish to worry about such things. As you start to master both preventing and eliminating worry, you will no longer need to make any entries in this section.
The great American poet, Robert Frost, summed it up best when he said, “The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.” Do not allow yourself to be a victim of worry. Break the worry habit today and face life’s challenges head on.
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Some discussion questions (some may not apply to this lesson):
- Have you implemented this idea in your life? How has it been working for you?
- Do you have any interesting stories related to this lesson? Do tell!
- What do you admire most about this person? (success biography days)