‘The things we worry about are mostly the things that never happen”
Who doesn’t like a life maxim? Admittedly the myriad ways exhorting us to Carpe Diem on Instagram can get a little nauseating. You won’t catch me adding ‘#blessed’ to a post any time soon, but generally, my guilty pleasure is positive nuggets and the wisdom they impart. It was however, the above choice words from the the writer Lucia Van der Post which really made me sit up and think. They are the words which have had the most profound impact on how I live my life on a day to day basis.
I’d never really thought of the pointlessness of my worrying before. I ran through all the things I spent my life worrying about, the various different outcomes to the many “problems” I felt I had (NB, I use the word “problems” loosely here). Even when there was nothing to worry about, I would be worrying about not worrying. I KNOW!!
It’s little wonder I spent most of my twenties suffering from an ongoing saga with IBS. This catastrophic way of thinking would fuel endless internal 3am debates… sometimes, even a bout of insomnia. Arguably, a deadline driven job on a busy newspaper desk didn’t exactly help matters either, but I do laugh at the things I used to do to ‘help’ alleviate the stress: a 20 a day cigarette habit, a maxed out credit card, the out of control shopping, bingeing on Diet Coke. And boy did I also doubt myself.
And really, once I’d stopped to think of the things that had gone wrong, they weren’t, on the whole, things worth making a fuss about. Furthermore, it made me realise how most of the scenarios or issues I would worry about were entirely out of my control, so why was I worrying anyway because there was very little I could do to change the outcome.
I thought of the many times I was stuck in a traffic jam or on the tube, virtually hyperventilating with stress at how late I was going to be, when actually, it wasn’t as if I could make the train go any quicker or the traffic disappear and so one day, I relaxed into the book I was reading and have never looked back. Admittedly, it felt very strange at first and yes I was obviously late for my meeting but you know what, no one died. When I took a step back, I could see that the knots I would tie myself up into were hugely disproportionate to the outcome. I’ve since found that the less I worry, well, the less I worry. Try it.
It isn’t, for example, as if more bad things happen to me now that I worry less. If anything, because I’m more positive and less of a worry merchant, things seem to go my way more than ever before, almost as if I’m attracting a more positive energy. A bigger revelation is how much more time I have. Worrying, I began to see was proving to be the biggest time waster. Much like guilt, although therein lies another article all together.
It’s easy to forget that time worrying is not spent living. Also, worrying by its very nature prevents us from being mindful and takes us out of the present moment: either into the past, ruminating over what has already happened or into the future, thinking about what ‘might’ happen or what might go wrong. In the few years since I’ve learned to stop worrying, I feel happier with an inner calm, I feel lighter in every sense of the word. I swear I might even have a less furrowed forehead and certainly I have bags more energy.
My ‘sod it and see’ approach still, if I’m honest, amazes me most days because laid back is not how anyone who knows me well would ever have described me. One welcome consequence is that I now attempt things I would never have dared try five years ago. I am – without actually realising it – constantly always stepping out of my comfort zone which is another welcome confidence booster. And because I don’t worry, I have learnt not to put limits on myself. I try things and see how they pan out and then take a view point. If nothing else, I sleep better.
Listen, this is not a smug-a-thon. I am not, for example, scaling the heights of Everest. To me however, hauling three kids on the tube (including a six week old baby in tow) to get a mani/pedi/waxing done (while simultaneously breastfeeding), en route to flying to Geneva (on my own) is something I’d never have attempted before. Possibly I may never do it again – the iPad was out of charge, the oldest one hated her book so we were forced to talk to each other for the entire journey, while the baby saved up three days of poo for a one hour flight and the airline then broke the pram in the hold- BUT, the point is, I was remarkably unfazed by the whole day.
As one friend pointed out, worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere. Worrying doesn’t change an outcome but doing something about it does, so if that’s your coping mechanism, then get DO-ing.
The biggest lesson? Believe in your ability to deal with the hurley burley that life throws your way, experiences that make for a richer life tapestry, experiences that make you YOU. That’s about 98 percent of the battle. Trust that things will work out for the best. They usually do.