How to Kill Worry for GoodBy Homaira Kabir
As a kid, I was a worrier. I worried about everything my wild and fearful imagination could think of. My grandmother often tried to calm me by telling me stories of the time in her life when she too suffered from endless worry. This always came as a surprise, because my grandmother had the most cheerful outlook on life of anyone I knew. She said she owed it to her doctor who had listened to her ailments and devised a simple treatment plan. Wake up early, he had advised her, milk the cows, separate the wheat from the chaff and gather the mangoes from high up in the trees.
As a kid, I wondered whether the doctor was a hoax. Today, I believe he was a man of great wisdom. He figured out that my grandma’s condition was mostly a figment of her imagination and decided to keep her busy. In the classic How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers the same advice: “Spit on your hands and get busy. Your blood will start circulating; your mind will start ticking—and pretty soon this whole positive upsurge of life in your body will drive worry from your mind. Get busy. Keep busy. It’s the cheapest kind of medicine there is on this earth—and one of the best.”
As humans, with our ability to time travel in our minds, we spend a large part of our waking hours envisioning our ideal future. But this same ability also makes us hang on to the failures of the past and sabotage our steps towards our goals. A gulf begins to form between our current selves and our ideal selves, and this is where worry resides. The wider the gulf, the greater the worry.
The Limits of Cognition
One way of taming this worry is to challenge our thoughts. It's a helpful first step because we may be engaged in "Thinking Errors" such as seeing the world in black and white or overgeneralizing a single event. But by itself, a cognitive approach does not get us far. Dr. Aaron Beck, founder of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, found that it's by changing our thoughts and our behaviors that we get rid of the hamster wheel of worry: rumination.
The Futility of Distraction
Another strategy is to distract ourselves from our worries by diverting our mind towards trivial activities like imaginary beach holidays or real (and expensive) shopping sprees. Distractions may work temporarily for certain kinds of generalized anxieties. But they do little to alleviate the worry in the long run. Once the short-lived pleasure is over, and we are no closer to our goals, the worry returns. Enough rounds of such cycles, and we begin to lose belief in our ability to reach our goals.
The Upward Spirals of Action
The best way to end the worry for good is to bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to get to. The answer lies in action. Action increases our competence and builds our confidence. We reach our goals, set new and more challenging ones and continue on upward spirals of success. Here are 3 simple steps to get into this action-oriented mindset:
Break Down Goals
An old Chinese proverb says that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. No goal is too large as long as we can break it down into manageable steps that are measurable and time bound. Completing these steps creates momentum and positive feelings that come from moving in the direction of our goals.
The ideal of perfection keeps us from making the very mistakes that can be beneficial to our growth. Ben Zander, author and conductor of the Boston Philharmonic advises seeing failures as learning experiences and when facing one, throwing our arms up in the air and shouting out “How FASCINATING!” in order to keep marching ahead!
Studies show that success breeds more success because of the dopamine surge that energizes us and motivates us to keep going. However, we can sometimes become blind to our mini successes on the way. By rewarding ourselves by something as minor as a completion tick on our to-do list, we register our success and give ourselves the dopamine kick we need.
Worrying is a natural human tendency that has resulted from our inherited negativity bias and our ability to project ourselves into the future. By positively reframing negative situations and taking steps towards our goals, we can avoid its addictive trap and live the lives of purpose that lead to success and fulfillment.
Homaira Kabir is a Women’s Leadership Coach and a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist whose practice is founded on the science of positive psychology. She empowers women to become leaders of their own selves in order to become leaders in relationships, at work and in life. To sign up to her free course on Finding Your Life’s Direction, visit her at www.homairakabir.com or connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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