Not long ago someone asked me, “Isn’t making plans just another way of worrying?” We might ask this question out of a belief that planning ahead indicates a lack of spontaneity –– that it’s better to just “go with the flow” and let life unfold as it will. Of course, a plan isn’t a prison. While following our plan, we can still leave room to be spontaneous and enjoy being surprised!
More often, though, as soon as we start making plans, we habitually start getting worried. Why do we make plans? So that we can accomplish something! Nothing is wrong with that, so why are we worrying? The worry is about whether or not our plans will succeed or fail.
It seems so natural, doesn’t it? How many times have we heard someone say, “Of course I worry . . . because I care.”
Yes we worry and yes we care, but there is not an automatic link between the two. Yet over the years I’ve heard many people insist, with agonizing passion, that they just can’t let go of worry. How can you expect a parent to stop worrying about a child that may be in danger? Or about any potential loss? Worrying seems ties to caring. Worry seems so natural.
The key word here is “seems.” States of mind and thought patterns such as worry seem natural only because of repetition and familiarity. We believe them, not because they are true, but simply because we have thought about them over and over again. All this ruminating can become a strong habit.
Once we get habituated to one way of thinking, or ruminating, a weird thing happens. Instead of seeing our state of mind or thought pattern as merely one point of view among many other possible points of view, we begin to believe it is the truth. A poor way to decide on the truth, to be sure, but unless we keep watch over it with mindfulness, that’s how our mind tends to work.
When my clients express a conviction that they can’t let go of worry (for example, because that worry is about their child), it is usually possible to help them stop worrying in about 10 minutes.
Stop Worrying in 10 Minutes or Less
These five reminders will usually help you nip your worries in the bud.
1. Caring doesn’t require that you worry. Honor your caring heart.
2. Refusing to engage in worry doesn’t mean you don’t care.
3. Worrying is an activity like any activity. All activities produce results.
4. Instead of just getting swept up in worrying thoughts, look at the results of worrying. Does it create any helpful results? And have you noticed worry is infectious? The primary result of worrying is that the worry intensifies and you get others to worry, too!
5. When you need to focus on a problem or care about someone, worry is unnecessary. You literally do not need to worry. You can simply focus with care.
Even after reading these reminders, you still may feel attached to worrying. Why? Because we usually need a new better option to hold onto before we can really let go of our current attachment.
Here’s a Better Option than Worrying
First let’s look at the structure of worry — how it works:
A. Worry starts with a motivation, an interest, something you care about. So you could say it starts with love. When you’re interested in something, you are giving it value. That interest itself is a kind and loving gesture.
B. As soon as you develop such a motivation or interest, you start projecting a desired future outcome. This outcome is also infused with your love, and that love in turn is expressed in the way you give value to that outcome.
Getting from Point A (your motivation) to Point B (your desired future outcome) requires action. Whether or not you reach that outcome is determined by what kind of action you take. Unfortunately, merely having a worthy motivation and a worthy goal doesn’t guarantee that you’ll make correct, worthy choices of action.
Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” When you worry, your actions are fearful, repetitive imaginings. Again and again you project mental images of your desired goals not working out. Worry generates and radiates disturbing, fear-inducing energy. And for as long as your thinking is clouded by fear, you continue to make poor choices.
C. But consider this: Prayer has the same structure as worry, with one very important difference. In the prayer scenario, Point A (your motivation) and Point B (your desired outcome) are the same, but wait! Point C is very different. When you pray –– no belief in a god required –– you are engaged in repetitive, loving thinking. Loving thinking generates and radiates encouraging energy. So in a state of prayer, you just naturally make better choices. Why? Because your mind is clear and your heart is open. In this state, solutions of a much higher quality spontaneously begin to enter your awareness.
Worry Is Negative Prayer
What does all this mean? Worry is negative prayer. Now that you see this clearly, try this: put your hands out in front of you, palms up. Imagine filling one of your hands with worries and filling the other hand with prayers. Reflect on the consequences of each activity. Which would you rather give your energy to? Worry or prayer? So far everyone I know who has tried this has said, “Prayer!”
Worry is negative prayer that produces negative outcomes. As you shift from a state of worry and choose to pray instead, you are entering a resourceful, prayerful state that instantly increases your chances for a beneficial outcome. Once you recognize the better choice, it’s easy to practice making the switch.
One last thing –– the shift from worry to prayer is not a one shot deal. The habit of worrying won’t disappear overnight; it will probably keep coming into your mind for a while. But that habit’s not a problem anymore because now you understand its nature. And now you recognize that you have a better choice. In fact, you can now begin using the appearance of worry as a reminder. When the “worry bell” rings, it’s your reminder to pray about whatever is the focus of that worry. Again, no belief in god is required, only a willingness to pray. And by substituting worry with prayer, you’re inviting better outcomes.