Have you spent more time worrying over the last few years? I know I have. There is plenty to worry about, what with fascism growing, the economy shrinking, the world becoming more dangerous and the media and education establishments in full-on propaganda mode for their progressive mission.
It's difficult not to worry. As a freedom-loving supporter of America's founding principles, there is so much lately that has been moving in the wrong direction, fast.
But worry is not effective.
I have talked about the dangers of ruminating – going over and over past negative experiences, reliving the pain and other hurtful feelings and adopting the passive and helpless stance toward life that is the only possible result of repeating events that have already occurred.
Just as you cannot change the past by ruminating, you cannot change the future by worrying.
Worrying is ruminating about the future. It puts you in a passive, helpless stance in relation to events that are unfolding and it drains you of the energy and spirit to act effectively within the areas in which you can genuinely make an impact.
Think about something that you do well, that you are able to take effective action toward. Do you ever worry about it? I doubt it. Sure, you think about it, you prepare for it, you take the actions that are necessary to do well. But do you worry? Do you sit helplessly thinking about all the things that could go wrong and how awful it would be if they did go wrong?
No. You know what to do to prepare, you know the action you need to take, you also know where the risks are and you dive in and do your best. If something goes wrong, you take note, learn from your mistakes and use that knowledge to do better next time.
There is nothing passive about this. And it feels very, very good. The satisfaction of doing something well is one of the great joys of life and it is an active, solution-focused stance toward life that makes such efficacy and the resulting satisfaction possible.
Worry, on the other hand, is what you do when you cannot identify an action to take. You might worry about the outcome of an election. Why is that? Because you have very little to do with the result.
You may worry about where interest rates may go if you have an adjustable rate loan because in such a case you have no control over where interest rates go. If it were possible to get a low fixed-rate loan instead then you wouldn't be at the mercy of rising interest rates and you wouldn't worry – about that, anyway.
Some examples of the passivity of worrying are obvious; others are more complicated.
We are creatures of habit. We like whatever we're used to and we go to great lengths to keep things the same. Even if what we're used to is bad.
As an extreme example, when people grow up with chronic abuse it is not uncommon for those people to find new people to abuse them as adults. It's not that they want to be abused; it's not that they are at fault for others' abusive acts. It's just that such behavior is what they are used to.
It might seem simple looking from the outside to say, "Just get away from such people!" But from inside, that may be as big a cultural leap as you could imagine making – it can be like saying to somebody who has never left their hometown or learned another language, "Just move to Norway and speak Norwegian!"
There are many ways that our habits can blind us to opportunities for taking effective action.
I have heard clients who are struggling financially say something along the lines of, "Given that I live in the house I live in and have the lifestyle I do (that costs a lot of money), how can I solve my financial problems?"
They spend lots of time and energy worrying about this without seeing any action they can take because the effective action – which could include moving and changing their expensive lifestyle – are habits that they cannot consider changing.
The government of my goofy state of California is locked in such a bind right now. Every action that I see my government taking is in the service of maintaining a habitual level of overspending. The solutions are simple, of course – fire people, renegotiate the fantasy-land level of pensions and benefits that government workers have been promised, eliminate whole departments and shrink the size of government to a level that is affordable.
But this would require changes in lifestyle and habits that those working for the state – on all levels – cannot imagine making. So everything is desperate – an emergency tax increase, piecemeal "furloughs" that snip a day or two here and there from selected workers' calendars. I get pathetic pleas regularly from the chancellor of my alma mater, UC Santa Barbara, to please, please urge my governor to please, please not make any cuts in the university's precious budget! Boo hoo.
And we all get to worry about the deteriorating conditions of California – because the actions that need to be taken will not be considered.
If you find yourself spending time worrying, ask yourself this question: "What action could I take if I let go of my preconceived vision of how everything has to be?" This does not mean that you sacrifice your values or your family, or take unethical or illegal actions – honor and integrity is not something to sacrifice even in the worst of times.
But if you find yourself worrying, consider what actions you are not considering. Confront yourself with your pre-conceived visions that may be trapping you in a helpless bind and then see if there is anything that you can actually do to improve your situation – even if it may involve losing long-established elements of your current lifestyle.
This can be kind of like going through the things in your attic. What are you holding onto in your current lifestyle that is hurting you, which you no longer use or need? Look at it, consider it and then if you can do without it, let it go.
There will be plenty that you will choose to keep, too. But when you change a habit that genuinely improves your quality of life it is not a loss – though it may feel like it at first. If it improves your quality of life, if it enables you to feel a sense of efficacy, to feel more at peace and to be more loving and available with those whom you care about, then what can feel at first like a loss is in truth a gain. You will be gaining a greater value in exchange for a lesser value.
Take your worry as a sign that you are feeling helpless and need to do something different. Then look for those actions that you can take that will move you from passive worry to positive, benevolent and effective action. You will get used to the changes more quickly than you might imagine, and if you do this with compassion, honor and integrity, making these changes will be something that you will be proud of later.
Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is a Life Coach who works with people around the world via phone and e-mail. He can be reached for life coaching service at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.drjoelwade.com. He is the author of Mastering Happiness and A Pocket Guide to Mastering Happiness.
"A highly skilled clinician, trained in a variety of psychological disciplines, Joel Wade is a man of immense sensitivity and compassion who has a wide repertoire of problem-solving strategies to bring to the practice of Coaching." ~ Nathaniel Branden, Ph.D., author of The Art of Living Consciously.