A few days ago, I sat in a discussion group, the topic of which isn’t relevant here, but one of its conclusions is. Somehow, 13 different people from all backgrounds, levels of success in life, varying levels of happiness, partner and/or family situation, financial situation, all had one thing in common – we all had several troubles, that encumbered our minds. Rich, poor, married, single, all were troubled by something.
I learned that about myself some time ago, whilst travelling alone, later with someone, testing different ways of living a life (career & settled, free & nomadic, somewhere in between) – it doesn’t matter what I did and how happy I felt – some worries always crept in. It’s cyclical – you address one troubling thing just to make room for another one. You achieve this or that goal, just to realise that they still didn’t answer all your questions. Somehow, we can’t stop ourselves from worrying.
What do I mean by a worry?
Before we dive in, I want to summarise what I mean by “a worry” and/or trouble in this post. There sure are various definitions, scholarly or other, but we’ll keep it simple:
By “a worry” or “trouble” I mean anything that bothers you on a regular basis and is serious enough to cause issues (mental health, lower levels of happiness, reduced energy or enthusiasm) in the long term, and can’t be resolved by a simple action/decision (i.e. going to the shop and buying something). We could sum it up by two words “chronic worry”.
A worry, in this case, is not “Will I have enough white wine for my guests tonight?”, but “Is the life path I’m on currently the right one?” kind of questions.
All other, smaller worries and stress might even be good for you. We don’t improve much if we don’t undergo a certain level of stress – whether it’s health, success or relationships. Nature, every organism in it too, evolves not because its nice and comfy life could do with an upgrade, but to overcome some difficulty – stress in its life.
This post will give you one step, that will take the weight off your shoulders, and steps to help you get there.
So how to stop worrying so much? There’s one conclusion from my group discussion, that every participant agreed on – which will help you stop worrying and make your troubles seem smaller, lighter. (Because I know we can’t eliminate worry from our life. We can, nonetheless, make these worries much easier to bear or see them as part of everyday life. In the same way, nature doesn’t try to eliminate everything bad in the world – it just is there, part of the whole, good and bad together. It’s us, who add weight to these worries. They too can just be there, part of our lives, without the additional emotional weight we assign to them.
One change to make all your worries seem smaller: find a higher purpose to focus on
How do you get through a tough training? How do you sit through a tough dentist appointment? How do millions of people, every day, manage to get through all kinds of tough situations? Survive wars, abuse, pain?
They focus their mind. They have a goal in mind that they focus on. They clench their teeth, think about their goal and struggle on. Even in a controlled environment (where you freely decide to undergo something tough, such as hard training, a marathon, a cold bath), people are told to focus on their breathing: in other words, focus on one thing. Aim their attention at a single action or a goal, so that all other feelings, pain or worries will fall behind.
Remove the weight of your worries by focusing on a bigger and positive goal
The more you think about your worries, the more they are solidified in your head – and the more weight they gain. It feels counterintuitive, I know – you’d think that if you think about something hard and long enough, you will learn how to handle it better.
But our brains are not wired that way. The more we think about an issue, the more it occupies our brain, the bigger it seems (even the problem doesn’t change and grow, your perception of it does). Worrying and thinking about your worries might go as far as lowering your cognitive ability (IQ) reducing your brain mass and ultimately shorten your life span.
There’s really no reason why we would do that to ourselves, is there? Yet we do it daily, we’re all guilty to some extent.
Now think about a time in your life, when you had a strong and clear goal, a mission – a purpose. Did you worry about any other, long term things? Or were you focused on delivering that goal, solving tasks and jumping through hoops?
You can bring that back – set yourself a new goal, a purpose. It can be anything – you are free to pick whatever you feel is important in your circumstances today. That new purpose will occupy your mind enough, so that other worries – the chronic ones, will have less room in your mind.
Less room for chronic worries = their weight will be reduced. You will start a new chain reaction – a positive feedback loop – the less room chronic worries will take up in your mind, the more room for your goal there will be = even less room for chronic worrying.
How to find a purpose in life? Ask yourself the right questions.
Isn’t that a question! I am not going to answer that for you – you need to answer that for yourself. But I will help you ask the right questions. What you choose can be anything – a personal goal, creating a business, helping people or animals, solving climate change.
Stop and think about what are the most important things in your life
This will narrow down your options – give you a good start. Is it your family? Ensuring a good future for your children? Or is it leaving a legacy, achieving something big in your life?
What feels natural to you?
What really bugs you in your environment? Can you improve it?
This is how many great ideas started – people got fed up with inefficiencies of something in their life – and improved it.
What is your story? Fill in the blanks: I am <someone> that <does, knows XYZ> for <ABC>
Focus on what people would say if we asked them about your strengths. How do you usually help people? What are your friends and close ones usually grateful to you about?
Fill in the blank: I feel in my element when ….
Aim high, set noble goals, but always think about yourself first
You might be already thinking about a new direction your life could take. there’s one important thing to keep in mind:
You are the most important actor in this goal. Without you, any goal you set won’t happen. In order to keep you in, working and achieving this goal, you need to be happy. Therefore to achieve this goal, you also need to do all the other things that make you happy.
Work towards your new goal, but do it sensimly – gradually, over time, work towards a purpose in small steps. Don’t run yourself down, don’t burn out. Do what makes you happy, what recharges your energy – so that you can continue on working towards your new life purpose, thinking less about other, now less important worries.