Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Worry, a pointless activity

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Worry is an activity done for its own sake—the mind twiddling its thumbs. Worry is not planning, or preparation, or remediation—it’s just worry, turning the mind’s gears endlessly to no purpose. Michael Miles has a good post on Dumb Little Man on how to turn worry off. It begins:

“Worrying is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do, but it gets you nowhere.” ~Glenn Turner

We live in a culture where everyone seems to worry. Turn on the news – someone got shot, there’s mercury in the fish we eat, the cows have got BSE, a new super-flu is coming, terrorists are regrouping, … On and on it goes. If you take all of this stuff seriously, it’s likely that you’ll never go out, never eat, never travel, never take any kind of risk at all.

I’ve no doubt that people have always worried. Dale Carnegie’s book ‘How to Stop Worrying and Start Living,’ which was published in 1944, is packed with stories from the early part of the twentieth century (and even earlier in some cases) about people who worried about all kinds of things. But in fact, as Carnegie so ably and amusingly points out through his many examples, worry makes no sense at all. Here are some reasons why worry really is a pointless and damaging activity. I suspect we all know this deep down, but a reminder doesn’t hurt.

  • Things never happen the way you imagine. When you worry, you are predicting the future. You are saying, “I know that things will turn out badly.” But this just isn’t the case. You have no idea how the future is going to turn out, except to say that it will not be what you think it will be. So why worry?
  • Worry means you give away your power. Some people are so entrenched in worry that they cannot see any other way to live. But worry robs you of your power to be proactive. The truth is that you are in control and you can choose how to react to situations, so why choose to give that power away so easily and so unconsciously?
  • Worrying is completely unproductive. Why waste your energy doing something that gets you nowhere. On a treadmill at least you get some exercise, but worry is a truly pointless activity. Spend your time and energy on something more useful.
  • Worry distorts reality. We live in an age where people live longer, have better access to health care, have more opportunity for personal and professional growth, more chance to travel, greater access to information and lifelong education, and many other wonderful things. Yes, there are risks and potential dangers, but worry magnifies these disproportionately and blinds us to the wonders of our age.
  • Worrying is bad for your health. Worry is not a normal state of mind, and it adversely affects your health, even your physical health. When you worry, physical changes are happening in your body which are very damaging. It increases stress which can increase blood pressure, cause higher levels of stomach acid, cause muscle tension and headaches, among many other things.
  • Worry is not natural. Do little children worry? Do animals worry? Do all adults worry? There is nothing inherent in being human that means you have to worry. Worry is a pathology, a distortion of our natural, healthy state.

Do you know the most frequent instruction given in the Bible? Surprisingly, it is not ‘love one another’ or ‘love God’ or anything like that. It is simply ‘do not be afraid.’ I don’t know how many times it appears, but I’ve seen estimates between 100 and 366 times. You don’t have to be religious to realize that this is good advice.

So how can we break out of this worry habit? Like all habits, it might not be easy to do, but there are some clear, simple and effective steps you can take to eliminate worry from your life: …

Continue reading. But first, my own story of freeing myself from worry:

It’s a story in two parts. The first was a time, years ago, when I attended a summer course in Esperanto at San Francisco State, accompanied by The Eldest, still a young girl. I had an old VW, and on a drive to a farewell party in a town south of San Francisco, along 280, the fan belt started to come apart. I got to the house where the party was, but the fan belt was worthless. I immediately started to worry—what would I do? How could I get back? and the like, when I suddenly thought, “You know, I’m not going to spend the rest of my life at this house. I don’t see how right now, but I will get back to the campus, and I will get the car fixed, and all this will be solved. All I have to do is participate in the process and take an active interest in seeing how things will work out.” And, lo!, I was right: I didn’t spend the rest of my life there, and in fact how it all worked out was both interesting and easy—a ride to a VW dealer, purchase of belt, my installing same using the Owner’s Manual, etc.

The second part was an event shortly after I moved from a secure and stable job in Iowa City to the high-tech environment of Silicon Valley. I was working for a tiny venture owned and funded by Dysan Corporation, which made diskettes, though our group was developing a Forth platform for programmers.

It was a hard move to make, because I was afraid of the tech industry’s turnovers and layoffs, the frightening (to me) thought that, no matter what a good job you were doing, you could lose your job just because a project was shut down: total loss of control. And my job at the time, though I didn’t enjoy it, was secure and I had an excellent mortgage on my house. I finally thought to myself, “I don’t want to be lying on my deathbed and have to say, ‘You know, I didn’t enjoy my life much, but my mortgage payments were really low.'”

And after moving out here in April (living in Santa Cruz, commuting to Scotts Valley), Dysan that summer experienced some reverses. (Dysan itself was housed in a wedge-shaped building near Great America over in Santa Clara.) In October, Dysan laid off several of the programmers in the group, leaving just a core of us. Then in November it looked as though they would break the lease and those of us left would have to work in the Wedge—a commute from Santa Cruz over the hill and through fierce traffic to 101 and then up to Great America Parkway. I had just leased my apartment, and I was tearing myself up with worry about this commute. It would be awful, yet I was stuck in the apartment, and so on and so on. Then I was laid off. I never made the commute, which had obsessed me in my worries every hour of every day for two solid weeks. Not once. As I said, it was like spending two weeks worrying about whether your socks would match at the big dance, and then you were not invited.

Somehow, when I actually was laid off, I remembered the fan-belt incident, and I thought, “I’m not going to spend the rest of my life sitting in this apartment. I just have to take an active interest in finding out how this will work out.” I was, of course, worried that I wouldn’t find another job and would starve, but I decided that I would not worry about starving until I had been forced to miss two consecutive meals. I never had to worry. So, in a way, I didn’t quit worrying, I just postponed worrying until some definite event that would be a significant sign. For example, if your car breaks down, postpone worry until you’ve had to spend two consecutive nights sleeping in the car.

Written by Leisureguy

9 July 2008 at 8:41 am

Posted in Daily life

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