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Four strategies to stop worrying and start living.
Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course lie all the truths and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth.
The glory of action.
The splendor of beauty.
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow is only a vision,
But today well spent makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day!
— Kālidāsa, ancient Indian poet and playwright
Worry creates stress and anxiety.
Stress increases your risk of death and shortens your lifespan.
Anxiety and the other negative emotions it generates can make your existence a miserable one. And if we’re not happy most of the time, what are we trying to live longer for?
Bottom line: Worry subtracts years from our lives and has the power to make our day-to-day unpleasant. The upshot is that we can change our actions to abolish it.
Here are four strategies to do just that.
Strategy #1: Live in Day-Tight Compartments
"Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand." — Thomas Carlyle
Although it served our ancestors well, one of the most tragic characteristics of being human is our tendency to put off living.
Rather than seizing and enjoying the day, our brains would rather fixate on tragedies and triumphs of the past or greener pastures in some imaginable future.
From childhood, we learn to cast our thoughts into the future rather than live in the present.
As children, we just want to be grown-ups. As grown-ups, we anticipate marriage. And once we’re married, we can’t wait to retire.
Far too many people only realize in the wisdom of old age that, as Canadian teacher Stephen Leacock noted, life is in the living, in the tissue of every day and hour.
Not only does living in the past or present degrade the quality of our days, but it sends us spiraling into a reactive, unpleasant, anxious, and worryful state.
The solution is simple:
As you navigate each day, shut out the past and future.
The past is to be joyously remembered on occasion. Not dwelled in daily.
The future is today. There is no tomorrow.
Living outside of today is a waste of energy and a source of mental distress, anxiety, and nervousness. You should still prepare for tomorrow by developing constructive daily habits, but have no anxiety for it.
We cannot possibly bear the load of all our yesterdays added to that of our tomorrows.
Instead, cultivate the habit of living in day-tight compartments.
The best way to prepare for tomorrow without worrying about it is to concentrate all of your energy and focus on doing today’s work superbly.
Be content to live in the only time horizon we can possibly live in: from now until bedtime.
To stop focusing on the past and future and start living in day-tight compartments, ask yourself these questions and write down your answers:
Do I tend to put off living in the present in order to worry about the future, or to yearn for some "magical rose garden over the horizon?”
Do I sometimes poison the present by regretting things that happened in the past that are over and done with?
Do I get up in the morning determined to seize the day and get the most out of my waking hours?
Can I get more out of life by living in day-tight compartments?
When will I start to do this? Today? Tomorrow? Next week?
To make each day even more manageable, you can then split your days into quarters.
Splitting your day into quarters—morning, afternoon, dinner, and night—will help to contain mistakes, eliminate negative spirals, and live wholeheartedly in the present day.
Strategy #2: Your System for Problem Solving and Eliminating Worry
"A problem well stated is a problem half solved." — Charles Kettering, American inventor
Good thinking deals with causes and effects and leads to logical, constructive planning.
Bad thinking leads to worry, tension, and nervous breakdowns.
At its most basic level, problem solving is a three-step process:
Get the facts.
Analyze the facts.
Make and then act on your decision.
As my Dad likes to remind me, worrying has never solved a problem.
So, rather than worrying over your next problem, write down on paper the following questions and your answers.
What am I worrying about?
What can I do about it?
Clearly defining your problem on paper is often enough to find a path forward and dissolve half of your worries in the process.
The other half of your worries can be solved by action—or by doing nothing in cases where inaction is the best option.
If you’re still worrying about your problem, ask yourself: What is the worst that can possibly happen?
Odds are, the worst-case scenario probably isn’t that bad.
As my parents used to say to me as a kid when I came home complaining after school, “If that’s the worst thing that happened to you today, you’re doing pretty good.”
Once you’ve highlighted the worse case scenarios, prepare to accept them. If you can accept the worst, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.
You will immediately relax and be much better positioned to deal with the issue rather than mope around worrying about it.
Finally, you can return to the question: What are you going to do about it?
Identify the variables that you are able to influence or control, and calmly improve them.
How could you avoid or prevent the worse case scenarios from occurring? And if they were to come true, how could you minimize their impact or recover from them?
Remember, there is enormous value in taking bold action.
Once you have thoroughly analyzed your problem and made a decision, release your anxieties and go into action mode.
Don’t begin to reconsider. Don’t hesitate and worry and doubt yourself. Act and don’t look back.
Strategy #3: Replace Worry with Action
"I'm too busy. I have no time for worry." — Winston Churchill
Sometimes, the best solution is to spend less time thinking and more time acting.
Our vacant mind is quick to flood with negative thoughts and emotions: wondering if we’re getting anywhere in life, whether we’re in a rut, or what that person meant by saying that thing.
Replacing worry with constructive action drives out pointless and destructive rumination and anxiety.
When I trained in Krav Maga last summer, I would arrive at the gym a tightly wound ball of anxiety and leave relaxed as a house cat waking from a nap.
It was only on the cycle home afterward that I would realize I hadn’t thought about one of my worries for the past two or three hours.
Life seems so simple in a state of flow when we spend time doing rather than thinking.
If you can’t stop yourself from worrying, throw yourself into action. The remedy for worry is to get completely occupied doing something constructive.
The other side to this coin is developing a mindful presence through meditation or breathwork practices.
The takeaway here is not to pave over serious problems with busy action, but to deploy constructive action and meditation in situations to which they best apply.
Strategy #4: Conduct Better Meetings in the Workplace
There is a meeting epidemic.
In workplaces across the world, there are far too many meetings. Most of them pointless.
People meet to discuss what the meeting is about so they can meet to book the next meeting and then meet to discuss solutions before meeting to present the solution in order to meet to implement the solution.
If your job involves meetings, do your best, depending on your position, to implement the following practice.
Before all meetings, the initiator must prepare and submit a written summary that answers the following four questions:
What is the problem? Define, specifically, what the problem is.
What is the cause of the problem? Clearly explain what conditions and assumptions underlie the problem.
What are all the possible solutions? Write out all potential courses of action to discuss at the meeting.
What solution do you suggest? Propose a solution with supportive reasoning and highlight both good and bad potential outcomes of that solution.
The vast majority of meetings will be eliminated because somewhere along this process the person writing the summary will have thought their problem through for the first time and discovered a solution.
And any meetings that do take place will be exponentially more effective and efficient.
That’s all, folks. Thanks for reading!
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