Our digital devices, the screens connecting us to an infinitely wide world of information, pose a significant challenge because they are so compelling and distracting. They pull our focus away from being in the moment and compromise our ability to concentrate on the essential tasks of daily life: paying attention to our loved ones, solving our work challenges, and practicing healthy approaches to resting, eating and staying physically active.
But when it comes to stealing precious time and distraction nothing can match the invisible and insidious effects of worry. Worry occupies our mind with a debilitating circular loop of thought that crowds out room for focusing on the important things. In addition, worry creates unpleasant feelings of stress which reduce energy and compromise health.
So it’s worth developing a plan for how to reduce the amount of time you spend worrying in order to increase your capacity to meet the challenges of daily life with more focus and vigor.
- Begin by understanding that worrying is not effective. One of the reasons people worry and fail to take the steps necessary to reduce it, is that they have an erroneous belief that it helps them prepare for potential future challenges. It doesn’t. As a client once observed: “I try to worry about everything bad that could possibly happen so that I won’t be taken off guard. What really bothers me is that when I do run into problems they are not the ones I had been thinking about.”
- Believe in the efficacy of hard work. Have enough faith in yourself to know that you have the ability to shape your life by acting conscientiously. When you focus on the scenario of something negative coming your way (worry) you sacrifice some of your power to fully apply yourself to the moment at hand. Spend your energy working harder on solving problems than on fantasizing disaster.
- A balanced life leaves less room for worry. Emotional resilience depends on several domains like career, family, romantic life, and health. We tend to forget this when things are heating up in one of these areas like after receiving a big promotion or starting a new relationship. Try sketching out a pie chart that includes the components of your life that are most important to you like friendships, work, hobbies, health, volunteering etc. Take a moment to think about your aspirations in each area. The more you conscientiously engage in what you care the most about, the less room there is for worry.
- Focus on values as well as goals. Focusing on what is most important to you is a great technique for taking charge of those things that are under your control, as well as for achieving goals. In one study at the University of Nevada students were asked to either record their goals alone or write down both their values and their goals. The students who reflected upon their personal values, like learning, in addition to setting specific goals significantly improved their G.P.A.s. When you ask yourself what you want your life to stand for it allows you to worry less about things you can’t control.
- Just because you think something doesn’t make it true. When you have a thought about something negative possibly happening in the future, it can feel as though the negative thing actually happened. There are many techniques available to help you be more aware of your internal thought process and to avoid the negative consequences of blindly accepting your thoughts as true. A Liberated Mind: How to Pivot Toward What Matters, new book by Stephen Hayes, a psychology professor at the University of Nevada is a good source for many of the approaches available to prevent you from getting too sidetracked as a result of taking stressful thoughts too seriously.
- Be from the “Land of I Don’t Know. We invite unnecessary worry into our thoughts every time we convince ourselves that we understand the motivations of the people around us. Just because we have the mental capacity to speculate on the motives of others doesn’t mean that it is always in our interest to do so. Sometimes it’s best to paint a bright line between that which we have observed and know for sure (behavior) and that which we believe (often erroneously) to be the meaning or motivation for that behavior. Once we label someone’s motivation we can become attached to it as a “fact” and forget that it is actually an unverified product of our imagination.
Your company’s EAP offers confidential consultation with professional counselors at no cost to employees. A consultation can help you develop an individualized plan for reducing the amount of time you are wasting on worry and pay dividends in the quality of your family life, health and work productivity.