There are two ways you can handle a problem. Either do something about it, or accept it and move on. Neither of these is always wrong. But most people wind up in a middle state where they aren’t really doing anything but still nag themselves about a problem. This is needless worrying that will only make you stressed.
There are also three different types of problems:
- Problems you can’t do anything about.
- Problems that aren’t important.
- Problems you can do something about and are important.
The first two you should ignore and the last you should act on. The first two represent problems where applying effort is going to be wasted. Worrying about the weather is pointless because you can’t control it. Worrying about what to eat for breakfast is a waste of your time because it isn’t important.
But some worries are justified. Worrying about whether you are working the right career. Worries about whether you should stay in a relationship. Concerns about big problems in your life need attention.
These tips for cutting needless worrying aim to get you to control your attention. By investing your internal resources towards the problems that actually matter, you can make progress while eliminating stress.
1) Create a System for Holding Ideas
Have a calendar, notepad and binder to store tasks and commitments. The first way to control your attention is to take the burden off your memory. You can waste a lot of energy trying to remember mildly important commitments. Instead, creating a system can unload much of that stress.
2) Imagine the Worst Case
A good way to find priorities and to control your worries is to imagine the worst-case scenario. Ask yourself what will happen if you fail. What will happen if you ignore the concern entirely.
Finding the worst-case will do two things. First, it will help you sort out what is really important. The worst-case for eating the wrong breakfast might be a wasted meal and a bit of hunger later in the day. The worst-case for staying in the wrong job might mean years of unnecessary depression.
Second, it will help you manage your fears. Problems can easily expand beyond what is necessary to act on them. Having a stress level of 9/10 isn’t going to make you more effective than a stress level of 3/10 once you’ve recognized the problem. Remove the unknown from your fears and know you can handle whatever life throws you.
3) Journal It Out
Write through your problem. Dissect and analyze it. Journaling can order your thoughts and help you achieve piece of mind. Whenever I face a nagging worry, I think through it carefully on paper. Sometimes I come to the conclusion that the problem is imaginary. Other times I find a deeper issue that needs resolving.
4) Get Advice
Advice isn’t usually as valuable as the dialog about a problem. Worries often result from chaos in your thinking patterns. Speaking to someone else who is knowledgeable can help bring order to those thoughts. Better yet, sometimes you find easy solutions to problems you were unable to solve.
5) Accept It
Don’t resist a problem that you can’t change. Unless your worries are going to be used to take action, you are better off just accepting reality. I’ve had a few times when I’ve been walking and it started raining. From that point I usually realize how pointless it is to grumble about getting wet. By accepting the rain as part of my world, I can actually enjoy it even if I’m going to get soaked.
Some problems are hard to separate between the unalterable facts of life and big challenges that can be overcome. Think through the situation carefully and come to a decision. Neither decision is wrong. Complete acceptance and complete action both have the same end result of ordering your consciousness and removing the unpleasantness from the situation. The only bad decision is not to make one, juggling endless worry between the two extremes.