Do you overthink and catastrophise? Do you find yourself worrying about worrying, and when you don't have things to worry about, you go looking for things to worry about?
Been there – done that – bought the T-shirt.
It's incredibly tempting and perceived as the easier option. It's why most of us opt to sit in one place, rocking back and forth worrying, rather than getting up and taking action.
But when you pay attention to it, worrying is pretty pointless. It doesn't change a thing – and never will. The only thing that will ever change anything is acting on the worry (taking action).
Did all those worries from World War II make a difference then? Do they make a difference today? If Churchill had sat in his chair worrying about Hitler, would that have won the war?
But let's get real – we're going to worry. Worry is normal. We will always have something to worry about. That's OK. What's not OK is when we allow worry to consume us and stop us from enjoying even the basic things.
I would sit in my chair doing nothing but worry. The 'what ifs', 'mights' and 'maybes' filled my head.
I would overthink and come up with all the possible ways something would go wrong until I was too exhausted to catastrophise anymore.
Unfortunately for me, my worrying stamina was pretty strong. I could go for days at a time doing nothing but worry.
I was well a truly knee-deep in the overthinking worry habit.
Being trapped in the worry habit is a horrible way to live. You bounce from one anxiety to the next, with no breaks or leaps for air.
It feels strange not to worry, so you go looking for things to worry about.
When you go looking for things to worry about, you create things that don't exist – so you start worrying about fantasy and made-up stuff!
Overthinking is the leading cause of our misery.
If you're tired of being stuck in this worry habit loop, it's time to break it.
It helps to understand how worry works.
HOW WORRY WORKS
Our worry is on a continuous loop.
90% of the anxious, fearful, stressful thoughts you had yesterday, you’ll have again today. Like a Groundhog Day of negative thoughts, 9 out of 10 of your worrying thoughts won't leave you alone from yesterday. In other words, you are constantly worrying about the same things.
I'm no math genius, but doing the rough sums on my fingers tells me that you will worry about the same stuff today you were worried about weeks and months ago. For some of us, it could be years and decades.
The longer you play out the same type of worrying thoughts, the stronger the worry habit. You become addicted to the same worries.
The only way to break the loop (habit or addiction) is to become self-aware of the same constant worries plaguing you. When you can question the validity of your worrying thoughts, you can push the stop button rather than let them play out through overthinking.
SORTING REAL WORRY FROM FAKE WORRY
If you pay attention to your worrying thoughts, you will see that most of them are fake. They are not real. They are made up.
I'm a big fan of the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle). It's a scarily accurate guide that applies to lots of things in your life, including your worrying thoughts.
Start by writing down all your worrying thoughts. I know it's a tedious task, seeing as we have so many of them, but stick with this, it's well worth it!
Create a 'worry list' and jot each of your worrying thoughts down as you have them – every 'what if', every 'might' and every 'maybe'. It doesn't matter how small or trivial your worries are, write them all down.
Do this over the process of a few hours.
At the end of the day, go back to your list.
Now, tick all the 'real' worries on your list. These are worries based on actuality. For example, 'My credit card balance is quite high'. That's a real worry because it is a fact. Another example is, 'I have to take my cat to the vet'. That is something you are going to do, making it a reality. That gets a tick.
While you're ticking all your real worries, dismiss all the fake worries on your list. These are worries typically relating to predictions of the future – things that 'might' happen.
'I might become bankrupt.'
'My cat might become ill.'
No one can predict the future, so these worries are pointless. They are as fake as a seven pound note.
The same applies to worries about the past. The past has gone and there is nothing you can do about it. Worrying about the past is just as useless and fake as worrying about the 'mights' of the future.
If you count all your real and fake worries up and put a percentage on them, you might find the 80/20 rule applies.
Approx 80% of your worries are fake, and 20% are worth your time and energy.
This exercise should help you realise just how much of your time and energy are dedicated to worrying about things that aren't real.
When you focus on reality, including real worries that count, you live and work smarter. You get more things done. You maximise your precious time and energy, suffering less worry and anxiety.
Keep doing this exercise, and the rational side of your mind will continue to take over. The evidence will present itself on paper, giving anxiety and worry less of an opportunity to bask in fakery.
You can put as much worry as you like into a thought or a series of thoughts. That worry and overthinking won't make any difference. All it will do is make you more anxious and more worried.
The only thing that will make a difference is action – taking action toward an outcome that will produce a different result – a result that takes you out of the worry.
Without getting out of that worry habit, the cycle looks a little like this:
Do nothing > Worry about doing it > Do nothing > Worry some more
The cycle will continue as long as you let worry lead you.
The key to breaking this cycle and the only thing you need to remember is that you have a choice.
The choice is, as my book suggests, anxiety or action.
You can sit there rocking in your chair, overthinking and allowing your fake worries to control how you feel. (Worries that amount to 80%.) Or you can get up off your seat and choose to put your focus, time and energy into an action that takes you in the direction you want to go.
You won't always get it right. Your action won't always go to plan. But that doesn't matter. Taking action will always trump inaction. (Even if that action is to consciously not act.)
No matter how much anxiety and worry have you wrapped up in their spiral of fear, remember, you have a choice.
Just being more aware of the anxiety or action choice can change everything. It puts you back in the driving seat. It gives you back control – control you always had, but was forgotten or left undiscovered.
At the very least, knowing you have a choice decreases the time spent worrying. The quicker you make the right choice, the faster you get out of the worry habit.
Now you know you can choose anxiety or action, which choice will you make?