Today, we share a guest post from blogger and multi-award winning professional coach, Lori Karpman. Enjoy :)
Do you ever find yourself worrying about things that may happen in the future? Does your mind reel from imagining a host of outcomes to your dilemmas, resulting in anxiety, stress and overwhelm?
Well, STOP IT!!!
This nasty habit is preventing you from living a calmer and more productive life. About fifteen years ago, when I learned how to worry only about real, actual problems, my life changed forever. I will teach you this essential lesson. While implementing it does take a conscious effort, though not a difficult one, it does become effortless over time. By eliminating the noise of the unknown, the brain is free to creatively and effectively solve the problems you really do have. Your overall quality of life will increase exponentially; I guarantee it.
I am living proof.
We all have a tendency to wonder about the “what if’s” in our life and then create a multitude of possible scenarios and outcomes in our minds; this is normal behavior. What if we only worried about things that we knew for sure? Wouldn’t that be easier and significantly less stressful? By worrying about outcomes that can or may happen, we create a state of perpetual anxiety and waste precious mental energy on problems that well…aren’t really problems yet. The mind can easily imagine challenges that theoretically can never happen or that have a zero chance of materializing.
This is my story about how this simple little lesson altered my life forever. At 37, I had a great life, successful business, married, wealthy, great kids, my health and two living, loving parents. At 38 it was all gone! During that year I was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease (a chronic inflammatory bowel disease); my Mother passed away, my marriage fell apart from the stress of it all and I had major bowel surgery.
My Mother’s passing and my own health crisis made me realize that life is too short and precious and it should be lived happily. These two incidents were the straws that broke the camel’s back, prompting me to divorce my husband of 20 years. In fact, I was so ill that my gastroenterologist told me that if I stayed with my husband (who created a state of permanent anxiety for me), that I would never be well.
Imagine that news from your doctor - not only surgery but a divorce was required for me to heal and be well again!
So here I was only a few months later, chronically ill, grieving the loss of my Mother, recovering from major bowel surgery, getting a divorce and moving out of the family home, when only 8 months earlier my life was completely intact. Talk about imaging “what if’s”? I had at least one hundred thousand of them at any given time and the permutations and combination were endless and exhausted me. The fear of the unknown was unbelievably crushing and I was overwhelmed. At that time, I got the best piece of advice I have ever received from a dear friend.
The lesson is this: Worry about today’s problems today; they are the only problems that are known and real, that can and need to be solved or dealt with in the present.
As for the future ones, that is, whatever challenges your mind can conjure up – do not waste your energy or time on them. The imagined predicaments are just that, figments of your imagination, not reality and certainly not problems yet. This is the trick, if you have the ability to create a desired outcome, or prevent a bad one, then you need to act in a way that is consistent with creating that outcome. For example, if you are worried about failing an exam, worrying about it will not help. You need to actually study to affect the outcome. If, however, you do not have the ability to change or affect the outcome with your thoughts or actions, then worrying about it is not going change the results but it will cause anxiety. For example, if you had a job interview, worrying about what you might have said wrong or could have done better is not going to affect the outcome. The outcome is no longer in your hands. Fear and worry do nothing but create stress that cannot be effectively relieved. In most cases we have no control over the outcome- and we can only imagine so many scenarios in our heads, not the millions of them that we have not contemplated.
I never in a million years imagined that I would live with a chronic disease, lose my Mother (and soon after my Father) so early in life, have major surgery and be divorced. But once these things did begin to happen I worried incessantly about what was going to happen next. So, I diligently applied the advice I was given and decided not to worry about how to solve problems that had not materialized yet, and probably never would.
The crises our minds can conjure up will most likely never happen. And even if it does happen, we may have to deal with a scenario entirely different than the one we were mentally prepared to deal with; one of the thousands of outcomes we had never even considered, expected or foreseen. Additionally, we most often assume negative outcomes, but assuming a positive one (even without determining what that would look like) is more likely to create one. The general rule is simple: wait until a problem becomes a problem because only at that time will you have all the information you need to deal with and solve it. Once it is “known” it is “today’s problem” and you will be able to put the energy required into creating a positive outcome having all the information required to deal with it effectively and put your full energy into analyzing the workable solutions.
When you realize that you are suffering from fear of the unknown and make a conscious decision to deal only with what is actually “known”, you will create a life of peace for yourself. It does take practice like any new habit, but you will find it extremely liberating once you can master it. Each day becomes a new day and a fresh start. I know that this has been the case for me. I no longer wake up every morning with a feeling of dread over what “may” happen today. Eventually you just stop doing it, and when trouble arises you will hear that little voice in your head say, “I’ll worry about that if or when it becomes a real problem” (and I know what I have to worry about). It is not today’s problem. I only work on today’s problems.” You will also find yourself calmer when dealing with dilemmas and your brain will function at a much higher level as it is not cluttered with irrational anxiety. It is now free to become infinitely more creative at problem solving since it now has the room to envision positive solutions without the overwhelm of issues that are superfluous. This leaves open space for the mind to be innovative and for you to live life with more energy with which to imagine and create a positive and fulfilling life.
Of all the advice I have given clients over the years, this is the one for which I am thanked for most profusely. The road to happiness is always under construction. But if we can remember that fearing the unknown is fruitless and fraught with anxiety, then we can begin to live a life without fear, filled with the energy required to live life happily and to the fullest.
Feel free to share your story with me or tell me how this lesson affects your life in the comments below.
Lori Karpman is the CEO of Lori Karpman & Company, a full service management consulting firm and Head Coach at Coach Lori, her personal and professional coaching practice. A multi-award winning professional and former attorney, Lori is passionate about helping others reach their potential and lead a fulfilling life. To learn more, click here.