One of my friends likes to remind me that everyone is worrying all the time, because he senses that I almost never worry. He's right, and when I do worry it tends to be a more active process where there's something happening and I'm trying to figure out what to do about it. I'm not really even sure that can be defined as worry.
Of course, a large part of being able to rarely worry is that I have a very good life. If I was in an abusive relationship and under constant threat of violence, I have to assume that I would worry all the time.
While there are circumstances from which it is very difficult to extricate oneself, I've found that a lot of not worrying is just putting yourself in a position where you have few things which concern you.
A perfect example is living below your means. I have always been perfectly willing to live below my means, even when there wasn't all that much room below the bar. For a while I lived in my RV and cooked the same lentil, quinoa, and vegetable stew every night for dinner. Though I really enjoyed that lifestyle, it was certainly less convenient and comfortable than living in a nice apartment and eating out every night.
I think that it is nearly always worth it to trade convenience and comfort for peace of mind. I felt very motivated when I lived in my RV, and the lack of worry gave me the mental space in which to work. Worry can paralyze, but discomfort doesn't paralyze unless it's extreme.
I also eat healthy food, abstain from all drugs and alcohol, and live a relatively active life. That gives me excellent health, which causes me to worry very little about illness. I also avoid medical treatment except in the case of emergency (which I've never needed so far), so seeing my body recover from minor colds and illness makes me worry when it happens the next time.
I also spend a lot of time systematically eliminating things which might worry me. I take time to finish up projects and tie up loose ends so that I don't have a million small things floating around my head. I build automatic systems to email me, keep track of things, or automate things. For example, when I go too far from my house the water valve automatically closes and the water heater turns off. I don't think people are aware of the plaque-like buildup of too many tiny worries or the free feeling of eliminating them.
Beyond removing myself from stressful situations and investing time in eliminating stressors, I have spent significant effort training myself mentally. Many years ago I realized that the one constant in my life would always be my brain, so I should make it as good as possible. Not in an intellectual sense, but in an operating sense. I want for my thought patterns to support me and enable me, and I constantly train myself to ensure that they do.
For example, as soon as I feel a little bit of worry, my immediate response is to completely erase the worry by going through a series of thoughts that I believe to be 100% true. This isn't a rigid list, but rather a typical flow I would have:
"I've worried before and everything in my life is great now, which means that all of that worry was probably useless. If that's true, this one must be too."
"No one has everything go correctly in their life, so to expect that is completely ridiculous. It's more important to exert influence to make most things go right."
"When something goes wrong, which it seems it may, the most important thing I can do is recover from it. Rather than worry, I should pre-plan my response to any likely scenario."
"People have much bigger problems than this. It is insensitive for me to worry about something so small when others are worrying about life or death situations."
I could go on and on. These thoughts come extremely naturally to me because I used to force myself to generate them even when it didn't come easily. Now that I have practiced that so much, like any skill, it has become ingrained and it is the only way I am able to think. It is extremely difficult for me to feel any negative emotion because my brain has been rewired to always see the positive and be proactive about responding to situations.
If you ever worry, these are all steps that you should consider taking. Think about big moves you can make to eliminate huge chunks of worry. Dedicate days or hours to tying up loose ends and preventing future worry. Make it a constant habit to train your brain to think in ways which will serve you. There will be many challenges in life, and none of them will be made easier if your brain is half on your side and half against you, or worse.
Photo is a bat heating himself up on a heating vent in the Budapest Zoo
Tynan - Have you thought about becoming a pilot? Reading this post got me thinking you'd make a great one. Flight training teaches a pilot to eliminate risks (and worries) via thorough pre-flight planning and in-flight execution. Also, use of "what if" scenario discussions helps to eliminate worries by thinking about how to handle scenarios you've read about before they happen to you. This sort of thinking translates well to every day life too.
Love this perspective on worry.
Btw, I think there is a "not" missing from this part that makes it say the opposite of what is meant:
"so seeing my body recover from minor colds and illness makes me worry when it happens the next time.
When I notice myself worrying about some problem X I flip it around using the WWIT question. egWhat Would It Take to easily and joyfully solve X this week?
I've had a few friends who've gone through quitting smoking. The hard part, they say, is that certain things trigger wanting to smoke. Stressful situation? Time to smoke. Driving a car? Time to smoke. Drinking at a bar? Time to smoke. The reason that bad habits are so hard to quit is that we have these many triggers that start us down that path almost automatically. A compulsive eater might get into a stressful situation and have a hamburger halfway into their face before they even consciously think about whether or not they should be eating.
The silver lining of this nuance of human nature is that we can also harness triggers to create positive habits. Just as bad habits are so hard to break because of our triggers, good habits can be made resilient using the same mechanism. And just as bad habits are built slowly and incrementally, so are good habits.
I meditate for five minutes every day. As soon as I wake up, I grab my phone and press the start button on a five minute meditation timer. Waking up is my trigger. At first I had to remind myself to do the meditation every morning, but now I do it almost automatically. It would feel strange not to meditate. Just as a veteran smoker is likely to have a harder time quitting than a new smoker, the longer I keep my meditation habit, the easier it becomes to maintain.
There are two main types of triggers: contextual triggers and constant triggers. Waking up is a constant trigger, since I do it every single day and want to meditate every day. A contextual trigger is something that happens at an inconsistent frequency. For me, feeling tired during the day is a contextual trigger. Whenever that happens, I drink a glass of water, because I've found that sometimes I'm just dehydrated and not actually tired.
I have to give a very special shout out to Andalusia, especially Granada, and more specifically, the Alpujarra.
This place is special. The landscape and history is as magnificent as it is beautiful. The people are straightforward and honest, generous and open. The culture, scenery, and regional specialties are plentiful.
Everyday I meet a cornucopia of interesting people, as the area attracts all walks of life; tourists, travelers, students, and foreigners. Every pueblo, villa, or ciudad seems similar at first glance and simultaneously has its own unique character that could keep you discovering new places for months!
There are so many things to do! So many interesting sights to see, beautiful streets to get lost on, scenic hikes and trails to be discovered (in Granada's own backyard), bars to cram into, tiny villages to discover...the list does not end.
There is something in the air that is contagious, because the longer you are here the more relaxed about everything you feel...whether it is being muy tranquilo about things like people running late or plans changing last minute, or being open to spontaneity and making the best out of what you have, and definitely not wasting too much time worrying. My favorite and most used word here is disfrutar - to enjoy. That has become my bottom line on many matters, and people seem to be attracted to the region for the same reason.