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