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After two sessions in a row with clients discussing problem-solving versus worrying, I realized that they’d been confusing the two activities and, therefore, were making themselves more anxious by worrying when they thought that what they were doing would reduce it. If you’re a worrier, this blog will help you understand its false promise.
Worrying, a misguided attempt to reduce anxiety which generally produces more of it, takes place in a closed looped within the mind. It’s an internal process, an intra-psychic phenomenon. Like a dog chasing its tail, thoughts race around in repeating circles without getting anywhere. We imagine various scenarios and outcomes, but our fears remain, so we return to generating more or better solutions. It’s like trying to know what the weather is like when you’re indoors. You can’t. You need to step outside to find out.
Problem-solving, on the other hand, takes place outside of your mind in the real world where the problems are. For this to happen, you’ll want to intentionally develop strategies to solve problems and prepare yourself with numerous Plan Bs. However, you can’t know if strategies will succeed (and reduce your anxiety) until you’ve tried them where your problems are occurring, that is, out in the world. Taking your show on the road is the only way to ascertain if your ideas will actually make things better.
There’s a difference between worrying and planning. Worry is unbidden—it’s not as if you say to yourself, “Okay, I’m going to worry for a bit now”—and focuses on what will happen if you fail. Planning is deliberately strategizing about how to succeed. For example, say, you’re going to a party and are anxious about eating too much or too many unhealthy foods. Rather than worry, you could purposefully visualize and mentally rehearse eating in a way that makes you proud, identify ways you’ve eaten at previous parties which have worked and practice eating slowly and mindfully all the time.
Worry has no end because it’s simply a bunch of fears and thoughts that insist on taking laps around your head. Worrying doesn’t advance your cause nor does it ensure positive outcomes. Rather than produce a viable product, it only feeds on itself. Worrying breeds worrying, anxiety breeds anxiety. It bears repeating that you can’t know how you’ll do in a situation (no matter how much time you invest in worry) until you’re out there seeing how your plan fares. If you are not at the point of being able to take your ideas for a test drive because the event you’re concerned about is in the future, there’s no point in worrying. Spend conscious time planning and preparing, then give your brain a well-deserved rest.
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