Empty Worries, Worthless Stress
I am not a doctor nor do I play one on television. I do make it a point to constantly observe and pay attention to those around me, however, and based on what I have witnessed, I am confident that the following statement is accurate.
Stress kills. I am not talking about the type of stress that you may think you feel right before a big moment or in the heat of a debate. The kind of stress that will kill you is the long term, over riding stress that does not go away. It won’t kill you right away either. It prefers to work you over slowly and methodically, destroying your positive energy and sucking the joy from your life until you are eventually consumed with and paralyzed by worry, fear, and dread.
I also am firmly convinced that you cannot live life worry free either. Some worry and, therefore, some stress result from living a life that entails a level of personal responsibility, care for others, and defined values and beliefs.
So, if worry is a part of life, you must find a way to effectively manage it and channel it toward something positive because the alternative is simply not an option.
Worrying for the sake of it is not productive. If you are one of those people who purposely worry because you have made yourself believe that you will create a positive outcome by focusing on the worst that could happen, please stop and think about that for a second.
If you find that you are a worrier by nature, take some time and reflect on what the causes of all that worry are. Be as specific as you can and identify as many different roots for that worry as possible. Once you have done that, sort your worries into two categories, the things that you can do something about and those that you cannot.
Study the list that you feel you have some influence and control over and start thinking about the decisions that you need to make and the actions that you need to take to handle the causes of those worries. When you do that, you will take control of a situation that you have otherwise let control you prior to that point.
If you agree that stress is only caused by what you cannot control or do not understand, then you will go a long way toward eliminating that stress by taking action and exercising your powers to reason, decide, and ultimately execute a plan.
By identifying the source of your worry and then acting to eliminate it, you have made your worry count. I call this productive worrying. Trying to stop your mind from wandering to a place of concern when you are a responsible, caring person is a futile task. Thinking of a worry as an indicator that you need to take action is a healthy way to channel your worry toward a better situation and a desired outcome.
If you are worried about how you are going to do on a test, go back over your notes or ask a friend to quiz you on the material. If you are worried about that presentation you have to make tomorrow, practice it one more time and then make it a point to concentrate on something else, whether that be a good book, your favorite show, or the jigsaw puzzle that you have been avoiding.
Now, back to the list of the items that you are worrying about for which you have no control and cannot influence. The easy thing to say is to just forget those things because you cannot do anything about them anyway. I am not going to say that for two reasons; one is that it doesn’t help and two is that there are some situations that fall into this category that are still worth a lot of your thought and concern even if there isn’t much you can do about it.
Concern for the health of a loved one, for example, is a perfectly natural and unavoidable source of worry. Depending on the severity of the situation, it could also be the cause of stress and anxiety. Even in this situation, it helps to focus as best as you can on the things that you can do versus the things that are beyond your control. Many times, the actions that you take, even in the face of what is a difficult or impossible situation, are the actions that will be the most meaningful and helpful.
Providing comfort, sharing thoughts, or spending time with the person you are concerned about are all things that will come a little easier to you if you are focused on what you can do as opposed to being consumed by the worry and fear that multiplies exponentially if you are solely focused on what you cannot do or what is beyond your control.
Recognizing your worries for what they are, categorizing them appropriately, deciding to take action when and where you can are all steps that will ensure that your worries are productive and helpful. If you handle your worries effectively, you will prevent stress from negatively influencing your life and you will live much more enjoyably as a result.
One further comment about stress that highlights this point. Not all stress is bad. I have worked with many people on public speaking. We devote a great deal of time overcoming the barriers that many people create or misinterpret that prevent them from trying their hand at making presentations or speeches. Several people reference their nerves, or the lump in their throat, or the butterflies in their stomach as reasons why they have no willingness to speak or perform in front of others.
These sensations may feel like stress, but they are really just indicators that something big is about to happen. Everyone’s inner self works a little differently, but we are all creatures of habit in one way or another and we all have indicators that tell us something different is going on. If you are open to that explanation, try to embrace it the next time one of your indicators is blinking.
Give the roller coaster a try, stand up when others sit down, go forward instead of turning around and just see what happens. You may find exhilaration and joy where you expected to find fear or embarrassment.
That part is up to you. Just don’t ever allow those empty worries to develop into worthless stress.
This article is part of Scott Arney's educational series, entitled The Serial Decision Maker.
(This is the fifth chapter of Scott Arney's Super Hero Series, which starts with Fear is Our Enemy)
You may know him as the guard that stands between you and the triple chocolate cake that is seductively transfixing you from the dessert menu. You may also know him as a reference point in some of my previous articles. You may have never heard of him before.
However you may know or not know him, I would like to re-introduce an old friend of mine, Will Power. Will, as he is known to his friends and relatives, is another one of those people I am lucky to know, a seemingly ordinary person with extraordinary super hero qualities.
At an early age, Will Power determined that he could exercise a greater control of his life and its direction if he took command of his decision-making. Once he developed that resolve, he quickly discovered that it was only the first step in his journey. Deciding what he wanted and how he was going to go about getting it was only the beginning.
Once he made a decision and then began taking the corresponding steps he determined he needed to take to achieve the goal associated with that decision, he started experiencing all kinds of unforeseen circumstances, unexpected turns, and various other obstacles.
When he gave thought to how he might be able to regain control over his situation, he started by looking for any common elements he could find amongst the events and situations that had knocked him off track. He determined that there were three main problems that he needed to fix: unclear priorities, a lack of focus, and inadequate determination.
This was his turning point because each of the three problems he identified were completely within his power to resolve and his resolution gave way to his three step process that ultimately made him more powerful than he ever could have imagined.
He tells me that when your priorities are in order, your path to your desired result is a lot less cluttered. More simply put, your priorities help you to determine whether or not the result of the action you take or don’t take will mean more to you than the result of doing the opposite.
If your priority is to lose weight than that result has to mean more to you than whatever pleasure you will derive from chowing down on that luscious dessert. If your priority is to save money than the benefit you will gain from that savings plan has to be more valuable to you than what you are considering spending that money on before you achieve your savings goal.
How you choose to set your priorities is merely an extension of your own decision-making. Will Power learned that his path to becoming a super hero would be much easier if he knew the rewards he would reap from setting goals and he would be more likely to achieve worthwhile rewards if he took the time he needed to organize his priorities up front. He also found that his priorities were easier to set when he made it a point to clearly understand the people and plans that were most important to him.
From there, he turned his attention to his lack of focus. He felt that it was something that was getting more difficult to achieve and maintain. Even if he was not seeking information, he was likely to get bombarded with it. As an example, even if he was not shopping for anything, he would still receive multiple sale offers. With the proliferation of social media and multiple communication channels, the opportunity to get distracted is greater than it ever has been.
Will Power figured out that the strength of his focus would basically be derived from the clarity of his priorities. He was able to maintain his focus by concentrating on what his priorities were. He is not immune to the potential distractions and temptations that you may be surrounded by. He simply is able to effectively ignore them because he is focused on his desired result or ultimate goal. Because he intertwines his focus with his priorities, both his focus and his priorities are individually and collectively stronger and more effective.
Once he had his priorities and focus lined up, the only test left for him to pass on his way to becoming a super hero was the strength of his resolve.
Anytime you demonstrate inner strength, you run the risk of putting yourself at odds with your peer group or your neighbors or your co-workers. You can count on there being a reason that it takes power to stay true to your own will or to follow a path that you have carefully planned.
Perhaps the strongest test of your will you will ever face comes from the people you know the best, your peer group. For as far back as you can remember, you have probably been aware of the pressure, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, to be like everyone else in your group. Maybe it was pressure to dress a certain way or pressure to conform to a certain type of thinking. Maybe you have felt pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle.
In whatever form it has taken, you have likely been subject to peer pressure. Will Power certainly was and as soon as he started to exercise his own will and his own decision-making, he found out just how uncomfortable it could be when he put his own thoughts and ideas to work, especially when they did not exactly align with those of his peer group.
He discovered that when he utilized his own unique abilities, he naturally began to set himself apart from others. This does not mean that he was on course toward confrontation with others, merely that he was acting in contrast to them because he was unlocking his own potential and becoming more distinct in the process.
Some of his peers adapted and some did not, but Will Power found that he also made new friends and developed new peers along the way. When he remained determined to achieve the goals he was setting, he found that he naturally attracted the company of others on a similar path.
When Will Power successfully put these steps together and locked them in with the strength of his resolve, he began to see firsthand just how powerful he was. His new found powers are unique to him in the same way that your powers would be unique to you were you to determine that you wanted to become your own version of Will Power.
Be sure to check Scott's Spot on Patrolmen's Dispatch for each chapter of his Super Hero Series, which starts with Fear is Our Enemy; and his ongoing Serial Decision Maker series.
The Serial Decision Maker
Patrolmen's Dispatch is honored to feature the daily blog of Scott Arney, CEO, Chicago Patrolmen's Federal Credit Union.