“The happiest people don’t worry too much about whether life is fair or not, they just get on with it.” – Andrew Matthews
Do you worry too much? Do you worry more than you think reasonable, and try to stop?
How does that usually work out for you?
If you’re like most people who struggle with worry, you probably find that the struggle to stop just brings you more. It’s frustrating. The harder you try, the worse it seems to get. You might even find yourself worrying about how you worry too much.
It’s Not Your Fault
It’s easy, and all too common, to blame yourself for this problem. But it’s not your fault.
Most people get poor results when they oppose their worry. And the methods that psychologists and other professionals have traditionally offered for this problem have often produced disappointing results.
Traditional Remedies For People Who Worry Too Much
Traditional psychotherapists, who use psychoanalytic methods, try to help people reduce their anxiety by figuring out “why” they worry too much. They hope this understanding will produce a kind of “aha” moment and bring the problem to an end. All too often, though, this simply produces worriers who are better informed about themselves. They know more about “why” they worry too much – but they still worry too much!
Cognitive Behavioral therapists suggest that anxiety is the result of mistaken thoughts and beliefs about yourself and the world around you, and offer ways of noticing, and correcting, these “errors of thinking”. They hope that these corrections will lead to a major reduction in worry, so you no longer worry too much. This works for some people. For others, though, this produces people who recognize the errors in their thoughts, but still feel the anxious reactions and struggle in vain to stop those mistaken thoughts.
A variety of would-be experts have even endorsed “thought stopping”, in which you sternly tell yourself “STOP” whenever you experience an unwanted unpleasant thought. This is almost always more trouble than it’s worth, and you can read about it here if you like. But here’s the bottom line: Don’t even think about thought stopping!
If you have tried these methods and been disappointed in the results you obtained, there’s probably a good reason for this disappointment.
Chronic Worry is a counter-intuitive problem
In my experience, the most common reason people fail in their efforts to worry less is that this is a counter-intuitive problem. What does that mean, counter-intuitive? A counter-intuitive problem is one for which your gut instinct, your intuitive idea of how to solve it, is usually wrong. The solution to a counter-intuitive problem will usually be something more like the opposite of your gut instinct.
The most common intuitive idea of how to respond to anxious thoughts is to “stop thinking that”! This hardly ever works. You probably know some well-meaning friends or relatives who try to help you by telling you not to think about it, and you probably know how useless that suggestion is. It doesn’t work any better when it comes to yourself!
There are lots of problems that are counter-intuitive. If your dog gets off the leash and runs away from you, your gut instinct is probably to run after him. But he has four legs to your two, and the results will be poor. You’ll get better results if you run away from him because then he will probably turn and chase you.
If you’re driving on an icy road and start skidding toward a phone pole, where should you steer? If you steer away from the pole, you’ll probably be talking to your insurance agent soon. You’ll get better results if you steer at the pole because then the skid will take you away from it.
If you’re at an ocean beach and a big wave comes in, and you don’t want to get knocked down, where should you go? If you rush for shore, you’ll probably be swallowing sand and saltwater soon. You’ll get better results if you dive into the base of the wave and let it pass over you.