“It’s not time to worry yet.”
Atticus Finch, To Kill A Mockingbird
I love Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird; it’s been one of my favourite books since I first read it at school. So much wisdom is contained within those 90,000-odd words it’s mind-boggling.
Life is full of worries – health, money, work, family, pets, homes, gardens, weather. Things that worry us slightly, things that worry us not at all and things that take up our every waking moment.
The trick to keeping on top of it all is knowing that what you’re worrying about is the right thing.
Right and wrong
If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’ll know that one of my biggest philosophies in life is that there is no right answer.
“Each to their own” is one of the most over-quoted truisms on the planet – what works for you may not work for me and what works for me probably doesn’t work for the next person.
But sometimes, the grey areas we usually enhabit slide closer to the black and white ends of the spectrum.
So it is with worries.
Choose your worries
We would all like the sort of charmed life where nothing bothers us or causes concern. But life doesn’t work like that. Many, many things can get in the way of a peaceful mind. The trick is to know what the right things to worry about are.
I try to slap a label on all of my concerns as soon as they pop up in my head using a very simple categorisation: Things I Can Do Something About and Things I Can’t Do Anything About.
Things I Can’t Do Anything About
This should be pretty self-explanatory and I’m sure most of you understand the concept: if there’s nothing you can do about it, there’s no point fretting over it.
For example, just yesterday I went and interviewed for a kick-ass social media job with a charity I respect and would love to work with. I now have to wait for them to get back and tell me whether or not they want me.
Waiting sucks, but there’s no point in me sitting around and worrying about it. I’ve done everything I can: I’ve been to the interview, I’ve followed up with a couple of nice Tweets and an email and now I just have to sit and wait. Worrying won’t get me the job. So let it go.
Easier said than done, I hear your cry (or mutter from the back) and, yes, it can be. But you can work on it, too.
Next time you feel your hackles rising in a giant traffic jam that’s making you late for a meeting, rather than shouting at the stationary cars in front of you (who are probably as irate and eager to move as you are), try taking a deep breath and realising that it’s all beyond your control, so it’s not worth your energy.
Things I Can Do Something About
These things tend to fall into 2 sub-categories: quick-fix problems and long-term worries.
If it’s a quick-fix, it becomes like David Allen’s Getting Things Done programme: if you can deal with it in under 5 minutes, go get it out the way and off your chest.
Had an argument with your loved one? Is the idea of them seething at you stressing you out? Go downstairs, give them a hug and apologise (or at least make peace). Done, off your mind.
Longer-term problems and stresses can be far harder to deal with but, like GTD, they can usually be broken into small steps.
Think about the usual major worries of our lives, something like debt.
Are you feeling the pinch of the economy’s downturn? Struggling to meet your bills? Worried about hitting your minimum payments? I’ve been there.
But there are things you can do: you can call your credit companies and negotiate a deal with them. You can search for a(nother) job, something to give you a little financial boost to keep the money flowing while you’re struggling. You can even start your own business.
All of these things can be small steps that start to ease the pressure of the worries that surround you.
Our finite resources
We all have a limited amount of energy. Granted, some of us have a good deal more than others, but it’s still finite.
For every worry we carry on our shoulders we use up a little bit of that mental energy. The more we can offload, the lighter we get and the more we can eek out those reserves to deal with the big problems.
If we fixate on the small things, the pointless things, the easily fixable things, then we’re bound to wear ourselves down so that the big things suddenly seem impossible. If you make a mountain from a molehill, just imagine what a real mountain will look like when you finally face one!
By learning what we need to worry about over the things that are out of our control or easily fixed, we have more energy to tackle the Big Stuff and less fear when we face it down.
After all, if you can kick over a molehill, a mountain can’t be that hard. Can it?
What’s your biggest worry right now? What steps can you take today to help ease your mind, even if it’s only a little?
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