I recently said to my son, “better to have a bird in the hand than two in the bush.” He looked at me like I was a lunatic; I then followed with an explanation of the 16th century proverb—warning against taking unnecessary risks.
Most of these wonderful old sayings wrap around a universal truth. The devil is in the detail means whatever we do, we should do properly. Fortune favours the bold was born out of the Roman Empire; a beautiful truism meaning we create our own luck. And, you’ll worry yourself sick is from the 1800’s where it was noted—long before we understood human biochemistry—that those most highly strung and worrisome, did not make old bones.
We now know with our very big modern-science brains, that we certainly can worry ourselves sick. The new science of epigenetics—the study of how our genes express themselves—has taught us that the trillions of cells in our bodies are impacted massively by the environment they live in. This biochemical environment is created by the food we eat, our exercise and the emotional state we experience each day. In general, cells love happiness and they don’t like stress.
Add to this the hormones oxytocin and cortisol which are produced largely as a result of how we feel and our stress levels, and you can see how our emotions impact on our well-being. Oxytocin is the love hormone which drives us to connect, while cortisol is the stress hormone which evolved so humans could handle famine and war—it keeps us awake and makes fat stick to us like glue. It is well-documented that long-term, sustained worry can reduce oxytocin and increase cortisol which is exactly what we don’t want.
Most of us know too much worry isn’t a good thing; just as we know eating two packets of chocolate biscuits doesn’t make us thin, yet why do we do it and how can we stop?
Worry is born out of the need to control; we want to control so we don’t get hurt, feel rejected, stupid or like we are not enough. Yes, there are benefits that can come from worrying: it can tip us into actively creating solutions, but on the whole it changes nothing and messes with our head, heart and flesh.
There are a gazillion words written on wonderful stress-reducing techniques: breathing, sleep, exercise, no sugar or caffeine and good sex—definitely do these.
My desire is to help you become more self-aware and to discover what’s underneath your worry. Think about these ideas, be honest with yourself, each of them will help you let go of the outcome and ultimately worry less.
Your need to be right.
Being right feels good—like we are in control. Unfortunately, most of the time, the need to be right is a passive/aggressive way of trying to control everyone and everything so life feels predictable.
We can make decisions about how we show up in the world, yet we can’t control the world around us; trying to, is exhausting and slowly erodes our intimate relationships.
Start to notice if you are the person who has to the have the last word or often contradicts others, just so you feel like you are right. If this is you, first notice the behaviour and then make a massive effort to shut your trap. Keeping quiet will feel unfamiliar at first, but the more you do it, the more you will see what unfolds when your ego is out of the way.
Finding compassion for yourself.
It is very hard to have compassion for others if we do not have compassion for ourselves.
How can I explain this? We worry because we think worrying will help us control the world around us; bend it to our needs and beliefs—it’s really easy to worry about absolutely everything. I believe underneath this worry is scarcity thinking; the idea that there isn’t enough—that we are not enough. We are fed on this tit of scarcity because it keeps us consuming and compliant.
What does this have to do with compassion? To accept that we are enough—which means accepting ourselves entirely: the good, the delicious, the bad and the broken—we have to have compassion for ourselves. This compassion and self-love enables us to slowly let go of the need to control the unpredictability of life.
Give luck the space to turn up.
I’m totally into vision, planning, goals, accountability and all that. However, paralysis by analysis is a very real thing and unless we are prepared to lean into our possibilities—to let go of worry and fear and trust our abilities—creativity will be suffocated and there will be no space for people or things to happen spontaneously.
If you playing full-on in the arena of life, things never go exactly as planned, fortunately the law of averages guarantees for every hiccup or catastrophe, there is an unexpected win. Let go of the outcome, allow the space for luck to turn up and serendipity to be part of your plan.
The worst possible outcome.
A great tool to help with worry is to imagine the worst possible outcome. I’ve been using this simple practice for many years; I imagine the worst possible outcome in a situation when I feel fear or uncertainty trying to shut me down. I say to myself, “what is the worst thing that can happen?” Almost always, the only thing that will be damaged is my ego.
Try it. When you realise your heart will keep beating and no limbs will be lost, you’ll find the courage to allow things to unfold without sacrificing hours of your life at the altar of worry.
Just say yes.
My challenge for you today, right now, is to choose to say “yes” for the next 24 hours.
Don’t think about the outcome, just say yes when there is a choice. Say it with an open heart, with excitement and delight—no fear or worry. For sure you’ll experience something new, and whatever unfolds that you didn’t expect, you’ll learn and grow. I’m sure, you—like me, will discover how safe the world can actually be.
How often have you been told – Believe in yourself! Follow your dreams! You can do anything!?