This article is an elaboration of my Worry and Storytelling articles with a new take on how to transform this energy.
So each week I have a number of people who see me and they present something they are worried about. We will talk about how worry is a manifestation of fear and a projection of our fears into the future. Then I will talk about how the process of worry feeds into our minds preoccupation with storytelling. That is, when our minds cannot figure out worry, our minds take us to a logical place – because that is our minds default in figuring stuff out. So we go to this logical place and the mind says, ok, here is something I’m worried about, how will this most likely and logically work out?
So this is where we get into trouble. Our minds start to run away with the idea of figuring out a solution to the worry. Our minds start to create a fictional story of how it might work out with just a few nuggets of information. From those few nuggets the mind creates a full-blown Technicolor presentation giving us a real-time disaster scenario of how our worry will manifest in real life.
And from this fictional movie that our minds have created, we believe this movie to be real. And when we start to believe it’s real, or that it could really happen, and guess what happens inside our bodies?
We start to breathe shallowly, our heart rate increases, more adrenaline starts to flow and in general we feel anxious.
And this is all from a fictional movie we have just made up in our heads.
A common example I use in explaining this scenario is say for instance you work with someone whom you are also friends with outside of work. You see this person at work, and say you are passing them in the hallway and your friend is usually cheerful, at least as much as someone can be at work. But that day, your friend is not as cheerful, and did not seem as overly friendly as usual.
One of two things tend to happen within people. One is; you notice that your friend isn’t as cheerful as usual, and, you notice this, make a note of it in your mind, and remind yourself to later follow-up and ask your friend if everything is ok.
The second scenario is what happens with most people is that they start to make up a story. This story starts with the nugget that your friend noticed you but didn’t seem as cheerful. So, the story starts with a fact. And then a little fear creeped into your mind and maybe a little insecurity. Many people will start to take the nugget and run it through what I call their filter. If their internal filter is clogged with insecurities or fears, guess what?, a story based in fear and insecurity is going to come out the other side.
So they take the nugget of fact and embellish this nugget into a story to make it fit with the insecurities and fears they have already brewing.
Well, when we passed in the hallway this morning, I didn’t get her usual cheery response? Is something wrong?, What could be wrong?. Is it something I did? Something I said? Maybe it’s because I didn’t like what she brought in for the pot luck last week? Maybe it’s because I didn’t think her joke the other day was that funny? Is she mad at me? I bet it’s because of….
So, you get the idea. We have all been there. We have all created these fictional storytelling accounts that in the moment seem so real to us. We run the nugget of fact through our filters. Then if we are feeling particularly insecure, or vulnerable, or unsure of things that’s where we get into trouble.
We let our insecurities get the best of us.
Let’s take another scenario that happened to me. One of our cars was giving us some trouble as in the coolant light came on, check engine sort of thing. So the mechanic looked at it, topped off the coolant and sent us on our way. I’m not mechanical and don’t make any apologies for it – that’s just not my thing. Anyway, a few days later the car starts up fine, but then just stops. Triple A couldn’t start the car and it had to be towed.
What do you think my mind wanted to do at that point. That’s right, my mind wanted to start to worry. My mind also started “reaching” for answers as to what, why, where etc. My mind was also searching within my history for how I would think and feel about these situations in the past. I even felt myself feeling as I used to feel when things on my equipment would go mechanically wrong – I started to feel, but resisted the urge that I “should know” what to do.
So, my mind was searching to make sense of this situation and my mind wanted to create a most likely scenario of how this would play out based on nuggets of information. I try to practice what I teach, and I knew what my mind was doing. I had the fortunate position of sitting back as it were, “watching” what my mind was doing with this situation.
What I found was that I would go back to my “everything is going to be OK, and everything is going to work out, I just don’t know how it’s going to work out” mantra.
This mantra or affirmation usually works for me. But what I was finding was it worked to a point and then my mind started up the little movies and storytelling again. So, I had this ongoing ping-pong match in my head with this situational nugget, the attempts at storytelling and my attempts at reframing and calming my thoughts.
The observer in me noticed that I was spending time with the back and forth. How I was using all my skills not to go to the worry place. And then it came to me. What if I transformed this energy of redirecting and reframing worry into a sense of Wonder?
Almost immediately the energy inside of me shifted. When I asked myself, I wonder how this is going to work out?, I no longer was in the ping-pong match. I was no longer trying to use my skills to affirm and calm myself.
I gave my mind the directive of wondering how this was going to work out and I moved myself out of the path of fear or worry.
Certainly the situation was still the same (and eventually the car was fixed), but once I started wondering I could feel a shift inside of me. My body felt calmer, my heart rate slowed, my breathing relaxed and I think I even let out a sigh of relief.
I brought into myself a sense of Wonder. Wonder brings to us a hopefulness and freedom. Wonder isn’t limiting, it is expanding. As in, “Huh, I wonder how this is going to work out?”. Maybe we run some scenarios through our mind wondering, but this feels different to me that of storytelling.
The worry storytelling that I was doing, and what most people do, is based in fear and fear is the lack or diminished sense of hope. Wonder brings in a hopefulness and promise.
We often hear of wonder related to “a childlike wonder”. But why is it that only children get to have wonder? Childlike implies innocence or being unaware of the bigger picture or bigger consequences. And, I think there is a longing that most adults have to recapture and to think and feel this childlike wonderment again. Amber Rae in her book “Choose Wonder over Worry” references that: “Wonder is what we are born with, Worry is what we learn, Now is the time to return to Wonder”. And just as a side note, I had not known of Rae’s book before I even came up with this idea or started to write this article. It was only in researching references that I found her book! Maybe I was tapping into a shift in our bigger consciousness?
Just try this for a moment right now. Think of something that is on your mind where you are in a fear place, worried how this will work out, how it will turn out. Now take those nuggets of information you have and just insert “I wonder?”.
Did you notice a shift? Did this feel different to you to wonder? This may take some practice as for some of us our minds are reluctant to change. For many it is hard to move out of this fear place because the fear place or worry place feels like we are in control. In reality we have control over ourselves, but if you are worried about someone else we have little control. That control is just an illusion, created and fortified by the storytelling to seem real to us and reassure ourselves, but it’s just all fiction.
So, the next time you start to worry see if you can transform this thought energy inside of you into a sense of wonderment.
Robert Jackman, LCPC
Choose Wonder over Worry: Move beyond Fear and Doubt to unlock your full potential. Amber Rae
The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You. Robert Leahy