I was driving on a remote section of highway in the Yukon when I read this sign.
Worry is a waste of imagination.
I thought about it for a couple of kilometers. It was a hand-painted sign nailed to a tree. Someone just put it there. I kept wondering about what their day must have been like for someone to take the time to do that. That would never make my to-do list. I’d worry I was wasting my time. Why would I worry about that?
It is normal to worry these days. Everyday. Worry is a part of the fear driven world inspired by thoughts about what could go wrong. Now, I’m not saying preparing for what might go wrong is always a bad thing. It gives you a heads up as to what might happen, based on what has happened, and the physical possibilities in the future, so you can prepare.
The problem arises when we are fed information to manipulate our fear instinct, from a lot of sources, and we become overwhelmed to the point of abdicating our power to someone or something else, like George Bush, or super-whitening-breath-freshening-social-status-enhancing toothpaste.
Fear is based on the assumption of objective information; or at least the ability to tell good information from bad information.
Fear builds self-esteem when we see a danger coming and we discover we have the capacity to solve the problem, build the resources, or stop evil in its tracks (Martin Seligman). When we feel overwhelmed by fear inducing situations it makes Cowards out of us, archetypally speaking, causing us to count on others to face the danger we feel unable to handle ourselves. This kills our self-esteem which is a shame since the danger probably wasn’t real in the first place.
Mark Twain said ‘I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.’ Advertising, politics, and parental voices that ring in our ears for decades use trumped up fear to control us on many fronts. They use worry.
Worry is when we use our imaginations to think up things that most often don’t happen. The word comes from the Old English word wyrgan which means to strangle. Take things that went badly in the past (to you or to complete strangers) expand and project them into the future with a big dose of imagination and you have the recipe for worry. It strangles your ability to function. As leaders we need to recognize the difference between worry and productive strategizing.
It occurred to me that worry is unhealthy and unproductive because it uses imagination rather than facts as a foundation. Imagination belongs in the passion-based world. Then I realized the best antidote for worry – well placed imagination. Put your imagination back in the passion based world.
Worry dolls suggest we just imagine giving our troubles away. Or, find better ways to use your imagination like exploring a new love, trying a new recipe, writing the great novel, or traveling the world.
Bring your imagination back into your passion-based world. Focus on something that keeps you grounded in the present; something playful that you love. Feel the lightness overtake your body. This is what it feels like to be worry free for a change. Once you are rejuvenated you can tackle those real problems, learn from your mistakes and be grateful you are alive.