Note: This is a guest post by Stuart Mills of Unlock the Door where he is not only an amazing blogger with impressive wisdom and insight into the human condition, but is one outstanding guy as well.
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” – Mark Twain
Ever felt like things are so bad that you have no idea what to do?
We’ve all been in situations where we fear the worst. Sometimes these ‘worst-case scenarios’ take place in reality, but more often than not they appear in only one place – our minds.
Our Imagined Troubles
Life is certainly full of surprises, lots of unexpected turns round the corner, very few of which we actually anticipate. Sure, we anticipate all sorts of troubles. We imagine that the house will burn down, or that our relatives will be involved in a car accident, or any other sort of event that we deeply fear. And yet how often do we actually experience these events? How often do we go through the same traumas in reality as we do in our minds?
The answer is: rarely. We rarely encounter our daily worries and stresses in external reality, because our internal realities are far more exaggerated.
When I say ‘exaggerated’, I mean that our imaginations have a tendency to get carried away, to the point of borderline ridiculous. For example, if we hear of a family member being involved in a car accident, we start to assume the worse, such as fatalities or permanent disabilities. However, the reality may be that no-one was hurt or that only minor injuries were suffered.
We may even find ourselves automatically assuming the worst possible outcome even when we don’t have all the details. And when something is likely to go wrong, but it hasn’t happened yet, we again assume that it will go wrong in the worst possible way. We seem to prefer placing our ultimate judgment on the extreme end of the scale.
Why do we do this? Why do we torture ourselves over minor and imagined incidents? I believe this is because we don’t have the self-belief that we can handle the troubles and stresses of our lives. We don’t think we can get through our day if something unexpected comes our way. If it messes up our routine and isn’t immediately beneficial, then it’s to be treated with suspicion, caution, doubt, and perhaps even fear.
When We Don’t Trust Ourselves
This attitude stems from our strong desire to hold some form of routine in our lives – if something new enters our life and we haven’t chosen it to be there, then we regard it with distrust until it ‘proves’ itself to be beneficial to us.
As we believe a routine, and some sense of ‘order’, is vital to our existence, we instinctively reject anything that would challenge this order. When a ‘problem’ unexpectedly enters our lives, we try and reject it by pretending that the problem doesn’t exist, or that it’s someone else’s problem and not ours. This attitude means that we avoid taking responsibility for something that is going to happen, no matter how hard we may try to avoid it. And the harder we try, the harder it will be when we finally come face-to-face with a problem so big and so important that it can be ignored no longer.
And why do we avoid these unexpected situations, problems, and chances to assume responsibility? It’s because we don’t trust ourselves. We don’t trust ourselves to handle whatever life may throw at us. And when we no longer trust ourselves in a situation, real or imaginary, we lose all chance of learning and growing from the experience. We are instead far more likely to ‘bury our heads in the sand’.
The problems that we build up in our heads become so great that we have no idea how we could possibly hope to handle them. Once this happens, we lose whatever chance we had of trusting ourselves to resolve the problem and be at peace with ourselves. Without self-trust, life itself becomes one long problem.
So we need to trust ourselves. We need to believe in our ability to tackle the problems that do become real, and conquer the problems in our head. To do this, we must differentiate between real problems, and imaginary problems.
Embrace The Problem
I’m going to suggest a method that will help you not only reduce the fear of problems that have yet to happen, or likely won’t happen at all, but also enable you to learn more about yourself.
The method is this: expose the imaginary problems in your mind, and embrace them.
At first attempt, this may be harder than it sounds. It can be hard to focus on imaginary problems when they pop up so frequently in your head. But there are two keys to making this work, and they are awareness and persistence.
To use the key of awareness, whenever a problem is exaggerated in your head or appears from nowhere, focus your full attention onto it. Don’t try to push it to the back of your mind, or pretend everything’s fine. Embrace the imagined situation in your head, and explore if fully. As you do so, discover where your fear actually lies. Is it the fear of losing a loved one? Or the fear of failing an exam? Or is it a fear that people will criticise you and laugh at you if you do something your own way? Whatever the fear, recognise it as that which is truly making you afraid. Once you have done this, you have exposed the illusion for what it really is, and you can now see its core.
This is where the second key, persistence, comes in. Now that you can see the source behind your fear, embrace it. Embrace the reason why you are afraid, and recognise it what it truly is – a fear. Whatever your fear, embrace it as a part of who you are as a human being. There’s nothing wrong with you for having fears – you are just like everyone else.
This will take a lot of persistence, especially when starting out, but with ‘persistent embracing’, you can finally begin to accept your fears as a part of who you are, and the imaginary problems will then slow down their rapid bursts, before calming down completely.
Over To You
This is my method for addressing imaginary problems and eliminating the worry and stress that they cause, but do you have another method for cutting out the troubles in our head that never give us a moment’s peace?
If you do, please share them in the comments below. Ken and I will be happy to hear them.
Stuart Mills is a personal development enthusiast who wants to help you unlock your potential so you can help yourself. You can find him at Unlock The Door where he makes his virtual home, and at Twitter.
Flickr Photo: missgeok