I’m convinced that some emotions are unproductive.  I’m thinking of emotions such as feeling worried, anxious, fearful, guilty, angry and inadequate.  Negative emotions like these tend to drag us down and inhibit our performance. 

 

I remember reading a column by Robert Crampton in The Times Magazine where he set out to dispel the impression that he is a laid-back sort of guy by keeping a log of his worries.  He claimed that in a single hour one Saturday morning he worried 38 times about such things as whether he’d locked up his house properly, whether the washing machine would catch fire while he was out and whether having a £20 note and no change would cause problems at a parking meter. These are low-level worries but he also had some more substantial ones.  He worried whether he had done enough with his life, what people would think of his column (’Appearing in print makes me squirm. Indeed, the only thing I can conceive of as being worse than appearing in print is not doing so’) and, of course, he worried about worrying so much in the space of an hour or so!

Whilst I’m sure Robert Crampton was exaggerating the extent of his worrying, it does show how often ordinary, even trivial events, can trigger anxiety. Without doubt, a propensity to worry takes its toll on people’s health, happiness and general wellbeing.

I decided to conduct an experiment of my own. At the start of the week, I consulted my diary and, in the light of the various commitments, wrote a list of everything I felt anxious/worried about. It included things like (these are all work-related – I hesitate to bore you with the domestic worries):

  • Whether the PowerPoints I needed for a keynote address at a conference and had carefully submitted in advance, would in fact be loaded up and ready-to-go as had been promised. (PS: I have had numerous mishaps with PowerPoints.)

 

  • Whether I had run off enough handouts for an evening talk I was giving where, despite my enquiries, the organisers had been vague about the likely number of participants. (PS: I hate not having enough handouts. It leads to ugly scenes as people fight to acquire a copy despite reassurances that I’ll email it to them.)

 

  • Whether I had allowed enough time to travel to Guildford so that I would arrive promptly at 8.30am as I had promised.  (PS: I hate being late.)

 

  • Whether I had been a clot to agree to review a book by a particularly tight deadline – and when I was going to read the blasted book so that I could write an informed review.  (PS: I hate reviewers who have only glanced at the contents page.)

 

  • Whether anyone would have already heard the jokes I was planning to tell at an event where I had been invited to be amusing and light-hearted. (PS: I hate the idea that people might have heard me tell the same joke on a previous occasion – so much so that I usually modify them on each outing – but the punch-lines stay much the same.)

 

Having made my worry list, I put it away and carried on with my week as planned.  At the end of the week, before consulting my list of anticipated worries, I reviewed the week and, with the benefit of hindsight, compiled a list of all the things I probably should have worried about if I had known they were going to happen!  There was no correlation between the two lists.  My conclusion?  Worrying is futile; a wasted, misdirected, needless emotion.  It doesn’t add any value and, besides being unproductive, it is an unpleasant feeling to experience.

Is worrying an inevitable part of the human condition?  I refuse to believe this.  I prefer to believe worry is a learned behaviour than can be unlearned.  The key is to accept that your thoughts trigger your feelings and, since you can choose your thoughts, you can choose to nip worrying in the bud.

Ah well, it all reminds me of the saying, ‘Today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday’.

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