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Walking Through Life with a Light-heart

“Happiness belongs to those who are easily contented.” ~Aristotle

Throughout my childhood, teenage years, and during college, my Mom always told me to be a little more “lighthearted.” Basically, this was my mom’s code language. Her way of saying: “Stop worrying so much! Be grateful for what you have accomplished. Learn to be carefree, cheerful, and excited about life!”

I used to get so angry when she gave me this little, but strikingly simple piece of advice. I felt like she was ignoring my feelings. On the contrary, she was trying to help me manage my anxiety.

I still come back to this sentiment because I worry a lot. I worry about how my writing sounds, how people perceive me, and whether or not I’m doing enough community work. My mom is still right; I need to work on being “lighthearted.” Walking around with a backpack full of worry doesn’t make life very fun.

4 Keys to Stop Worrying

I’m still trying to figure out how to be “lighthearted” and to be less of a worrywart. But I’ve learned a few things on my journey, including:

1. Prepare and practice.

I asked Logan how he stops worrying and he told me: I prepare because preparing allows me to put my mind at ease.” Now that is a simple and thoughtful piece of advice.

The thing that’s so nasty about worry is that it can prevent you challenging yourself and actually shipping. For years I said, “Well I can’t do that because I don’t have enough experience. I’m not a good public speaker, so I’d better turn down that speaking request. I’m not a good writer and no one will read my blog entries.”

For me worry and low-self esteem seem to be correlated. I was so worried about what other people thought, that I didn’t ship or prepare.

Preparation is all about building your skills sets. You’ve got to prepare for challenges and new opportunities. Preparation includes writing, reading, taking classes, and completing specific tasks so that you can ship.

For example, I’m speaking at Fishtrap in late February and I’ve been worried about my talk. I’m worried that it’s going to suck. But that’s because I’ve only made a general outline of what I’m going to talk about. I need to prepare something more detailed and practice. It is possible to be resilient and confident, even in the face of uncertainty. Preparing will give you options that will increase your feelings of mastery and success.

Micro-action: If you’re worried about a particular project, what can you do today to get it done?

2. Accept uncertainty.

Life is uncertain and we are vulnerable. This is something we all have to learn to accept. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of worrying about future events. But we don’t have control over any of that stuff. Control is an illusion.

Constantly worrying about future events and running over scenarios in your head won’t do you any good. It takes the focus away from developing leadership skills and working on your art.

Micro-action: Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses.

  • Is needing certainty in your life helpful or unhelpful?
  • Do you think bad things will happen because you feel uncertain? If yes, why? Are there any advantages to this mindset?

3. Challenge negative thoughts.

Every time a negative thought enters your mind, challenge it. For instance, here is a negative thought that has been popping into my head recently:

“Why accept the speaking gig at Fishtrap? Do you really think you’ll succeed? You’ve never been good at public speaking.”

Every time I hear those words I challenge my doubts with statements like:

“Actually, you’re going to kick ass. This is an incredible opportunity. You can share your story, talk about the power of blogging and the latest happiness research with confidence. Stop systematically undermining your own abilities.”

Micro-action: Make a list of the negative thoughts that float around in your head. How can you challenge them?

4. Take care of yourself.

If you’re a chronic worrier remember to reach out for support, exercise regularly, and get enough sleep. Relaxation is an art.

Micro-action: There are a number of activities you can do to facilitate relaxation, including listening to music, practicing deep breathing, mediating, and doing yoga.

Parting Words . . .

Walking through life with a light-heart doesn’t have to be difficult. You have the choice to stop worrying so much. Instead, spend your time and energy cultivating your inner happiness ninja.


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Note: Portrait by Russ Roca

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Lisa Fine - lisasfoods January 17, 2011, 7:46 am

    Great words of advice, Tammy. One thing I struggle with, and am constantly working on, is being calm when changes to plans are made. I’ve become very stubborn and set in my ways, especially when it comes to times when I should be more flexible and spontaneous. (Which is funny, because I love to travel, and this issue doesn’t come up much when I’m in a new place, just at home.) Point #2 really struck me.

  • Chris O'Byrne January 17, 2011, 7:49 am

    You get to speak with Winona LaDuke!
    She’s amazing and I’m jealous. 🙂
    You’re going to be awesome and are in equal company.

    • Tammy January 17, 2011, 7:52 am

      Ahhhh thanks Chris! Winona is amazing. I can’t wait to meet her! 🙂

  • Courtney Carver January 17, 2011, 8:02 am

    Tammy, this is brilliant advice. Some smart southern woman once told me that worrying is just “borrowing trouble”. Just thinking through the scenario of what “might happen” will still have you experiencing the same scary feelings as if something did happen. Don’t go there!

    I also find that when I speak or present and get nervous, I turn focus off of myself and onto the message and how people will receive it. When I stop thinking about myself, I calm right down.

  • Lizzy January 17, 2011, 8:13 am

    Tammy, I am a new reader to RowdyKittens and I am so grateful that I stumbled upon your blog. Your posts and words have been so inspiring, especially this one! Learning about minimalist living, over coming self-doubt, and happiness has been eye-opening and wonderful. I’m sharing your blog with all of my friends. Thank you for doing what you do! 🙂

  • Michelle January 17, 2011, 8:21 am

    Great post. I think we’re cut from the same cloth. I feel learning to deal with worry and anxiety is a long process but worth the effort.

  • devlyn January 17, 2011, 8:21 am

    No. 3 is definitely something that helps me a lot. When I decided to start taking college courses, I was afraid of all of the catching up I needed to do. My brain kept telling me that I “hated algebra,” and while I was always good at geometry, I was “never good at algebra.” Turning that around has been a major goal for me, and continuously reminding myself that I’ve *always* loved maths and have always been good with maths has helped me get through my courses tremendously. Thank you for helping to spread the word… ^_^

  • Erika H. January 17, 2011, 8:38 am

    Great advice! I tend to worry a lot, too! I’m sure public speaking will suit you just fine. It always scares me but I’ve found that the fear can actually make you a more effective speaker. The audience will be able to sense that your words and spirit are genuine. Good luck, Tammy!

  • Mary January 17, 2011, 8:46 am

    I agree with all your advice. The last word of advice I would add is this: After you’ve done all your prep work–relax, be yourself and “Dance like nobody is watching!” These words have had a profound affect on me. If you are out there enjoying yourself and you mess up but just laugh at yourself and go on having fun–guess what?? Nobody cares because they are enjoying the “dance” if YOU are!!!! I learned this from learning to square dance. You can’t learn this dance in a few hours or even a few days. You gotta spend a lot time learning the steps, but then relax and have FUN and everyone will enjoy dancing with you AND watching!!! It applies to whatever you are doing–public speaking, teaching–whatever. If you are enjoying yourself, those with you will too!!!

    • Tammy January 17, 2011, 4:46 pm

      Thanks Mary! I loved the story about dancing. I’ll keep that in mind when I’m giving my talk. 🙂

  • Jessica January 17, 2011, 10:17 am

    “Prepare and Practice” is definitely the top one for me.
    I hate lying in bed worrying about things that I haven’t prepared for enough.

  • John Hayden January 17, 2011, 10:28 am

    Thanks, from a lifelong worrywart. Worry often travels in the company of depression and OCD. You have four suggestions that are on the mark, simple, and concise.

    Also, now I know about Fishtrap. Wish I was a writer in the West. I wonder if there is a similar organization in the East. Best of luck with your talk.

  • Caroline January 17, 2011, 10:33 am

    Tammy, I needed this – thank you! I got asked to facilitate at a Legislative Breakfast, which I find nerve wracking and scary, but it’s an issue that I’m passionate about (Mental Health Legislation) so I said yes. Now it’s five days away! Maybe now I can take your advice and stop freaking out. I think #1 and #3 will come in really handy this weekend.

  • Pea January 17, 2011, 11:15 am

    I once watched a young kid play at a show. He was really, really good. Almost (whisper) boringly, efficiently good. His father was a ‘pushy showbiz’ dad and he had rehearsed the very soul out of his child…Then the kid messed up! Eeeek! Something happened and he lost his place and forgot his words. He messed up, got flustered and struggled to continue.

    But there was a perceptible shift in the audience who then started to pay attention properly because now they could see a real, fallible human being trying their best in front of them. He got the loudest cheer of the night for the song he messed up on and polite claps for the song he did before.

    I’m not saying mess up I’m just saying it’s okay.

    You shouldn’t worry so, your audience will be behind you because judging by your blog you are honest and real and will do your best.

    Moms is right.

  • eema January 17, 2011, 12:04 pm

    hi tammy,
    you are gonna kick a$$!
    i am so serious, i changed my name to help me liten up, so for years i was known as cricket. now i am eema.
    you points are true. i always dance like no ones watching( to the great embarressment of my kids).
    why not have some fun along the way.
    regards eema

  • Sue January 17, 2011, 12:38 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    Oh I so resonated with this post! I think some of us are just naturally wired to worry about things more and feel a bit more anxious about events than others. Accepting who we are as we are is an important step, then finding helpful strategies to minimize both traits is crucial. Your strategies and micro actions are really helpful. I might add that in addition to getting enough, rest, exercise and support it’s important to look at what we’re eating and make sure we stay hydrated. I’ve found I’m more likely to experience more worry attacks and doubts if I’m dehydrated or not eating well.

    Congratulations on being asked to speak at such a wonderful and important gathering! Practice and mentally visualizing a positive outcome to an event like public speaking (or any other kind of public performance) really helps to reduce anxiety and worry, too. I have no doubts that your talk will be highly relevant, fascinating and warmly received by your audience there. Go for it!

  • shel January 17, 2011, 1:30 pm

    “Control is an illusion.”

    Great post, Tammy, thank you.

  • Gayle January 17, 2011, 2:29 pm

    Such a good post Tammy!

    I tend to be a more serious person too, so I know what your Mom means.

    I went back to college (at the age of 56) and I took Communication (Public Speaking) last quarter (only because I HAD TO!!) and I was terrified. But, I did it and I got an A. After the first speech, it got easier and it was because I prepared, prepared, prepared!! Still, I am glad it is over. I feel I can do anything now. Ha, ha.

    This morning I was freaking out because a final draft of an essay is due tomorrow … but, you are correct, it is only because I needed to sit down and do it. The rewrite mess was in my head. Once I got writing it came together. Then, I just had to say “good enough” and put it away.

    You will do great on your speech. You will prepare and be awesome. Let us all know how it goes.

    Cute photo!!

    • Tammy January 17, 2011, 4:43 pm

      Thanks Gayle! And congratulations on getting that essay done. 🙂

  • Luinae January 17, 2011, 2:48 pm

    Good stuff. My mum continually gives me the same advice (I’m 15) and I’ve been trying to take it, but sometimes it just feels like there is so much stuff on your plate that you CAN’T. I’ll have to try some of your tips though!

  • Trish January 17, 2011, 3:36 pm

    I am confused with the use of ‘shipping’ in the first point. I have never seen it used that way before, and am wondering if I am missing something?

    • Tammy January 17, 2011, 4:43 pm

      @Trish – Basically, it means getting your project out the door. Seth Godin talks a lot about “shipping” on his blog. This post might be helpful. 🙂

  • Natasha January 17, 2011, 6:31 pm

    One thing that helped me with performing in public (and giving a presentation is a performance) is that if you make a mistake, just keep going. If it’s a really big mistake, acknowledge it, and then keep going. People only remember the whole impression, not every single second. I used to play violin as a young adult, and when asked to do recitals, no matter how well practiced and pepared I was, I’d go blank — I’d make a mistake and then be unable to continue. It was a horrible experience. But when I got to college, I was coached to just keep going — and the next time I performed in public, I made a mistake, and then managed to start over and that time I was able to play the whole piece. People gave me such warm and supportive feedback — and no-one mentioned my mistake.

    After that, I started performing in different venues — and it just gets easier.

    Don’t expect that people are waiting for you to slip up — they’re not. They are cheering you on — that’s why they’re there. And why we’re here.

  • Kristy Powell January 17, 2011, 8:27 pm

    The concept of light-heartedness is foreign to me on so many levels. I am a macro-worrier in that I am incredibly concerned about “the state of it all.” I am able to experience moments of light-heartedness when I feel myself, my family or those around me making steps to confront the issues that concern us and me. With regard to the micro issues, I encourage preparation, as you have. While we can’t control the outcome, we can experience good practice along the way–which is what life is, a ton of practice, no outcomes (that’s death).

    I also encourage people who feel they are “chronic worriers” to engage therapy, an incredible tool to add to one’s arsenal to engage the roots of ones anxieties. Also, to breathe (yoga or pilates is great for this), to be present (living in community encourages this), to examine the past (therapy is my favorite way to bring this about) and look forward to the future with eager anticipation (one’s faith may encourages this) sounds like good, balanced, practice to ward off worrying.

    And you will be wonderful when you speak–you are a brilliant person, who cares if you aren’t a perfected public speaker–it is your person and your message that is loved, not your public speaking skills.

  • David January 18, 2011, 12:05 am

    Worry is something that I let creep into my life as well. For me I have always found that if I start worrying too much about something then I start to feel sick. Then the sicker I feel, the more I worry. It’s a vicious circle.
    I have learnt also that one of the best ways to counteract worry is to prepare and also to educate/ research more about what it is that I am worrying about- sometimes the “unknown” is what is causing the most fear.
    Also talking to someone about it seems to help.
    If I am really struggling then I try to clear my mind a bit by going for a walk alone, to ponder and deal with my thoughts. Positive thinking helps at that time- clearing away the negative thoughts, and thinking about past “wins”.
    I recall some of my achievements, successes, times when I have made a difference in someone’s life, moments of inspiration. Then I start to calm down and my confidence begins to return, and I realise that I am capable and that I can cope, and I can accomplish things when I set my mind to it. Then I hear myself saying “I can do this”….

  • Gena S January 18, 2011, 2:00 am

    This is what happens on busy days, I fall behind on the blogs I really enjoy and miss a post that would have encouraged along my day! Thanks, Tammy, for being real. For being sincere. For reminding all of us that even people we tend to view as uber successful, are still human in their frailties and thought process. We all have good days and bad days when it comes to the worries about the unknown, the unexpected things that could happen. My husband likes to counsel others to quit renting out space in their heads and hearts for free to fear and worry (and other’s opinions). In other words, he encourages people to quit agonizing about what they can’t control anyway and keep moving forward, much like you were suggesting, pick something you are worrying about and get part of it done. For the record we think you’ll rock Fishtrap!

    • Tammy January 18, 2011, 7:16 am

      Ahhh thanks Gena. I’ll have to quit renting space out in my heart and head. Great advice! 🙂

  • Deb Lavengood January 18, 2011, 6:23 am

    Hi there-
    Thank you for this blog post. Very helpful! I am a worrier also, and I am constantly reminding myself that worrying is wasted energy. I totally agree with you that you can alleviate a lot of worry with preparation — especially like before a speech or an interview. You do get better with practice on both! I overprepare but it gives me a feeling of calm that makes me perform in a much more relaxed state. And sometimes even enjoy the event! Good luck – if you speak as well as you write, you will be fabulous! Don’t worry – be HAPPY! Embrace the journey 🙂

  • Tammy January 18, 2011, 7:15 am

    Thanks all for your support and encouragement. I really means a lot to me. 🙂 I’ll let you know how my talk goes. 🙂

  • Roger Hyttinen January 18, 2011, 7:59 am

    Tammy – I can so relate to this! I used to be “Angry Boy” – very stressful and short-tempered. Much better these days thought. Some things that helped: Daily Meditation, Journaling and Aerobic exercise. One of the best things I did was get a treadmill – whenever I got stressed out, I run on the machine for a half an hour. Perhaps I’ve mellowed with age as well. It also really does take a conscious effort (and a bit of practice) though to push those negative thoughts from our head – but it’s worth it.

  • Leigh Purtill January 18, 2011, 8:45 am

    Tammy, I am so happy to read your #4 -the physical component of exercise that affects our mental state. Not only does exercise and physical movement burn off excess nervous energy but it also puts us in a literally different place. It’s so different to be thinking about a problem you can’t solve when you’re taking a long walk than when you’re staring at your computer screen. And being outdoors can put our problems in perspective and show us how small our issues are in the grand scheme of things.

    Good luck with your talk! You’ll be terrific!

  • Mollie January 20, 2011, 3:29 pm

    Hi Tammy,

    When I have to speak publicly I visualize myself giving the speech and doing a really great job. I only let myself “see” myself doing well.

    Also, I give the speech in my car when I’m driving. You may get some odd looks at stop lights, but it really does help!

    Hakuna Matata!

  • Meredith February 14, 2011, 7:05 am

    My mom always said “bring a little levity to the situation” – that was her way. It infuriated me! My husband and I would say it back and forth to each other whenever things appeared to being going south (with just about anything).
    She was right.
    It always helps.
    Perhaps not at the moment it’s being said but sometime down the road.
    Thanks, Mom.
    And thanks for posting this, Tammy.

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