“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.
Note: Portrait by Russ Roca