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How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Break the Worry Habit

These are more direct methods to carry out when handling worry.

Crowd Worry out of Your Mind #

It's tough to worry about something when doing something that takes real planning and thinking. Bringing your mind away from the sources of worry can help one mentally relax. No mind can focus on more than one thing at once, so it may as well focus away from the sources of worry.

This is part of why libraries or other places full of books are relaxing. Reading is a simple yet effective way to direct your mind somewhere else. It's also why people may feel more relaxed at work than their own homes - leisure hours have less to distract our minds. Our minds are a vacuum that different worries can rush to fill.

The secret of being miserable is to have the leisure to bother about whether you are happy or not.

Overcome the Annoyance of Trifles #

We often waste more energy complaining about the little annoyances than the serious dangers. Many people have realized how stupid they were to care about the small things when they faced a major danger like being in a sinking submarine. Someone who wants peace of mind shouldn't concern themselves with trifles.

Small annoyances are like beetles or termites chewing away at a building's foundation. They don't seem serious, but they can be even more dangerous than a tornado since they operate slowly, less visibly, and are dismissed until they're too late. So don't let the beetles start chewing away.

Life is too short to be little.

One way around them is to see them more positively. For example, thinking of background noise in your home as one you'd find more pleasant, such as a noisy radiator as a crackling fire.

Remember not to exaggerate small annoyances. Remember how many things which bothered us before are forgotten within a year. They're not worth devoting our precious time to.

Check the Law of Averages #

The book argues that ninety percent of what most people worry about will never happen. Many people are terrified of being buried alive, despite the odds of it happening are around one in ten million. A good way to check how likely a worry is to happen is via the law of averages. That is, unlikely events are simply a lot less likely to happen in the future.

For example, one may worry their child will have a serious allergic reaction to a vaccination. But one can check how these happen to very few people, so via the law of averages, it won't happen to their child. Statistically, some children will have a negative reaction, but the chance is so small it's not worth devoting serious thought to.

A simpler example is being scared of getting into a car accident. But a long-time driver can say they've driven for a decade and never been in an accident before. This is evidence that, as long as they keep driving and focusing as they have been, there's little to worry about.

When in doubt, examine the record and see what the basis for your anxieties are. Check the statistics, the data, and see how likely these events really are to happen.

Co-operate with the Inevitable #

Once something happens and is out of your control, no amount of worry will make it otherwise. Worrying over them does nothing but damage ourselves, so all we can do is adjust to them. We include it as a part of our lives and keep living it.

This aligns with the stoic philosophy of events not being what makes us unhappy, but how we react to them. So we must try to take events with grace, however painful they are. We cannot change the events, only ourselves in response to them.

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change;
The courage to change the things I can;
And the wisdom to know the difference.

Part of this is accepting a certain lack of control over our lives' paths or the results. We can do the best we can and leave the rest up to the world.

Put a "Stop-Loss" Order on your Worries #

A stop-loss order is a business term for limiting loss. If a bought stock falls too low in value, it is sold before it drops too low. For example, if you buy a stock at $50, you may put a stop-loss order to immediately sell if it falls to $45. This limits all losses to $5 before they get any lower.

This idea of a stop-loss should be applied throughout one's worries. Set a limit on how much anxiety to put up with before cutting your losses. For example, instead of anxiously waiting for a later lunch guest for over 30 minutes, tell them up front that if they're more than ten minutes late you're leaving and the meeting is canceled.

If something bothers you enough to make you complain for years on end, the complaining does more damage than the original event ever could have. An example stop-loss order could be "if this event bothers me enough so I keep complaining for at least a month, I should let it go and do what's needed to move on."

In a broader sense, have a sign of when something is worrying you enough that you put a stop-loss order on it and cut your losses. Don't overpay or overinvest for anything in terms of what it takes away from our existence and well-being.

If you're unsure if a stop-loss order is needed, ask these questions:

  1. How much does this thing I'm worrying about really matter to me?
  2. At what point should I set a "stop-loss" order on this and forget it?
  3. How much of myself have I invested in this? Have I invested more of myself than it's worth?

Don't Cry over Spilled Milk #

We can change the effects of something that happened a few minutes ago, but we can't change the event itself. Instead, we can calmly analyze past events and mistakes, learn from them, then forget them. Take the hit but don't let it knock you out.

As the cliche goes, we can't put spilled milk back in the carton. There's no point getting anxious over it. We can learn the lesson on how to avoid spilling it again, then move on. Put it entirely out of your mind if possible.