A three-step process to manage worrying

A Jewish mother sends her son a telegram. “Start worrying,” it says, “details to follow.”

Sometimes it can be productive to worry. Maybe there’s some danger you haven’t fully considered. Maybe there’s some action you should be taking that you’re not taking. Maybe you really are doing something wrong.

But very often, it’s not productive to worry. There’s no danger. There’s no action you should be taking. Yet some part of you, on some level, believes that it’s important to be doing this worry. You believe that the worry is telling you something important.

And this belief is what keeps you doing the worrying.

So how do you stop? Here’s a three-step technique.

Step 1: Notice that you are worrying. Once you’ve done that, go to Step 2.

Step 2: Checking: is this worry productive?

Know that whatever you do in your mind, you are strengthening the habit of doing that. So if you’re going to spend this moment worrying, you’re also consigning your future self to more worrying. And if you’ve been spending a lot of time worrying recently, it’s no wonder that you’re worrying right now. But there may not be anything worth worrying about. It may simply be the force of habit.

If you decide that it’s not productive to worry right now, then there’s good news. You can cash in on life right now. Go to Step 3.

Step 3: Look around you and find something to take pleasure in right now. It may be a warm sweater that you’re wearing. It may be a cool breeze on your face. It may be a beautifully vibrant color on a nearby billboard. It doesn’t matter. Just find something to take physical pleasure in right now, and do it. And know that not only are you getting to take pleasure right now, but you’re also gifting future you with a mind more prone to feeling pleasure.

Repeat this three-step process ad infinitum.

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