In 210 BC at the age of 13 Qin Shi Huang became the First Emperor of China and work immediately began on his mausoleum. This would entail the work of 700, 000 people who would create an army of an estimated 9000 terracotta warriors, 700 horses and 130 chariots. Their purpose? To keep the emperor safe in the afterlife.
Now, admittedly I don’t know much about the afterlife (and this is in no way a religious blog post – please believe whatever you like about the afterlife) but I’m fairly certain that if I started worrying about it at the age of 13 that would have a significant impact on the life that I would be leading.
Let’s think about this in modern day terms. How often do you find yourself worrying about something that might happen in the future? And how much energy do you expend on that worry about the possible thing that might happen in the future? And how often does that possible thing that might happen in the future that is causing you all the worry actually happen? My guess is not very often.
I’m not suggesting that we go through life with blinkers on expecting that everything will be marvellous – that’s not realistic. What I am highlighting though is our propensity as human beings to catastrophise – to take one situation and develop it into a potential future disaster. It’s the downside of having brains that are capable of future and past thinking and it causes us heaps of unnecessary stress.
If you were an antelope on the plains in Africa and a lion walked past in the distance you would most definitely stop eating and keep an eye on this threat. If it disappeared into the distance you would go back to whatever you were doing before and all would be well. You would not create an ongoing anxiety about the potential for the lion to come back and kill you – you’d deal with that situation as and when it happened. Animals don’t catastrophise, humans do.
While it makes sense to analyse future risk and mitigate against it, it doesn’t make sense to focus all your energy and attention on that risk and worry about it happening. And if there’s nothing you can do about it then there’s even less sense in worrying about it. Imagine if you took all the energy that you were using worrying about things and focused it on getting something done instead – I wonder what could be achieved…
So how do you become a warrior not a worrier?
1. Tap into your logical brain instead of your emotional one – your emotional brain is focused on survival and therefore risk and threat. Your logical brain can focus on reality and fact. When you’re worrying ask yourself what are the facts rather than the possibilities? What’s actually happening right now rather than what might happen in the future.
2. Explore the possibilities from a logical perspective. Realistically what might happen? How likely is that? How much control do you have over that happening? What can you do to manage that risk?
3. Make a plan – take control of what you can and put a plan in place. If something is outside your control there’s no point worrying about it. Maybe you can find out more information about something so that you can understand it better and make a plan or stop worrying?
4. Every time you notice yourself catastrophising take control of your brain – distract yourself from worrying or simply tell yourself to stop thinking about it.
At Ginger Dog Development we love this old clip from Bob Newhart (thanks Mark Eagle for introducing it to us) It’s silly but true – sometimes we just need to tell ourselves to stop it.