This post has been inspired by the Olympics (yay!) and my grumpy mood (boo) – which I am trying to change from evil to good.
So – to the Olympic games: If you’re like me and my family, you’ve been glued to the TV, watching those sports that you have rarely (or never) heard of, or enjoy but rarely get to see, or have plain forgotten about (and will again, after the Rio Olympics winds up.
I know I’m particularly in awe of the men’s and women’s hockey players because I played hockey for a number of years. So, although they are at such a high standard, I have some understanding of how skilled, graceful and fit they are, not to mention the strategies that are used in their matches. I find it great to watch.
We all have strengths and weaknesses
Something I love about the Olympics is how it reminds us of how we all have different strengths and weaknesses. Because we see both on display. Strengths aren’t limited to physical abilities. They include emotional expression and regulation, perseverance and focus, as well as perspective in terms of the outcomes. We see degrees of generosity to others and the commitment of those who support the athletes and the event.
It prompted me to think about what is going on within me.
For the past couple of months at least, I’ve been feeling this low level grumpiness, which comes and goes in severity, but never quite goes away. And, despite my attempts to find out whether it is some sort of post 40 year old physical change or something else, that doesn’t seem to be the reason. Nor do the actions of anyone else – nothing overly unusual is happening in my home life.
So, I’ve had to look inward, to work out what’s going on. And outward, to work out how to change.
We all have strengths and weaknesses and can choose how we use them
Without going into too much details, we all know that we all have different strengths and weaknesses. And although we can’t be good at everything, we do have the ability to grow and change, and improve. Maybe not in every area of life – we only have so much time and we have to make choices – but in those areas which we choose to prioritise. And that requires both acknowledging what we need to change, and how we might make that change.
I’m going to cut straight to the issues here – I have a strong tendency to worry. To stress, to second guess. I’ve doubted myself a lot in the past – although I have been doing a little less of that lately. I do worry about what might happen – during my day, or to my kids, or in the broader world – I worry about what someone else might do or think (or not do or not notice) and what the impact to me and those I love could be. My worry isn’t just limited to hypothetical events – I worry about the impact of events that have happened, how best to respond. There is a wealth of things to worry about – and, depending on what I am thinking about, I can worry about them all.
Sometimes this feels sensible. It’s feels good to worry because it means I’m prepared and can then put it into place. However, it’s not really true.
Preparation is fine (good, even) for many reasons. However, it’s not if I think it is somehow keeping me safer, but actually keeping me as someone who is powerless – at the mercy of events that I can’t control. And it’s not good if it makes me so inward focused that I’m not fully appreciating how I am flipping opportunities into threats, spinning mentally in ever tighter circles of concern and frustration. Which I will often then express as anger (snapping at others, or storing it up as annoyance or cynicism).
As Margarita Tartakosvy (M.S.), writea in the Psych Central blog about those of us who are worriers:
‘We think that if we worry, we’re somehow being productive or proactive. We think we’re protecting ourselves, saving ourselves from distress and doom… But really worry just keeps us stuck. And it makes us feel suffocated and helpless.’
For instance, here’s a sample (from a much longer list) of things that have been worrying me this week:
- ‘Why do the ground rules for this project at work keep changing? I can’t possibly get it done in time and it will be wrong anyway – but I have to do it, and will probably have to do it all again, and it will be late, and I’ll be blamed’.
- I’ve always wanted to write an article but now I’ve drafted one, I’m worried it isn’t any good and won’t be accepted.
- ‘The census fail is yet another example of not relying on anything or anyone? Now the whole integrity of government processes will be undermined and what’s the point of even working for a government organisation? And we need good data – I’ll never be able to do any proper work again’ (yes, I’ve moved to catastrophising about the census, of all things, and I don’t even work for the federal public service, let alone the ABS).
- ‘We’re exhausted and could really do with a holiday, but I’m worried that I will make a bad choice and it will be a terrible experience‘.
- ‘My husband’s uncle’s cancer is so advanced, and I’ve done nothing to help – but what can I do? But they need help – but what can I say or do?’
The flip side of worry, though, is curiosity. Of being interested. Of engaging with issues and with people. And being fascinated. And, it turns out, it’s one of my strengths – when I’m not so self focused on the dangers I perceive.
I realised this through my recent writing. I’ve always been keen to find connections between people, events, thoughts. I’ve wanted to understand – and to empathise. I’ve been cultivating this even more this year, trying new things, and meeting new people. I’ve been curious. And curiosity, or wondering, can be a way to reduce worry and turn it into something more positive.
Apparently I’m not the first to make this connection (who knew?). In the blog I referred to above, the author refers to a book called How to Live an Awesome Life: How to Live Well, Do Good, Be Happy, by Polly Campbell.
She suggests replacing worry with wonder. Wonder still thinks ‘what if’, but instead of getting stressed about it, ‘gets us “thinking, trying, playing, moving.”’
So with my worries above, I could instead think:
- “I wonder what the real impacts of these changes will be to me, and whether I can negotiate some more resources? Perhaps I need to understand the rationale better – what’s the most effective process I can use to achieve that?’
- “I wonder what will happen if I do submit the article I’ve written? After all, I’ve read the guidelines, and I’ve edited it accordingly. Let’s try and find out!’.
- ‘I wonder if I still have some residual issues to work through from my time in the public sector? What can I learn from this – was there anything I could have done, or would do next time? And I wonder what other data sources I could use – maybe it won’t be all bad!”
- ‘I’ve researched our holiday, we are lucky to have a chance to get away which will be great whatever happens (and more than likely it will be great). I wonder what the highlight might be?”
- ‘I’m sure Al’s uncle and aunt will appreciate any offers of help, and they’ll let us know if it’s useful or not. Let’s make the most of the time together – I wonder how they are feeling?’
Do you see? Swapping from worry to wonder gives me back some autonomy, and some power.
It shifts from worrying about about a problem, with all the accompanying emotions, into wondering about a situation from a more detached way.
It then enables me to decide whether there is something else going on and whether that’s what I need to address, as well as determining what the best actions are to take (which could include forgetting about it).
In the process, it frees up energy towards something more productive.
Spinning worry into wonder – a super power
Image: Spinning Worry into Wonder (Duy Huynh, courtesy of Art & Invention Gallery, Tennessee) Source:
To be honest, I’m not finding this easy.
I’ve been able to do put this thinking into place in some cases, but often I promptly find new worries spring up. I’m used to worrying – it will take time and effort to modify this habit.
And, until it comes more easily, it feels a bit contrived. But – I know anything new will feel like this.
And so, when I find myself worrying, I’m going to keep trying to switch my thinking to wondering. And in the process I hope to become stronger in this area.
Even more of a wonder woman.
Are you a worrier – or a wonderer? Or – do you have other super powers? Please share – we’d love to hear them!