I come from a family of worriers; my grandmother used to call me after ever trip I went on, after every tournament I went to just to make sure I was okay. I used to laugh a little about how much she persevered over my well being, and now that she is no longer around I miss those phone calls. My mother slid into that role very easily as well, having such a good example of it growing up. I grew up in an environment that, while I wouldn’t consider it stifling, was certainly not a “devil may care” or even a “try it and see” approach to life. I was taught to be cautious and even afraid of everything. I remember a kid I went to school with got injured jumping his bike off of a ramp he had built. I was no longer allowed to use a bike ramp from that day forward. In retrospect, I am not sure when in my life I became aware of this trend, but I started working on reversing it. I remind myself all that time that I need to get out of my comfort zone, and force myself to do so.
In today’s world, there are a lot of things that you could worry about if you choose to allow yourself to. The economy, your job, your spouse’s job, your marriage, your mortgage, your kids, your 401K, etc. etc. If you are younger, things like grades, passing finals, getting your first job, your social status, the environment, and the myriad of other things out there become front and center. The pressures of society are many, and because of our ever-connected world, we are all aware of everything that happens all the time. To compound the problem, tragedy sells, and so much of the news we hear about are the bad things that occur. It is easy to dwell on things you cannot control, and feel helpless in doing so.
You have to understand that the world has always been this way. There are few times in history that the U.S. hasn’t been involved in a war somewhere in the world. We have always polluted the planet, eaten animals, driven gas-guzzling vehicles, and tried to keep up with the neighbors on our street. We have been bullied, singled out, separated from the masses, and felt alone. Our modern society amplifies this through connectivity, but these things have always been around. There is a lot of good that can come from this interconnected world as well, but it is easy to gravitate towards the bad stuff. Even in our own little world inside the big world out there, we can drive ourselves crazy with worrying about what might happen.
I have a player on the racquetball team I coach that really struggles with this. Despite an amazing resume of past performances, she cannot get out of her own head in advance of a competition, and literally doesn’t sleep well for a week in advance. This persevering infiltrates other parts of her life, as you would imagine. I wish I could help her get over that hurdle, but ultimately it is something she must learn to manage on her own, in her way. I have developed the capacity to compartmentalize things over the years, and not too much gets to me to the point that I struggle to stay present in what I am doing versus worrying about what might happen. She needs to do the same, or suffer the continuing consequences that detract from her experiences.
For me, I have been able to slowly develop the skill of letting things go until they happen. I grew up worrying about everything; do people like me, am I smart enough, am I going to look stupid in front of everyone in class? I don’t remember being bullied a lot, but I was always afraid of everyone since I was a smaller kid. I became the class clown to get attention when I felt like I wasn’t relevant among my peers. I became an athlete as a way to be part of a tribe within the overall group, and was driven to excel when I learned there was social currency that came with it. Eventually I started to see that the way I was living was not going to be a healthy approach for a lifetime. I started slow, but as I got the hang of stuffing things into a smaller box inside my head, and putting that box on a self, that I could focus on right here, right now, a lot better.
I am by no means an expert at this skill, and life still gnaws at me once in a while just like everyone else. However, I have learned to control the input as much as I can, as I wrote about here previously. As the old philosophy saying goes:
“Worry is like a thin trickle of water in your mind. If not controlled, it will become a river, eroding everything in its path”
I definitely believe this to be true, and have experienced it myself plenty of times. I think being a worrier by nature is like being an alcoholic; you have to fight that battle every day. It is your default setting to a degree, and changing that is a slow grind day after day. But eventually you learn to create a new thought process and reaction pattern, and that resets your default. You change, grow, and learn to do better. That is your life’s mission in a way….elevate yourself over the conditions in which you live today. There are few skills that will serve you as well over the long haul that is your life better than learning to control your thoughts and reactions to the world around you. I am sure there are plenty of books out there to assist you. I hope this was at least a start to seeing that things can be different, and that is within your control to move in a different direction.
I wish you luck in your endeavors.