How often do you waste time and energy worrying about something? It could be about what someone else thinks about you. It could be about whether someone will say, “Yes” to your request for a date. It could be about an upcoming text or exam. It could be about what college you’ll be accepted to.
It could be about how much of a raise you’ll get this year. It could be about how you’ll be evaluated this year. It could be about a major world issue (like a war escalation or a deadly viral outbreak or an economic collapse). Or, it could be about something as simple as whether or not your favorite sports team will win their big game this week.
It doesn’t matter how big or small the item is, the question I have for you is, “What’s the common denominator among all of the above?” Answer: they’re all issues outside your control.
No matter how much you worry, your worry can’t control the outcome of a football game or the world’s economy or whether someone will like you or not or what college you’ll get accepted to or whether your boss will give you a great evaluation or if someone will say, “Yes,” to your request.
I think that’s why Jesus said,
“Therefore I tell you, do not worry … can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Mt. 6:25-27
The answer is clearly “No.” Worrying about something doesn’t change that thing. In Jesus’ example, the rotation of the earth on its axis along with its rotation around the sun doesn’t change because of what we think or feel. Time marches on regardless of how we think or feel about it (i.e. our worrying does nothing to change the outcome).
Unfortunately, worrying does change one thing. It changes us. And rarely in positive ways. It paralyzes us. It wastes our time. It hinders us from taking action. It causes us to doubt others. It rearranges our priorities (in negative ways). It causes us to make bad choices, etc. So, in light of all these bad outcomes, what can you do to defeat this enemy of your life?
I. Realize What Worry Really Is
Because most of us tend to worry a lot, there’s a tendency to think that worry must be a good and normal activity. Why? Because we do it so frequently (i.e. circular reasoning at its worst).
The reality is that worrying isn’t really about reality. Worry is about having a negative expectation about a future event … and that phrase “future event” is rather important. Why? Because if you were worrying about something that currently was a reality, you wouldn’t be worrying about it, you’d be experiencing it. In other words, if you’re currently worrying about something like getting hurt it means you’re not currently hurt. If you were currently hurt, you wouldn’t be worrying about it, you’d be experiencing pain.
Or to put it another way, worry tries to convince us that what we’re worrying about is real … but it’s not. Worry is an emotion that is a negative expectation about a future event.
II. Be Honest About the Batting Average of Your Worries
One of the reasons so many people are paralyzed and beholden to worry is because they believe it’s “more realistic” to worry than it is to be positive and expect the best.
So, let’s do a quick calculation. Using a percentage between 0-100%, what percentage of the things that you worry about actually come true?
I’ve asked people this question for decades and the average is somewhere between 2-5%. Personally, I’d put the average at under 2%.
What that means is that 95-98% of the things you worry about never come true.
So, which is more realistic to assume—that the thing you’re currently worrying about will come to fruition and become reality or that it won’t?
Your own history and mine (along with those of everyone else on planet earth) suggest that it’s far more realistic to assume that the thing you’re worrying about won’t come true than that it will.
III. Analyze How Much Control You Have Over the Outcome
I hope you paid attention to the last word of this point because it’s the critical word for today’s lesson, “Outcome.” The great lie about worry is that we think that by worrying we can have some impact on the outcome … and that’s just not true.
No matter how much you worry, you can’t affect the outcome of a football game. No matter how much you worry about a text, you can’t determine what questions your teacher will put on an exam. No matter how much you worry about how someone will respond to your request, you can’t determine how someone will respond. No matter how much you worry about catching a deadly virus, you can’t determine if a deadly virus will spread from somewhere in Africa to your home town (Note: I’m writing this during an Ebola outbreak, not singling out Africa out as the source of all deadly viruses).
In other words, whenever you find yourself worrying about something, all you need to do is ask yourself, “Is this something over which I have control or not?” My guess is that 90+ percent of the time the answer will be “No.”
For example, if you’re on an airplane and you’re worrying, “What if we crash?” Don’t waste your time on that thought. You have no control over that. If you’re worrying about how the stock market will do this year, let it go. You have no control over that. If you’re worrying about getting a job, let it go. You have no control over that. The vast majority of things you worry about are things over which you have no control.
So, anytime you find yourself starting to worry, stop and ask yourself the “How much control do I have over the outcome” question and that should help you get off the worry cliff.
IV. Focus On What You Do Have Control Over
Once you get off the worry cliff (since it does you no good), you can then begin to ask a better question and the better question is, “What can I do to increase the probability of a positive outcome in this situation?”
For example, if you’re worrying about an exam, stop worrying. You can’t control your teacher or what questions will be on the exam. However, you can control one thing, you and the amount of time you study (along with what you study and how you study). You can’t get a better grade by worrying about it, but you can increase the probability of a positive outcome by doing a better job at studying and preparing for the exam.
Likewise, if you’re worrying about how someone feels about you after a tough conversation. let the worry go. You can’t control how they feel. They have 100% control over that. However, you can control you. So, what can you do to increase the probability of a positive outcome?
Well, you can contact them and suggest you talk about what happened yesterday. You can apologize for whatever part you played in the conflict. You can learn how to become better at conflict resolution. You can pray for them and your relationship, etc. All of which are positive activities you can engage in that can increase the probability of a positive outcome.
Similarly, if you’re worried about your job security or getting a good evaluation at work, stop worrying about those items. You have no control over the economy or how much your sales team will sell or how well those with budgetary control will manage their costs or how well someone will evaluate your performance. All you can control is you. So, what could you do to increase the probability of a positive outcome?
Well, you can do your job well. You can become a master at execution. You can do the “little bit extras” to make the work you do more remarkable. You can pitch in to help others. You can volunteer to serve on committees. You can come up with solutions to problems that are plaguing your team or boss. You can mentor others. You can offer to head up a special project. Etc. In other words, you can make yourself indispensable. You can’t control others but if you focus your efforts and attention on those activities that increase the probability of a positive result, you’ll get much father in life than if you focus your attention on worrying about things outside of your control
Remember, worrying about something can’t change an outcome, only action can do that (by you or others or outside forces).
So, whenever you find yourself stuck worrying about someone or something, don’t waste your time and energy on it. Worrying does you no good. Just ask, “How much control do I have over this?” which will be none. And then ask, when appropriate, “What can I do to increase the probability of a positive outcome in this situation?”
If you’ll do those two things, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much more successful and happier your life will be.
To your accelerated success!
Flicr image from spaceodissey