Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow. Swedish Proverb
Are you plagued by worries?
Do negative thoughts keep you awake at night?
Do they scuttle around the inside of your head? Burrow into your brain, scratching at your frayed nerves, gnawing at your happiness?
Worrying your already threadbare peace of mind to tatters?
It’s a vicious cycle of worry and negative thinking. Like a virus, it takes over your life, infecting every part of your happiness.
And like the plague, once you’re infected, you’d best quit making plans.
Because everything becomes too worrisome to contemplate. Every cloud’s silver lining is tarnished. Every glass half full at best. Every happy moment overshadowed.
Worry’s Constant Bedfellow – Negative Thinking
By my late teens negative thinking had become a habit. It became who I was – a victim of the worry plague.
I worried constantly. About everything: What I said, what I didn’t say. What I wore, what I didn’t wear. What I did. And what I didn’t do.
I worried about what the future held, or didn’t hold. What I ate, or didn’t eat. Where I went. And where I should have gone.
And I worried about what everyone thought of me. Or didn’t think of me!
If something happened 12,000 miles away, I feared it would hit my doorstep next. If the holidays were coming, I imagined a catalog of disasters before I’d even bought my ticket.
I wasted what should have been my ‘no-responsibility’ years being anxious and troubled.
And I say waste, because that’s exactly what it was, a huge waste.
Except that I finally learned to how to inoculate myself against the worry plague.
I haven’t become immune to worry. But if it trips me up, I’m now strong enough to get up and get on with putting it back in its box.
Most of us worry too much. In fact, most people worry most of the time about, well, everything.
Sometimes it’s conscious. And sometimes it’s at the back of our minds. But it’s there. Wearing us down. Wasting our happiness.
But have you noticed? No amount of negative thought ever solves your worries. None of your 2am frettings have made the worry any smaller.
In fact, the result is the exact opposite, isn’t it? The consequences you feared now seem more momentous than ever. The problem more insurmountable than you ever imagined.
Time Worrying is Time Wasted
But perhaps you think worrying is necessary? After all, some things really are worth worrying about, aren’t they?
Yes, but how many of the things you worry about are really worth stressing over? How many of them actually materialize?
Researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that 85% of the subjects’ worries were shown never to have happened. And of the 15% that did happen, 79% of those researched, said they coped better than they thought.
So 97% of their time worrying was, well, a total waste of time.
Would you work in a job that only paid you for 15% of the time? And badly at that? Would you spend 85% of your time learning to ski if you knew you would never set foot on a ski slope?
The Antidote to Worry
So are you ready to stop the vicious cycle of negative thinking and worry? Are you ready to stop wasting 85% of your time worrying and start whooping instead?
There is a cure to the vicious cycle of worry and negative thinking. I can absolutely vouch for that. It allowed me to transform my life.
Worry is a criminal waste of your time and energy. So let’s go meet the cure.
Just like crime-fighting teams, the antidote to worry and negative thinking comes in the form of a powerful duo. Just like worry and negativity, they are inextricably linked. However, let’s tackle them one at a time.
Now some people bash optimism. And to be fair, there are one or two dissenters out there:
Ceaseless optimism about the future only makes for a greater shock when things go wrong; by fighting to maintain only positive beliefs about the future, the positive thinker ends up being less prepared, and more acutely distressed, when things eventually happen that he can’t persuade himself to believe are good.
But optimism also has it’s die hard supporters (including me):
Optimism is the most important human trait, because it allows us to evolve our ideas, to improve our situation, and to hope for a better tomorrow. ~ Seth Godin
Be fanatically positive and militantly optimistic. ~ Rick Steves
And most of science is firmly in the Seth & Rick camp as this landmark study shows:
Optimism is clearly associated with better psychological health, as seen through lower levels of depressed mood, anxiety, and general distress, when facing difficult life circumstances, including situations involving recovery from illness and disease…optimism is connected to positive physical health outcomes, including decreases in the likelihood of re-hospitalization following surgery, the risk of developing heart disease, and mortality.
Optimists are not simply being Pollyannas; they’re problem solvers who try to improve the situation. And if it can’t be altered, they’re also more likely than pessimists to accept that reality and move on.
All of this is positive press for optimists, but it’s the passages in bold that interests us particularly. They are a prescription for less worry and negative thinking.
And as an added bonus if you recover from illness quicker and have less risk of developing heart disease, that’s your worries halved right there!
There’s no doubt about it – optimism is to worry, what sunlight is to vampires.
Now it’s time to meet our second anti-dote to worry and negative thinking:
Just as worry goes hand in hand with negative thinking, so optimism goes hand in hand with positive thinking.They are the perfect tag team to put the smack down on worry and negative thinking.
They go together like Batman & Robin or any other caped crusader with an inside out underpants fetish.
Now, if the above extracts sold you on the benefits of optimism, then the following should sell you on the benefits of positive thinking. The renowned Mayo Clinic has identified a non too shabby list of positive thinking’s significant benefits to health:
- Lower rates of depression
- Lower levels of distress
- Greater resistance to the common cold
- Better psychological and physical well-being
- Better cardiovascular health and reduced risk of death from cardiovascular disease
- Better coping skills during hardships and times of stress
Other researchers have noted even more benefits of positive thinking:
- Less daily stress
- Greater confidence
- Longer life
- Happier life
- More friends
- Better decision making
Again, it’s the same story: less stress, less depression, more wellbeing, more confidence. It all translates as ‘less worry and more happiness’.
OK, that’s a gross simplification, but just like optimism, there’s way more to positive thinking than just putting on a happy face:
Research is beginning to reveal that positive thinking is about much more than just being happy or displaying an upbeat attitude. Positive thoughts can actually create real value in your life and help you build skills that last much longer than a smile. ~ James Clear
Not only that, but positive thinking leads to positive moods, which gives you an excuse next time your boss catches you watching cute cat videos:
People who watch funny videos on the internet at work aren’t necessarily wasting time. They may be taking advantage of the latest psychological science—putting themselves in a good mood so they can think more creatively. Generally, positive mood has been found to enhance creative problem solving and flexible yet careful thinking.
So by getting in a positive frame of mind, rather than just worrying about X, you can actually do something productive about it. And get away with watching skateboarding dogs.
Now, just like optimism, some people think positive thinking is overrated, or just plain doesn’t work. The culprits are those who make quite incredible claims about positive thinking.
If you’ve seen the film or read the book The Secret, you’ll know positive thinking is at the center of it.
Well, I’ve probably already annoyed psychologists by my outrageous simplification of the link between worry and negative thinking and optimism and positivity. So let’s risk the wrath of the creators of The Secret and do the same.
The’ Secret’ basically is this: You can manifest anything you want if you think positively. How? The Law of Attraction will force the universe to hand it over.
Now, this is NOT what I mean when I say positive thinking. If you’re waiting for the universe to stop you worrying, you’ll die of worry first. You can’t just ask some cosmic Santa Claus for an early Christmas present. You need to take responsibility for your own cure here.
Right, let’s carry on with those of you willing to accept responsibility for your own life. With a little help of course.
Now, you would think we’d be all good to go, having removed cosmic forces and the like out of the equation. However, there’s still one worm left in this particular apple.
Some people claim that literally nothing is impossible if you think positively. Napoleon Hill, the Author of Think And Grow Rich, famously cut the word ‘impossible’ out of his dictionary, refusing to have the word in the house.
And he was echoed by Napoleon Bonaparte:
The word impossible is not in my dictionary.
I wonder if the word ‘Waterloo’ was in his dictionary? It seems history didn’t agree with him.
Even before Napoleon, another psychopath, sorry, great military general, Alexander The Great, had a similar attitude:
There is nothing impossible to him who will try.
And more modern luminaries have joined in the ‘nothing is impossible’ cry…
Nothing is impossible, the word itself says ‘I’m possible’! ~ Audrey Hepburn
Virtually nothing is impossible in this world if you just put your mind to it and maintain a positive attitude. ~ Lou Holtz
Nothing is impossible. ~ Walt Disney
Well, Walt did make an elephant fly, so I suppose he gets a special dispensation. However, I doubt if any amount of positive thinking would let me or any of the above eat the Americas or drink the Pacific dry. However hungry or thirsty we were.
Perhaps after all, they never meant their comments to be taken literally. In fact Lou Holtz did slip in a ‘virtually nothing’ in there, so maybe he had some doubts as to the all conquering power of positive thinking.
A.A. Milne and Lewis Caroll both had a rather more humorous outlook on the ‘nothing is impossible’ debate:
People say nothing is impossible, but I do nothing every day. ~ A.A. Milne
Sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. ~ Lewis Carroll
Nothing is impossible. Some things are just less likely than others. ~ Jonathan Winters
So to summarize, positive thinking isn’t going to magically cure all your worries. Which is why this article isn’t called “How To Magically Stop Worrying Completely And Be Delirious With Happiness Every Single Day”.
Because I’d be lying to you.
I can’t promise that positive thinking can make you worry free.
The reason it isn’t an elixir for all your worries is because some of them are well-founded.
Some of them are real. And they will happen.
So How Can Positive Thinking Halve Your Worries?
By helping you worry less. Way less. Because in the words of Elbert Hubbard:
Positive anything is better than negative nothing.
And what about those worries that are real? Well again, positive thinking may not solve all of them, but to paraphrase Zig Ziglar:
Positive thinking will solve a heck of a lot more of them than negative thinking will.
Ok, that was more re-writing, than paraphrasing, but you get the idea.
So are you ready to stop worry plaguing your life?
Are you ready take your prescription for a worry-free night?
Here it is: take regular doses of optimism and positive thinking and watch your worries shrink and your happiness grow.
You’ll see the silver lining in (almost) every cloud
And it won’t matter whether the glass is half full or not as you can always turn it to your advantage as Richard Branson points out:
Apparently there are people in this world who choose to see the glass half empty instead of half full. However, being an eternal optimist, I’m sure we can win them around. Personally, I see any glass half full as an opportunity to top it up, start a conversation and perhaps spark a great new idea.
Think positive. Be optimistic.
It’ll halve your worries.
And double your happiness.
Leaving you with the serious problem of what to do with all that time you just freed up from worrying?
I suggest you top up your glass and see if you can’t come up with a great idea.
In the next article, I’ll show you how exactly to turn worry and negative thinking into positive thinking. In the meantime, one of the most persistent traits of optimistic people is gratitude. So why not find out your Gratitude Score?
Or you could even find out how positive you are with my fun Positivity Quiz.