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How to calm an overactive mind and worry less

The comprehensive guide to stop worrying about your future so you can enjoy the life you have now.

Is worry good for you?

You probably think…

“NO! WORRY IS BAD, BAD, BAD FOR YOU.”

Because…

Worry causes an increase in anxiety. Making it difficult to relax or sleep. And worry leads to a build-up of stress that can eventually cause panic attacks and other major health problems including stroke, hypertension and even brain cancer.

But…

What if I said you were wrong!

And what if I said worry can actually be very good for you?

Because…

Worry can protect you. Worry can help you keep one step ahead of your problems so you can prevent them as best you can. And worry can keep you on your toes at work. Stopping you from messing up so you don’t get fired.

Wouldn’t you agree with me?

Like most people, you are probably of two minds now…

Because you know from experience that my positive statements about worry are true. But yet, you have vivid memories of gut wrenching experiences where worry overwhelms you beyond belief. Causing your mind to work overtime and turning you to an anxious wreck.

Strange isn’t it?

Is it possible that worry can be good and bad for you at the same time?

Ironically, the current research on worry difficulties, suggests that people run into problems with worry because they fall into one of two common traps.

2 Common traps that turn you into a worry addict

Trap 1: You believe that worry is a positive thing.

Trap 2: You believe that worry is a negative thing.

Huh!

How can both be traps?

I know, it sounds contradictory, but I’ll explain…

Trap 1: You believe that worry is a positive thing

If you believe that worry is a positive thing. And you are convinced that worry always helps you resolve problems. What are you likely to do more of?

You will most likely worry more.

And as you worry more and more, you build an automated pathway in your brain. Eventually this just makes you worry habitually even when you don't want to worry.

Trap 2: You believe that worry is a negative thing.

On the other side of the coin, you believe worry is a terrible plague on your life.

You want to stop worrying because you can see that it is killing you. But no matter how hard you try, you find frustratingly that you can’t stop worrying.

The Irony of this second trap is that your attempts to stop worrying is what locks you in trap 2. Hence the harder you try to stop worrying the worse the worrying becomes. This is because, in addition to the initial thing that triggered your worry, you now can’t stop worrying that you are worrying.

I tell you, this can balloon into massive layers of worries on top of worries. Making your head feel like it’s going to explode.

Essentially, both the positive and negative beliefs about worry causes problems. That’s why fighting worry problems feels like an unwinnable battle.

Fortunately there is a better way to deal with worry. And this approach can help make worry problems melt away like butter.

The best way to think about worry is to see it as a neutral thing. It is a tool. And like any other tool, it can be used or abused.

How to avoid falling into worry traps

Imagine you are a carpenter.

And you decided that from now on you are going to use your hammer as a tool for every single job you do.

You are going to use your hammer to nail things in. Use your hammer to screw things in. Use the hammer for sticking things together.

Obviously, if you do this, you’ll soon be out of a job.

This might sound like a silly analogy. Sadly it’s exactly how most people treat worry.

You see, for a carpenter, a hammer has a function, a purpose and correct way of using it. And if he uses it too little, he’ll experience problems, just like if he uses it too much he’ll experience problems.

In a similar way, worry has a function, a purpose and a correct way of using it. If you don’t worry at all, you are bound to smash into many unexpected problems. But if you use worry too much, this will also create problems in your life.

Let’s break this down into simple practical bullet points.

The simple 4-point action plan to calm an overactive mind and reduce worry

To stop worry from becoming a problem in your life…

  • You have to treat it as a tool
  • You have to understand how it functions
  • You have to use it for its purpose
  • You have to use it only when it is needed

Next, I’ll reveal exactly how to do this in 6 steps. I’ll also share examples to show you how this works in real life.

6 steps to turn your worry into a life-beautifying and functional gem

Step 1: Claim time back from worry

The goal here is to reduce the time spent worrying rather than stopping yourself from worrying completely.

Essentially, it is still okay to worry about stuff we cannot change. Because if you don’t think about what you cannot change, how else are you to realize you cannot change it.

All humans worry about this occasionally as it is natural. You just have to try to stop it from spilling over into every single minute of your daily life.

And to achieve this, all you have to do is to give your worry its own special appointment time.

Limiting your worry into a scheduled time teaches your brain to be resilient by not going into “end of the world mode” over every little worry.

It also teaches your brain to find peace and calm more often than not. And this improves your ability to enjoy important moments.

So, your aim is to confine worry to 30 minutes or one hour each day.

For example, you might say…

“Every day at 6 PM, I will sit down for an hour and think through these issues that bug me.”

Some people choose to do this in the morning when they wake up, whilst others prefer to do this in the evening just after eating and others prefer to do it just before going to bed. Choose what time works for you with your schedule.

Then when you catch yourself worrying during other time of the day you postpone to your worry time. Doing this helps to prevent your worry from becoming, unproductive and going around in loops

But as with everything that’s worthwhile, this process will take some time and repeated effort to achieve successfully.

Because like most people discover, you will find it difficult to stop the worries each time you catch yourself worrying. As you try to stop and push your worries away, you’ll find that they just keep coming back.

And this brings me to the next step of the process.

Step 2: Become a worry boxer

People often think they are failing at controlling worry because it keeps coming back.

But like a boxer builds stamina from punching a bag that keeps swinging back, repeatedly punching your worries away builds emotional stamina. It flexes your brain muscles and makes the process of switching worries off easier over time.

So for step 2, as you are going about your day, say the word STOP (in your head) whenever you catch yourself worrying. Then focus your attention back on whatever you were doing.

If you were cooking or eating, pay attention to the tantalizing smell of the food. If you are writing an email, pay attention to each word as you write.

Like the boxer, the more times you can do this per day, the quicker you’ll reach full domination over your worry.

So the fact that your worry keeps coming back is actually a good thing because it gives you many opportunities to practice.

Great!

Now, let’s move on to the next step.

What do you actually do with the worry whilst in your scheduled worry time? Do you just let it run away wildly?

Step 3: Classify your worries like a scientist

In your worry time, the first thing you must do is to filter your worries. This is crucial for saving time and emotional energy for worries that need your attention.

You do this by breaking them down into three different classes.

The first class is worries that you cannot do anything about.

The second class is worries that you can do something about, but for whatever reason can’t address it for some time. Maybe months or years.

And the third class is worries that you can do something practically about now.

So for example…

If I was travelling tomorrow and I began to worry about the air in my tyre.

Which of these classes will this worry sit in?

The answer would be class 3 because I can fix it and change it instantly.

What if I have to find a new job in three months’ time but this is worrying me now?

What class would this fit in?

The second class, because I know it will happen, but it’s a way off.

But what if I am worrying about walking up the street and finding someone kissing my wife?

What class would this fall under?

This worry would fall under the first class because it is a worry I can’t do anything about.

All good so far?

Now how do you deal with the things you know you can’t change which you still can’t stop.

I will be revealing this in the next 3 steps

Step 4: Use the presidential system (Useful for class 3 worries)

Imagine you’re the president of the United States. You have a major threat to address and a decision must be made by the end of the morning.

Your departmental advisers are sitting all around you. Each one throwing his or her opinions at you. Trying their hardest to convince you that you’ll bring the country to total ruin if you ignore their advice or go with any of the other adviser’s suggestions.

As the president, you still have to make a decision. So you consider all of the advice given you, and compare them to find the suggestion that gives the best outcome with the least repercussions.

This is exactly what we are doing with the presidential system.

When you hit a problem that is difficult to solve. Like the presidential advisers, your thoughts will highlight every potential danger any decision you make will produce.

Your goal here is to take a pen and paper and write out all the solutions you can come up with and then compare them all to find the best solution with the least repercussion.

Note that I said write down on paper. This is because it has been scientifically proven that humans are better at engaging the logical parts of their brain when writing things down.

As such, if like most people, you try to just think through this process without writing things down, your emotions will get in the way. And this will make it 100 times harder to think clearly through the problem.

Now the most difficult part of using the presidential system is committing to any solution that still has potential risks. If you struggle with anxiety, chances of any risks could also spiral you into more worries.

To avoid this potential blockage to moving forward. You can rely on the biggest super power of your brain.

What’s that super power?

It is to approach any problem you want to overcome in “Baby steps.”

There is a brilliant book on how to use baby steps to successfully defeat the most seemingly impossible problems you might encounter. The book is titled “One small step can change your life: The Kaizen way to success. By Dr. Robert Maurer (Affiliate link)

For now, here is a real life example showing you exactly how to use the presidential system.

Example: How to use the presidential system.

Jeremy couldn’t stop worrying that there are no positive things happening in his life. He had tried to ignore the thought, but couldn’t stop thinking…

“I am not experiencing positive things in my life because I am not good enough. This makes me feel worthless.”

Now, Jeremy was battling with a number of Ideas for addressing this issue. Sadly everything he thought about had a costly repercussion and this made it hard to decide.

For example…

Idea 1: Why not work harder at ignoring this thought.

This Idea was counteracted by the thought…

“That’s what you have been doing till now. But has it worked? This will just make you feel like a failure all over again.”

Idea 2: Perhaps I am just not seeing the positive that are actually happening. Why not ask people around me who would be more objective if they can see any positives in my life.

This Idea was challenged by the thought…

“But what if the people I ask confirm that there are indeed no positives in my life, wouldn’t that make you depressed?”

Idea 3: If I found out that there are indeed no positive things in my life, why not actually plan some positive things like go out for a meal or to the cinema with a friend.

Again, this was challenged by the thought…

“But what if you did that and your friends turned you down, wouldn’t that make you a failure all over again?”

So using the presidential system, Jeremy wrote all his Ideas and their repercussions down on paper and compared them all to decide on the best cause of action.

He decided to test his thought about no positive in his life by asking a few people. His wife, his sister, and a close friend. And if this proved his fears, he would proceed to research into ways of bringing positive experiences into his life.

Now Jeremy had an action plan for his worry and this took the power away from it so he did not feel the need to keep worrying. Surprisingly this reduced the worry even though he had not acted on the plan yet.

Using the presidential system like this gives you the ability to address your worry methodically. It helps you avoid your worries swimming around randomly. Giving you a better chance of taking the thought to a conclusion.

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Step 5: Diffuse your “END OF THE WORLD” worry mode. (useful for class 1& 3 worries)

Sometimes uncontrollable worries get triggered and take your mind straight to a worst case scenario.  

Usually you can see the negative outcome you are predicting is highly exaggerated and unlikely. But once you reach this point, your mind grows a mind of its own, and takes over everything. Leaving you in a state.

In most cases, worst case scenario worries is best managed by learning to bring the worry back into reality. This takes the power out of the worry, helping you access a peaceful mind by choice.

Here’s an example of how to do this…

James’s daughter recently threw up in the car. And because he recently had a friend's daughter die due to an illness, this triggered a load of worry.

So his thoughts went straight to...

"Is she okay?"

"Could this be the start of an illness? What is going to happen to her? Oh no! She is going to die!"

And then this triggered feelings of panic, stress and worry. Leading to a panicked reaction from him in the car. Shouting at his partner who was driving that she needed to pull over immediately.

Also feeling a bit angry at her for not having the same level of concern about the situation as he did

But then the outcome was that after they pulled over, his daughter was absolutely fine and James just felt a bit shaken and silly for having such an extreme response.

In addition, he felt guilty for shouting at his partner, and also felt bad because his drastic reaction traumatized his daughter.

To help James learn to think in a calm and rational way. His first task was to draw the experience out in a cycle. See the cycle below.

"END OF THE WORLD" mode cycle

"END OF THE WORLD" mode cycle

Following this process helped James to understand his feelings better. It also made him realize that the escalating thoughts and the worry they produce don't actually change things, they just make him feel worse

Flipping your worries away

Now once you have drawn out the first cycle, to help you think in a much more helpful way about the situation, you draw out another cycle. This second cycle will be flipped so that it reads completely opposite to the first cycle.

An essential point to note is that as you flip this cycle. Much of what you write will feel impossible or alien to you. Please still persevere with the process and carry on trying to flip the cycle.

Below is my exact dialogue with James, helping him to flip his cycle. Underneath the dialogue, I have provided the flipped cycle we arrived at.

Adewale: So write out the trigger which is your daughter being sick. What do you think will be the opposite of the thoughts you had.... “Is she okay? Could this be the start of an illness? What is going to happen to her? Oh no! She is going to die."

James: I guess that she's fine, it's not anything majorly wrong with her we've just been on a long journey?

Adewale: How does it feel actually flipping this thought? Does it go against you?

James: I feel like I know that it's the more logical thought to have, but yes it's not a natural way for me to think about it.

Adewale: So, if those were your thoughts about the situation, how would it have changed the feelings you had. Feelings of panic, stress and worry.

James: I would've then just felt relaxed.

Adewale: So, how would this relaxed feeling have impacted your reaction which was…
"Panicked reaction from me in the car, shouting at your partner that he needed to pull over immediately."

James: Instead I would've nicely asked for the car to be pulled over so we could clean up, and just comforted my daughter until this happened.

Adewale: And what would have been the outcome?

James: My daughter would still be fine, and I would feel like I had done a good job taking care of her and handling the situation.

Adewale: Now compare the two cycles, does it give you any thoughts?

Flipped "END OF THE WORLD" mode cycle

Flipped "END OF THE WORLD" mode cycle

Going through this process helped James realize that if he could get a handle on his thoughts from the beginning of the cycle to make them the positive version, then all the things that would follow on from that would be positive and leave him feeling better at the outcome.

Now, I must stress that when you are not used to thinking this way, this will not be easy. Because your thoughts will tend to come quite rapidly which makes them hard to catch at first.

However, the benefit of doing this exercise is that it begins to open your eyes to different ways in which things can turn out.

Without this, your mind would just feel confused because you have no reference for how exactly to think about the situation. All you will just know is the negative spirals you keep going through.

Step 6: Master uncertainty (Useful for class 1, 2 & 3 worries)

Isn't it annoying when people say you have to learn to accept uncertainty.

As if it is that easy!

Yes it is true that worrying about bad stuff happening will waste time and take the pleasure out of life.

But how do you learn to accept it.

The best way to break through the uncertainty driven worry is to realize that uncertainty isn't actually the problem.

In fact uncertainty is the solution.

And once you successfully make this mental switch, your problems with uncertainty disappear.

I'll elaborate...

A common fear about accepting uncertainty is that you’ll be flooded by bad outcomes. And that you’ll be full of regrets that you didn’t listen to your gut instincts.

As such, it feels totally irresponsible to allow any uncertainty into your life.

Why let it happen if you can avoid it.

So you try to use worry to gather as much information as possible to help make the situation 100% certain.

The problem?

This turns out to be the fastest way to squeeze all the joy out of your life.

Imagine watching a movie in which you were able to predict every scene perfectly. Would this movie be enjoyable?

Not at all. You’d be bored stiff.

That's why film producers make sure that there are enough surprising twists and turns in their movie to keep you glued to your seat.

In the same way, a life with zero uncertainty is a colourless life. A life like this causes stress, pain, depression and anxiety.

It’s like how muscles weaken when we don't exercise enough.

We all have a fear muscle in our brain that gets stronger with use. The more you avoid uncertainty, the weaker your fear muscle will get.

Hence, moving towards uncertainty enables you to worry less and enjoy your life more. It trains you to feel comfortable facing your fears.

Practical tips for overcoming the fear of uncertainty and taming worry

So the first tip is to learn to mine uncertainty for the beauty and advantages it can bring into your life.

The second tip is to survey your life for things you are currently doing that has uncertainty written all over it.

For example...

Walking outside beside a road with speeding cars is fraught with uncertainty

Going to sleep and waking up is uncertain. You have no way of making this certain.

Walking the streets safely is uncertain, I have had friends who got attacked for no reason.

Flying on a plane is uncertain

If you are comfortable with anyone these things, ask yourself how come?

Then practice bringing these uncertain situations that you feel comfortable with into mind regularly. Doing this enough times helps your brain to normalize uncertainty, gradually helping to reduce your fear around it.

Moving on…

The third tip is to balance out your predictions.

Ask yourself the following questions.

Do I predict bad things whenever I’m uncertain? Could good things be just as likely to happen?

For example...

You are about to catch the tube and you begin to feel uncertain about your safety.

Underlying this feeling of uncertainty is a prediction that something bad may happen. And you focus solely on this.

To balance this fear of uncertainty It is helpful to start allowing yourself to contemplate how the trip on the tube might go well.

Balancing your predictions regularly allows your brain to feel more in control. Which then produces the tendency to worry less.

But warning!!

You don't want to swing totally to the opposite side where you ignore everything that comes your way because you are trying to stop responding to uncertainty

Doing this will give you the biggest shock of your life and catapult you back to becoming a worry wart. Because you’ll be bombarded by too many problems which you are not prepared to handle.

Hence it is still crucial to assess the uncertainty to see if you have options. Where do you have some control over the situation? And if you discover that you can do something, put your energy in to those areas only. And then re-evaluate this regularly.

Finally…

How to find peace of mind

Battling with persistent worry can feel like an impossible task.

But if you give your worry its own home, it blesses you with the feeling of safety, it hands back control of your life over to you and it stops bugging you.

How do you give worry its own home?

It is by recognizing that worry is neither negative nor positive. It is a tool. And how you use this tool determines the outcomes you get.

It is by practicing self-kindness as you learn to work with your worry, so that you can quickly get pass the painful thorns of life and get to the beautiful roses of success, growth and fulfillment.

It is by building your brain into a worry powerhouse that uses worry to engineer breakthroughs in your relationships, breakthroughs at work and breakthroughs in your personal life.

So…

Claim back time from your worry to gain back time to do the things you love.

Box your worries away until they give up and give you back the control seat.

Classify your worries to master problem solving.

Become the president in your life and make your worries work for you and not the other way around.

Flip your END OF THE WORLD worries out of the ring to gain calmness and peace.

And…

Mine the gold of uncertainty to make colour, fun, joy and fulfillment permanent visitors in your life

Written by Adewale Ademuyiwa
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Twice a month I hop on a conference call to teach, answer questions, and give feedback to members of the Take Back Control Program.

If you'd like to succeed at learning how to cope emotionally without wasting years making mistakes because of trial and error, then come join us.

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