It seems like nearly every day I am reminded how important mindset is. Recently I received an email from a woman who at the young age of 21 felt like her life “might as well be over with.” She had graduated from high school, and attended some college but recently decided it was not the right thing for her and dropped out. To top things off her parent were angry with her impulsive behavior and she was having a great deal of difficulty finding a job. The picture she painted was indeed quite bleak.
After some initial prodding, it seemed that she was so focused on what was not happening in her life that she really had not spent much time working towards what she wanted to get out of life. All she could really tell me was what she didn’t want. It was very clear in our relatively brief exchange, that she needed a shift in her mindset.
If all you do is worry and focus on all of the bad “stuff” that is happening in life there certainly will be no room for anything good to come in to your life. I am not saying that you can completely ignore all of your problems and that everything will be okay- that’s not likely to be reality either. Some worry is good. It is what helps motivate us and propels us forward into action. If I don’t have a job- I won’t have a place to live. If I don’t have a car- I can’t get to work, etc. Those are valid worries. They are worries that can be turned into goals. If I get a job that pays me “X” I can get my own car and my own apartment. Worrying that “I will never get a job” gets you know where- that kind of worry distorts your thinking, causes anxiety, and depression, and will get you nowhere fast.
So, what do you do if you find yourself trapped in a negative mindset filled with excessive worry?
1) Get rid of the clutter in your life- both physical clutter and emotional clutter. Nothing feels good about walking into a home that is filled with clutter in every room and a list of chores that need to be done. This kind of physical clutter carries over into our emotional lives reminding us that we are failures and that we have not followed through on our various commitments. Getting rid of physical clutter can be emotionally liberating and can result in the feeling that a very heavy weight has been lifted off our shoulders. Dealing with clutter is often one of the easiest steps we can take to begin feeling better. If you have difficulty getting rid of stuff, ask a friend to help you sort through your piles of things to keep, throw away, and donate.
2) Decide what you will worry about and what you won’t worry about. If you really can’t change something then stop worrying about. There are things that we can change and things that we can’t change. You do not have the ability to control how others think and feel about you. In the case above, the young woman’s parents were angry at her for quitting school without talking to them first. She can’t control how her parents feel. Sure they might not be happy with her- but that is their choice. What she does have choice over is how she deals with her parent’s anger and the consequences that result from her choices.
3) Limit the time you allow yourself to worry about something. Sounds kind of odd but set a window of time that you will allow yourself to worry each day. When you are worrying use the time to write out your worries and the consequences of your worries.After you have written all your worries and consequences out, look at what you wrote and write about what each of those worries would look like if the opposite occurred. For example, worrying about not passing a test or getting a promotion- what would happen if you did pass the test or you did get the promotion. From your writings, make a list of things that you can do to help you pass the test or prepare for a promotion.
4) Turn your worries into goals. Your relationship with your parents has tanked after declaring that you are dropping out of school and moving to a coastal beach town with a group of girls from high school. They really feel that it is the dumbest idea you have ever had and are threatening not to speak to you again and are certain that you won’t get a job. You are really worried that they are right, you won’t find a job, and you will wind up homeless with parents that won’t give you the emotional support that you need. How can you possibly not have worries? For starters, if possible have a conversation with your parents about needing to try something else, and about how important their support is. Build into the conversation some goals and time frames. I will have “X” amount of money saved before I move to support me for at least a couple of months. I will have a job within two weeks of moving to the town. I will start my job hunt before I even leave contacting “x” number of potential employers before I even head out the door. I will sit down and re-evaluate my decision about leaving school within the next 6-12 months. By having these “goals” you are focusing on things that will help you move forward in life. You are not stuck giving all of your energy to your worries.
5) Letting go of worry is often a difficult thing to do and may actually take a lot of practice. Part of letting go includes focusing on what you have that you are grateful for. Along with your set aside time for worry each day, set aside time each day to either write about or reflect upon things in your life that you are grateful for. Start out small. At the end of each day identify one or two things that bring you happiness in the day and give thanks for those things.
“Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.” Melody Beattie