A man has been trying to cut down a tree in the rain for hours, after a while his neighbor seeing that the man is facing some difficulty goes over and asks what the problem is and the man replies “It’s hard to cut down the tree because the wood is wet.”. The neighbor replies “Since nature is not in our control and you can’t do anything about the rain, you can surely do something about the saw and sharpen it, you’ll be able to cut down the tree faster that way”.
We do the same thing every day. We spend hours complaining about our concerns like if we put on weight because of an illness, we will constantly worry about our health. We can’t control the illness but what is in our hands is that we could maintain a workout regime once well and maintain a proper diet. We usually try to find quick fixes for our problems but not working on it. Working on it will take the same amount of time as worrying about it. So why do we not spend our time “sharpening the saw” rather than “worrying about the rain”
Imagine staying up all night thinking about a job interview that we have next morning. Our stomach is queasy, sleep evades us and we build up scenarios thinking of where we might get stuck, what if we stammer or the interviewer asks questions that we were not prepared for? We end up not sleeping the whole night which adversely impacts our concentration, attention and mental processing ability which could further impact our performance in the job interview.
How often have we spent sleepless nights building up worst case scenarios in our life? More often than not these scenarios never turn out to be half as bad as we feared. The worst case scenarios that we create in our head usually end up becoming self fulfilling prophecies: We create negative scenarios in our head, fret about it so much that it affects the way we handle the situation and end up thinking that our worst fears have come true.
In all these situations there are two factors that come into play:
Circle of Concern– encompasses the wide range of concerns we have, such as our health, our children, problems at work, other people’s behaviour etc.
Circle of Control – encompasses those concerns that we can do something about. They are concerns that we have some control over.
Worry or a feeling of concern is defined as feeling anxious or troubled about actual or potential problems. It’s an evolutionary trait that we always look for the negatives in our surrounding as it helps us to assess & protect ourselves from impending danger. It is a psychological fact that we focus more on the negatives than the positives. Worrying can be helpful when it spurs us to take action and solve a problem but if it limits us from achieving our goals then it becomes a bane.
All of us like to be in control of our lives. We always want to be better prepared for circumstances that might arise that’s why we plan ahead for everything but sometimes life throws us a curveball and we find ourselves in a conundrum that we could not anticipate. What should be our approach in such cases? Worrying is common and no matter how hard we try not to, we will fret over things, events, people but it hardly ever helps. Getting anxious about something won’t change its occurrence. It might build up the problem into disastrous proportions. We enhance the ‘what ifs’ & ‘could be’ into catastrophes. Sometimes we end up making mountains out of molehills. We dwell on insignificant details and build stories in our head that might not even come true.
How to focus on the Circle of Control
- Ask yourself if the problem is solvable – If we focus on problems where the stressor is an external factor like other people’s behavior then we would not be putting our energy to good use as the way people act is not in our hands so we should focus on working on factors that are our responsibility
- Challenge the reality of anxious thoughts- We often become so caught up in our negative thought patterns that we tend to maximize the adversities and discount the positives. We become so engrossed in the flaws and mistakes that we are unable to look at the whole picture and assess the situation holistically
- Accept uncertainty- Often our best laid plans do not materialize and it becomes a source of stress for us. We go over every minute detail as to where things could have gone wrong. In such pursuit of perfection we might end up disregarding the new opportunities that might have opened up for us which might possibly be better than our original plan
- Focus on the present rather than the past or future – We have no control over what is going to happen the next minute no matter how prepared we are and how much planning is done. Also going over past events where the outcome was not up to our expectations will only make us more agitated & stressed. We should learn from our past but not live there. We can anticipate for the future but not forget to live in the moment.
- Confine your worrying to one time period during the day – If worrying seems inevitable then we should try to limit it to a specific time period so we don’t expend all our energies on it and rather allocate more time on the resolution of problems.
Reactive people spend time getting anxious about uncertainties in the future and redirect all energies on things that are not in their hands. Proactive people live in the circle of control. They focus on the areas that they are responsible for or which they can actually work on. This helps them to channelize all their energies into finding solutions and resolving conflicts.
So where should our focus lie? On our circle of concern where we have no power or our circle of control? If we focus on things that concern us without trying to work on it, it doesn’t help us, we end up getting more frustrated. It is very important to get out of that negative thinking zone if we want to work on our problems. Many situations might not be in our control but it’s in our hands to choose whether we want to be reactive or proactive about it.
Worrying won’t stop the bad stuff from happening; it will only stop you from enjoying the good things