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Friday, February 25, 2011

What If?

Worry. Angst. Stress.  Regret. Lament. Bemoan.  As Frankie Goes to Hollywood sang "Relax, Don't Do It.

According to Merriam Webster, the origins of the word worry come from the Old High German verb wurgen which means to strangle and from the Lithuanian word, veržti, to constrict.

Strangle, constrict - that's what worry does.  It restricts flow.  Think about the times when you've worried about something.  Perhaps it was how you were going to fare on a test or in a game.  Maybe it was about how angry something you did - or were about to do - was going to make someone.  Maybe you're worried about something right now!

Many of us worry about our finances, our health, our career, or our children.  That tightening in your gut - that's worry.  Worry is a natural and sometimes useful emotion.  Worry can alert you to impending danger and prevent unnecessary accidents.  Worry can stem from pathos and compel you to acts of selfless kindness.  However by and large, worry simply constricts your ability to live in the present, strangles your brain's potential, and shuts off and out things that truly matter.

Worry is about living in a world of what might happen as opposed to what is happening.  You never worry about what has happened (that's regret - we'll come to that later).  Worry is about projecting a distasteful experience that could happen.  In fact you're more likely to project scores of potential scenarios and worry about all of them!  The very few times something does go as badly as feared we kid ourselves, saying something like, "I knew it," falsely cementing in our minds that we were justified in worrying. We then use those few instances to convince ourselves that our worry is well placed.  Though we far more frequently think, "What was I so worried about," but forget that when we start to worry about something new.

When we worry, we often viscerally feel the emotions of that projected event (or a multitude of them) even though it's not occurred.  We shut out the moment we're in; we miss the value of the fleeting moments of our lives and, incredibly, exchange them for something imagined and fear inducing.  The brain has the amazing capacity to project the mind into a circumstance that's pure conjecture.  In short, what you're worrying about is not real!

If worry is about transporting the mind to a painful imagined future, regret is about feeling the pain of the past.  And even though one thought is about a false reality and the other is a real event, the effect is very much the same.  Regret is grief about what you suspect might be different today had you done something different yesterday.  If I had studied more in school, if I wasn't such a selfish jerk, if I had decided to do x instead of y.  The idea is that if you had made a different decision, acted in a different way, your life would be different.  Regret means living your life with the belief that it would have been better if only....

Merriam Webster says that the origin of the word regret comes from the Middle English regretten, from Anglo-French regreter, from re- + -greter (perhaps of Germanic origin; akin to Old Norse grāta, to weep.

To weep.  We shed tears and feel pain over something that is in the past, that has happened, that is unchangeable.  The only way to generate that kind of emotion is to take that event from the past and bring it into the present, into your mind's eye.  And of course by doing that, we once again push the now right out of the frame.  Just as with worry, regret removes us from the present and causes unnecessary pain - and sometimes even physical illnesses - high blood pressure, indigestion, ulcers to name but a few!

I was reading my Chronicles No. 1 post from August of 2009.  In it I starkly listed several things that would easily cause many to worry, my first marathon, job loss, bankruptcy, and child loss.  And similarly there is plenty I might have regretted that brought me to that point. Yet for all that I might have been worried about, I have endeavored to remember that worry and regret weren't and aren't places I want to be. In spite of what had happened and an uncertain future, I focused instead on the potential of the moment.

I don't mean to imply that you shouldn't learn from mistakes or that you ought not concern yourself with making prudent plans for your future.  Doing those things is simply a practical matter. Worry and regret are not practical.  Worry and regret are not your friends, however long they've been your companions.

The ability to shed the weight of regret or dismiss worry is not something that's especially natural.  As with any craft, it takes practice and I've been practicing for most of my life.  The best advice I ever got came when I just entering high school.  Mired in some kind of teenage angst, I was told by a sage that if I had a problem, that's was one thing.  If I worried about it, now I had two things with which to contend.  Just focus on the problem.  The advice rang true and I've employed and shared it countless times since.

Worrying about a problem or having regret about a past choice does not serve you in resolving your issue; it is nothing other than a second condition with which you must struggle. If you are worrying about or regretting something you're constricting and strangling your ability to deal with the issue itself.

"Don't worry about a thing, cause every little thing gonna be all right."

Listen to what those three little birds are singing to you.

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