How to Turn Worry into Wisdom by Admitting What You Don’t Know
“Most things I worry about never happen anyway.” ~Tom Petty
There was once a wise farmer who had tended his farm for many years. One day his horse unexpectedly ran away into the mountains. Upon hearing the news, the farmer’s neighbors came to visit.
“How terrible,” they told him.
“We’ll see,” the wise farmer replied.
The next morning, to the farmer’s surprise, the horse returned, bringing with it three wild horses.
“How wonderful. You are very lucky,” the neighbors exclaimed.
“We’ll see,” replied the farmer.
The following day, the farmer’s son tried to ride one of the wild horses. The horse was untamed and the boy was thrown and fell hard, breaking his leg.
“How sad,” the neighbors said, offering sympathy for the farmer’s misfortune.
“We’ll see,” answered the farmer.
The next day, military officials came to the village to draft young men into the army. Seeing that the son’s leg was broken, they passed him by. The neighbors congratulated the farmer on how well things had turned out.
“We’ll see,” the farmer said.
This Zen koan demonstrates the wisdom of not jumping to conclusions. Have you ever worried about something, only to later discover that your worry was unfounded and untrue? The ego is afraid of the unknown, so it jumps to conclusions in order to feel a sense of certainty.
In our ego’s need for certainty, we make assumptions. And when we make assumptions, we make mistakes.
We can never know how the future will unfold. Yet fear convinces us to believe in present circumstances and future outcomes that are totally untrue. This is the origin of worry. Worry is the ego’s way of satisfying itself with an answer—any answer, no matter how irrational it is.
I worry about many things, big and small. I worry about getting stuck in my career, being rejected in my relationships, not having enough money, and whether or not I will miss the next subway into Manhattan.
But worry is dangerous. When we worry, we make mistakes. For example, I might make an assumption about you, such as thinking you are angry with me. Then I act on this assumption.
The false premise of my actions causes me to become defensive. My actions then cause you to make an assumption about me. Since you are unable to see that I am trying to protect myself, you assume I am angry with you.
Soon we are engaged in mutual anger based on a false assumption caused by worry.
The truth is, I will never know fully what is in your head, and you will never know fully what is in mine. Therefore, acting under the ignorance of assumption creates a ripple effect of mistakes.
Imagination + Fear = Worry
It is common in our society to believe that more thinking is always better. This is not always so. Intelligence is an incredible tool, but over-thinking can be just as harmful as under-thinking. Over-thinking is a sickness that creates paranoia and worry.
When we over-think, we make up scenarios in our mind and convince ourselves that these scenarios are true.
Without enough data to make a proper assessment of a situation, our ego hijacks our imagination and jumps to fear-based assumptions. Imagination is usually a powerful creative force, but when imagination is applied with fear, it becomes worry.
The Universe works in mysterious ways. Embracing the mystery of life gives us a calm within the storm of uncertainty.
Instead of over-thinking and jumping to false conclusions, learn to relax your thoughts and say, “I don’t know.”
Trusting uncertainty gives us peace and confidence; and when we wait in stillness without the need for an answer, the truth will reveal itself. The end of fearing the unknown is the end of worry.
Worry is wishing for what you don’t want.
Thoughts are magnets that attract our reality. Peaceful thoughts create a peaceful reality. Fearful thoughts create a fearful reality.
A thought repeated on a regular basis becomes a habit. When a thought becomes a habit, it forms a belief. When a thought forms a belief, it attracts external events that align with your internal state.
Energy flows where attention goes. When you focus on what you want, it is more likely to come to pass. When you focus on what you do not want, it is more likely to come to pass. When you worry, you send a signal into the Universe that attracts your worry. Your focus over time forms your future.
Will a single thought of worry cause your worry to come true? Probably not. Will sustaining your worry with attention and focus over a long period of time attract the worry into your life? The more you focus, the more likely it becomes.
Because focus forms your future, it is important to only concentrate on thoughts you want to actualize.
Your reality grows from the seeds you plant. The seeds of your beliefs grow into your thoughts. The seeds of your thoughts grow into your actions. The seeds of your actions grow into your karma.
You are responsible for the seeds you plant, not the results. When you place your attention on the present moment, without attachment to the past or worry about the future, and plant seeds according to your highest intentions, the results will fall into place.
Worry is an irrational attachment to, or fear of, a specific result. While it sounds counterintuitive, the only way you can achieve a desired result is by not focusing on the result; you must focus on your effort—here and now.
You cannot change what is already growing. Instead, start planting different seeds.
I still worry. But now, whenever my ego gives me something to worry about, I take a deep breath and meditate in silence for a moment.
I sit in stillness and reassure myself. “I don’t have enough data to understand how this event will impact my future,” I say. “Perhaps there is a plan in place that I cannot see. I don’t know what will happen next and that is perfectly okay. I will not jump to conclusions. Let’s wait and see what happens.”
James McCrae is an author, strategist and creator of Sh#t Your Ego Says, a website with simple strategies to overthrow your Ego and become the hero of your story. An award-winning strategist and creative director, James helps businesses and individuals turn imagination into results and make work that matters. Learn more at shityouregosays.com.