If worrying was an Olympic Sport, I’d be a multiple gold medalist. You know that super yucky feeling that can ruin even the best of occasions because you are fretting about what could go wrong and one of the main characteristics of anxiety. We all worry from time to time and having this feeling is a natural part of life. What is not natural and where worrying becomes a major issue is when it starts riddle each and every one of our thoughts.
As an expert worrier, I have wasted plenty of mental capacity worrying about things before they never happened. I was never the one who could fly by the seat of their pants because I was too busy trying not to shit my pants. I speak about my worrying candidly, but the truth is living this way has certainly caused a steady flow of tears, sleepless nights, anticipation turn to dread and excited butterflies turn into a racing heart.
Two of my favourite things to worry about in life are the ‘unknown’ and people’s opinion of me. In my wisdom I have learned that the only opinion of me that matters, is my own, and that life is full of unknowns…………….but on those days that are canvassed with anxiety, these two worries dance madly through my head.
The unknown is like standing in the dark, and as an anxious person I don’t like dark, so to help bring myself into the light, I’d draw my own conclusions based on one third of the information that I had. I’d then spend waste time worrying about the consequences of the horrible outcome that I’d imagined. So as you can see, my attempt to bring myself into the light would only bring me more darkness in the form of worry, fear and then embarrassment because I would literally make an arse out of myself due to my assumptions.
Having solid ‘worry’ experience from about 5 years old, right up until 27 has been a tough habit to break. When I look back and think about those prolonged periods of my life where I was consumed by the internal apocalypse unfolding in my head, I honestly cannot even remember what I was bothered by and why it bothered me so much. I only remember being bothered….this is enough to tell me that the time and energy I spent on these worries simply weren’t worth the energy and I carried these things for longer than necessary. Remember that even little things become heavy when you carry them for too long.
I’m not dismissing all of my worries – some were and are most definitely valid. And like anyone reading this, we have all had some heavy shit going on that will naturally cause inner turmoil and distress. But those forgotten reasons for being so consumed by worry, I have to ask myself was it really worth all that nervous energy? And in years to come, I’ll probably be asking myself the same question about the things I am worry about today. Sometimes it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture because we are too caught up in the small insignificant details.
A lot of the advice that I received was along the lines of “it’s not important”, “it doesn’t matter” and “let it go”; it seems simple, and probably the best I have ever received, however I didn’t know to put this into practice.
A few months back I was stressing over a challenging project at work; my dear colleague could see that my stress was disproportionate to the ‘problem’ I was facing. After almost self-imploding, she stopped me in my tracks and introduced me to a valuable tool that has since played an important role in helping me manage the constant state of worry I lived in. She pulled out a blank sheet of paper and drew a circle; in this circle she listed all the factors of this project that I had control over; she was using Stephen Coffey’s Circle of Influence to help explain all the things I COULD have control over and influence. Outside of this circle, she listed all the factors beyond my control; funnily enough, these were all the things that I was concentrating on; IT equipment not working, staff not responding to emails, being unable to get help using the system, Christmas getting cancelled (just kidding) but the list went on. She confirmed that I didn’t have control over these things, but as long as I invested my energy over the things I could control, to some extent, I could influence my concerns (me? Influence? Really???) And if this was not possible, I’d need to accept these things were outside my control and beyond doing what I could do to control the controllables and influence everything else, there was no point worrying about these.
As I do exhibit ‘control freak’ tendencies, this way of thinking really spoke my language and I knew if I started using to change the way I felt about some of my personal situations, it could definitely help me sort out the emotional clutter going on in my head. A few months ago I had to apply the circle of influence idea to a personal situation where I was unnecessarily carrying the guilt for and responsibility of another person’s actions and the events that were unfolding. Until I putting this into practise, I drove myself batty worrying about all the ‘could have’s’, ‘should have’s’, ‘should not have’s’, ‘cannot believe she/he said/did/acted like that’ and it was taking my worrying to a new high.
After 5 attempts of drawing the circle and thinking about the situation from every possible angle imaginable, I finally saw and understood that all the things that were driving me bonkers were all the things that belonged in somebody else’s circle of influence – not mine. I could only control my own behaviour, and despite doing a damn good job of this, I had no choice but to accept the I couldn’t change the other person’s words, actions and feelings; I acknowledged the situation for what it was and ’let it go’. And Thank God that I did – the only purpose it served was killing my joy (and keeping me regular)! At the same time, a friend of mine also found herself in a similar situation where she was feeling disproportionately bad because of somebody else’s actions; I used this concept to point out to her that the things that she was holding on to, were not hers to be carrying..
If you are worrier like me, the circle of influence is a really cool to help you see that time spent on the things you can control will give you less reasons to worry about the things you cannot control. Try it – even just for one day…..Put your energy into all the things that sit inside your circle; not only will you naturally not worry about everything else, but you will be empowered when you see yourself flourish in the right areas of your life. Changing the way you think is challenging and not something that will happen overnight – there is no quick fix and you will probably need to do a combination of things until you find what works. But look for them and don’t stop until you have found the right thing for you. Life is too beautiful and way too short to spend not enjoying it.
I have used the circle of Influence, along with A LOT of other tools to help me improve my mental well-being; I’m still practicing, but remember that practice makes perfect. I cannot control the unknowns, but exercising my mental strength means gives me more control over how I think about these things. I believe that if you want to live a happier life, the more tools you have in your ‘survival’ toolkit, the better equipped you will be for all those things that life (or your mind) throw at you!
Written by Danielle Fancellu, Wellness Coach