Two things you can do the next time you catch yourself worrying.
But the more you try to control everything around you, the more anxious you’ll feel. It’s a vicious cycle to break: worry, try to gain control, fail, worry again, repeat.
Worrying about things you can’t control — like the state of the economy or someone else’s behavior — will drain you of the mental strength you need to be your best.
It can also lead to other toxic habits, like blaming yourself too much or micromanaging other people.
Fortunately, you don’t have to resign yourself to being a lifelong “worry-wart.” You can take control of your mind and train your brain to think differently.
Here are two things you can do the next time you catch yourself worrying about things you can’t control:
1. Develop a realistic sense of control.
Identify what is within your control and what isn’t. For example, you can control how eye-catching your marketing ads are, but you can’t control whether people buy your product.
Additionally, you can give your employees the tools they need to succeed, but you can’t force them to be productive.
When you strike a healthy balance of control, you’ll see that you can choose your own attitude and behavior, but you can’t control many external factors.
So when you’re faced with a problem or experiencing discomfort, ask yourself, “Is this a problem I can solve? Or do I need to change how I feel about the problem?”
If it’s within your control, tackle the problem. If it’s out of your control, focus on changing your emotional state. Use healthy coping skills, like engaging in a hobby or practicing meditation, to deal with the uncomfortable emotions that get stirred up when things are out of your control.
2. Schedule time to worry.
Most of the people who come into my therapy office looking for a solution on how to stop worrying want it fast and easy. But there isn’t a magic trick or special pill that will make you stop worrying right away.
There is a psychological trick, however, that can help you contain your worrying. The trick involves scheduling time to worry. It sounds ridiculous on the surface. But it really works. And there are studies to back it up.
Set aside 15 minutes each day to worry. Mark it on your calendar, or add it to your schedule. Make it consistent if you can. Think something like, “I’ll worry from 7 to 7:15 p.m., every night.” (You might not want to worry right before bedtime though. That might keep you up).
Whenever you catch yourself worrying outside of your time frame, remind yourself it’s not time to worry and that you’ll have plenty of time to think about those worries during your scheduled time.
Once you arrive at your worry time, then worry all you want. Sit and think about all the worries that are outside of your control. You can even write them down if you prefer.
Then, after 15 minutes have passed, tell yourself it’s time to get back to your everyday life. Get up and go about your usual business. With consistent practice, research shows you’ll contain your worries to just 15 minutes a day. That’s a big improvement if you’re used to worrying 24/7.
Build Your Mental Muscle
Becoming mentally stronger requires you to have a balanced sense of control. After all, you can do a lot to increase your happiness and your chances of success, but you can’t control every factor around you — like the weather, the economy, or how other people behave.
When you stop worrying about things you can’t control, you’ll have more time and energy to devote to the things you do have control over. And this can be key to reaching your greatest potential.