Photo by Anh Nguyen on Unsplash
It happened again the other day.
I just finished up a conversation with an incredibly inspiring woman. We had a lovely chat about who we were and what we were working on.
After the call ended and I immediately got back to work. As I resumed my newest project, some familiar thoughts crept up.
It’s hard for me to articulate exactly what I was saying to myself, but it went to the tune of, “What if I fail?”
I saw my mind start to question everything I was doing in my life, especially around my business. Visions of potential clients saying no and a dwindling list of existing clients started flooding in.
I sat there frozen sitting upright, hands outstretched on my keyboard, looking at my computer and staring at something beyond it. I was in a trance, completely overtaken by ideas of failure.
This has been happening to me several times a week, sometimes even multiple times a day. And the impacts of it are quite detrimental.
I’ll allow these worries to bake in my head for some time. Anything I’m working on will either slow down or come to a complete stop. The quality of my work will drop significantly. I begin to feel depleted of energy.
I’ll eventually walk over to my wife and communicate some of my concerns. In typical fashion, she’ll reassure me until I’m on my merry way, sluggishly restarting my projects.
Unbeknownst to me, I have just planted the same seeds of doubts in her mind. The same worries start to set into her world. Now her thoughts are spinning out of control until she can no longer handle it. She now comes to me for the same comfort and reassurance.
Lately, I’ve been deep into the work of Gay Hendricks and his book called “The Big Leap”. The book posits that, due to our mind’s desire to keep us safe and protected, it doesn’t allow us to experience intense levels of joy, success, satisfaction, and happiness. Because of this, after major successes, our minds will often self-sabotage ourselves in a variety of ways. Gay Hendricks calls this the Upper Limit Problem.
One way to transcend the Upper Limit Problem is to start bringing awareness to these behaviours, making the subconscious more conscious. Once one sees the Upper Limit Problem in action, they will have a new navigational tool for their life.
The most common way we limit ourselves is through worry. Gay makes it very clear that worrying is usually not a sign that we’re thinking about something useful. Worrying is only useful if it concerns a topic we can actually do something about, and if it leads us to taking immediate positive action. Otherwise, all forms of worry are just our inner critics trying to keep us safe and small.
He invites us to ask two key questions to notice if our worrying is valid:
If I were out and about running errands and suddenly remembered that I had left the stove on, this would naturally cause me a lot of worry. Answering these two questions would resulting in a resounding “yes” and “yes”. Yes, it’s possible that I left it on. And yes, I can take action right now to make a difference. I can call my neighbour to turn it off for me or I could turn my car around immediately and go see if that’s the case. In this example, worry is a useful tool.
Now let’s flip back to my original story.
When I take a look at my worry using these questions, the answer to the first could be a “yes”. It is possible I could fail in my business. It could also just as easily be a “no”. Is it a real possibility? Well, quite successful until now and my business has yet to fail, so I have little reason to believe it would fail in the future.
Even if it does seem like a very real possibility, the second question should put this story to rest. Was there something I could do immediately to ensure my business’s success? Sure, I could follow-up with some prospective clients, I could check in with my existing clients to see if they need any additional support… but when it comes down to it, there was little I could do at that moment to make a real difference toward the success of my business.
Fortunately, I realized this all as I sat frozen staring at my computer. I took a step back and saw that I was having thoughts that I would categorize as “worry”.
First off, this was an incredible and celebratory moment for me. I actually noticed my thoughts in the moment and managed to detach from them instead of getting caught up in them. This is a skill I have been training for years through my meditation practice. I was now able to experience the fruits of my labour first-hand.
Next, once I noticed that I was in a worry trap, I moved through the following steps:
The reason I check in with my body at the end is that all of our thoughts are directly tied to sensations in our body called “interoceptive sensations”. By becoming more aware of these sensations, I naturally grow an ability to detect thoughts before they unconsciously take over me. This is what I do as part of my meditation practice.
By following these steps, we avert worry and transform it into something positive and useful. In fact, later, we can often get an idea of what the positive thing trying to come through was.
In the beginning, you may find this process difficult to implement. Not only is catching all your worry thoughts a feat in and of itself but implementing each of the 5 steps above will take some time before it becomes an automatic reaction (a.k.a. a habit).
That said, every time you manage to catch your thoughts, to let them go and to check in with your body, you are creating and reinforcing a new behaviour, a new neural pathway in your brain.
At first, this little stream of a pathway will be weak and will require continuous work and practice. However, after repeating this again and again, this little stream will one day inevitably turn into a raging river.
The next time you experience worry, it will be for but a nanosecond before you are able to transform that thought into one that serves you.
I invite you to ponder this with me: what would it be like to never worry unnecessarily again? What would that look like in my life? What would that feel like? What would that make available for me and those around me?
I don’t know about you, but living worry-free sounds nothing short of amazing.