From the point of your conception to this very moment, the world around you has been teaching you to worry and doubt yourself. Everybody else worries, so it only makes sense that you should too. There’s even a so-called joke that goes something like, “If you’re not worried, it’s because you haven’t realized how bad things are.”
We see worry all around us every day. Our common language encourages us to worry with phrases such as, “Oh, that’s worrisome!” “Mom’s worried about you.” “I’d be worried if I were you.” It’s assumed we’re supposed to worry and we don’t ever question the wisdom of it. After all, it’s a time- honored practice.
Do you remember the old story of The Emperor’s New Clothes? It’s a classic example of the kind of ‘groupthink’ that has us all believing that anxiety is simply a fact of life. It doesn’t have to be.
We also like to pass along our personal paranoias. According to The Washington Post, America’s most common fears are:
1. Public speaking
3. Bugs and Insects
6. Enclosed in small spaces
9. Zombies (really!)
A parent who has a fear of strangers, for example, is likely to insist that his or her children should avoid them and fill their young minds with all the terrible things that will happen, should they encounter a stranger. As a result, the otherwise normally balanced child grows up believing that strangers (or airplanes, or doctor’s needles, or tall buildings) are to be avoided at all costs. The fears are irrational, but the training is effective.
In addition to instilling fears and phobias, our early training by parents, teachers, coaches and others in authority established a limiting set of beliefs and self-doubts that continue to stymie our growth well into, or even throughout our adult lives. We’ve been buried under an avalanche of “sensible’s,” “should’s,” “ought to’s” and “you’d better’s” that told us, repeatedly, that our deepest and most precious desires were somehow wrong, misguided or stupid.
I think it’s time we all stopped shoulding all over ourselves.
Every infant knows exactly what it wants and doesn’t hesitate to ask for it. You knew the foods you liked and spit out the ones you didn’t. You knew when you wanted to sleep and when you wanted to be held. When you become mobile you saw what you wanted and headed straight for it. And that’s when the admonitions began:
- Don’t touch that!
- Keep your hands to yourself.
- Eat everything on your plate.
- You don’t really feel that way.
- You don’t really want that.
- You should be ashamed of yourself!
As you got older it morphed into…
- Stop crying. Don’t be such a baby.
- You can’t have everything you want simply because you want it.
- Money doesn’t grow on trees.
- Stop being so selfish!
- Stop doing what you are doing and come do what I want you to do!
It doesn’t take much of this before you throw up your hands and conclude that your desires, your wishes, your preferences don’t matter, so why bother? It’s a waste of emotional energy to have dreams of your own.
If you buy into this swindle, the secret to success is to figure out what everybody else wants you to do. To learn to please others and find ways to get their approval, whether it makes you feel good or not.
- You became an engineer because that’s what Dad wanted you to do
- You married that guy because everybody else was getting married
- You became a lawyer because everyone said that you’d never make a living as an artist
You became so sensible that you completely lost touch with who you really are and what you really want. And in the process, you took on one of the biggest and most common worries of all: What do other people think of me?
Take a few minutes and think back to your childhood, your youth and your adulthood. You might find it useful to journal a few of your thoughts about the origins of your own worry habits. How were you taught to worry? What were you told? What did you observe? How did some of your childhood, teenage and young adult experiences launch or reinforce any worry habits? How did any of those experiences initiate any self-doubts you might have?
Yes, we’ve been attending worry lessons our entire lives. But in all that time, no one has ever pointed out the simple truth that worry doesn’t help anything. Nothing has ever changed as a result of worrying about it. We worry because we’ve been conditioned to. A newborn has an instinctive fear of falling and loud noises. Everything else is learned and conditioned
You learned how to worry. Now it’s time to unlearn.