I watched a Netflix documentary that I highly recommend called The Minimalist and while I got a lot of profound wisdom from it there was one distinction they made that really stuck out to me. The minimalist guys (which they call themselves) spoke on the difference between constructive worry and useless worry... and how many of us don't seem to recognize the difference.
Constructive worry is the kind of worry that can aid you in what you are doing. For example, checking the time and staying on task so that you don't miss a flight is important. However, if you are twenty weeks away from the flight and it is the 200th time you've worried about missing the flight it becomes useless... and it drains your energy.
Our society is known for worrying that we've not had enough sleep, that we don't have enough time, that we never have enough money. The belief is that we just need more of everything, but the truth is we have too much.
We have too much worry.
A staggering amount of people come to me for advice on how to increase their energy. I see millions of people spending hundreds of dollars a month on supplements to increase their energy. Lines wrapping the building at Starbucks because we believe the caffeine will give us the boost we need (don't get me wrong - I love Starbucks - but I also know it's not going to be the source of my energy). Coffee, energy drinks, supplements, patches, vitamins, more, more, more praying that by taking more - doing more - we'll have more. Even food has become a staple in the search for more energy, just look at the marketing in "superfoods" (which is a marketing term, NOT a scientific one). While food is quite literally the fuel we need for life, I still question why it is that we need so much more energy? Where is your natural energy going?
Our bodies are hardwired to go. Our bodies create energy and crave to expend it. So if our bodies our hardwired to have energy, yet we don't have any, the question shouldn't be how to get more but to ask where is it all going?
I got curious about where my energy was going. The first thing that pops up is: I'm a mom, but the simple fact is: being a mom doesn't require all that much of my energy. The useless worry, the mom guilt, trying to "keep up", the unrealistic expectations of motherhood... now that can zap the energy. What about work? My energy probably goes to my work. Does it? What part of my work actually sucks the energy out? Is it the actual tasks at hand? Nope. It's the useless worry over the things I can't control anyway; it's the negative attachments I've made with the word 'work'; it's the simple fact that we may be doing work that isn't all that fulfilling.
Okay, if it's not your kids.. and it's not your work... what is it that is draining all of your energy?
It's your useless worry.
Envision your brain is a computer and that all of your useless worry is an open tab running in the background. If you open 200 tabs on your computer, it is guaranteed to slow down. If you open 300 tabs on your computer, it may just shut down. The running tabs that you have constantly open and running in the back of your mind is slowing down your mind and body. We are overusing our minds without being mindful at all.
This doesn't mean that your lack of energy is not real, or that it's all in your head, it is very, very real and your useless worry is truly burning up all of your energy. This kind of stress has the ability to turn into physical fatigue, physical symptoms, and even disease. Thyroid problems, chronic fatigue, adrenal problems, headaches, gastrointestinal problems, blood pressure problems, and many, many more are directly related to stress and worry.
The problem persists when we seek treatment for the symptoms. When faced with an illness we look towards what we can take to fix it. What if we started treating the root of the problem - if we look to treat the cause instead of the symptoms? Then the questions turn from what can I take to what can I let go of? Instead of focusing on how to get more energy, we would focus on letting go of the things that steal it.
We all know stress is bad and we've all been told not to sweat the small stuff. But how do we actually stop... well, we don't think about stopping. Telling someone to calm down when they are working up has approximately a 0% success rate - so telling yourself not to worry about something you're worried up will probably follow that trend. Here are 5 things to do instead:
1. Ask questions
Walk yourself through it in baby steps. ie: will this matter in 5 days/5 months/5 years? What's the worst case scenario? What if this did happen? What can I do if the worst case scenario really does happen?
2. Close the running tabs.
If your to-do list is in your head, you're using entirely too much energy to try to keep track of it. In fact, I don't like written to-do lists either. If something needs done, schedule it. Find a spot in your calendar for it and you'll get it done because you've literally found the time. If it is just a thought or idea, you could use a journal, the notes section of your cell phone, or something like Trello (it's an app and a website) - whatever feels good to you; then set a time weekly or monthly in your schedule to go over your notes and ideas.
3. Try a new mindset.
I wrote recently about changing my mindset while vacuuming and I'm still shocked at the difference. How much of the things we think are hard are only hard because we've said or heard how hard it was? School started again and I heard so many people say how hard it is. Is it actually hard? I wonder if we started saying how fun it was if there would be a difference? I think there would be! With Cannon (or any child) you can see how susceptible kids are to our attitudes. Imagine if I talked about broccoli with the same excitement and energy as ice cream.. he'd start believing they were all "treats".
4. Practice mindfulness.
Be where you are. Enjoy who you're with. And for heaven's sake, sit that phone down every once in awhile. When I say be mindful, I mean be all there, wherever you are. When you notice your attention floating away - call it back to what you're doing or who you're with. Give the people you're with your full attention, be curious, ask questions, listen, and learn.
What I mean is practice. Everything else above is going to take practice and with meditation you get to practice whether you are or aren't feeling the stress. If you are stressed, it will help alleviate it. If you aren't stressed, it will leave you better equipped for next time. Practicing while you are in the middle of useless worry is like on the job training; meditation is practicing and preparation for the game. You never know, the quiet may just provide you with some answers.
Sweat & Smiles,