Worrying about worry is worrying

Worry is something that happens because we want control and can’t have it.

We worry BECAUSE we have no ultimate control over what the future will bring. And we worry IN ORDER TO exercise control over the future.

Do you ever find yourself free from worry and think, “I’m not worrying. ACK! I must not be on top of everything I need to be on top of. I’d better start thinking about everything I should be thinking about … and start worrying about everything that might go wrong. Because if I stop worrying about what might go wrong, everything will go wrong.”

I do.

Augustine famously observed that the root of all evil lies in worrying about things over which you have no control.

It seems to me that the key to managing anxiety — which for me often comes in the form of dread, or worry without a well-defined object — involves coming to realize that the ONLY influence we have over the future involves our activity today. And that worry today is an impediment to exactly the kind of activity required to meaningfully affect the future.

Should we each have a plan for the future? Certainly. But every plan should be loosely held and flexible in the face of change. Our focus should be on ensuring excellence in what we do today, because it is a lack of presence today that introduces future risk, far more than a lack of sufficient concern for the future.

P.S. It can be hard to stop worrying when worry is itself a kind of superpower. For example, I personally have a tremendous ability to produce excellent work today BECAUSE I project into the future and think about all of the potential downstream implications of each and every minute detail. And I worry that giving up worry will actually negatively impact the quality of products here and now.

A question for which I don’t have an answer: how is it possible to stop worrying without also giving up concern for the future? How possible is emotionless time travel?

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