How to Unload Your Worries (in Under 10 Minutes a Week)

If you let worry decay your day—read on. I am an expert on worry. I come from a long line of professional worriers. My father was known as The Beacon of Doom. Worrying was his favorite retirement activity. He was so engrossed by all the fear inducing stories in the media, that he gave new meaning to words “Disaster Relief.” If there was a disaster, he was relieved.

Worried about thieves, he put bars up on every window of his house–even on the third floor. Worried he might get sick, he took seventy-five different vitamin supplements a day. Worried that he might fall, he stapled 2-inch thick underlay to every floor of his house. The house looked like the MacDonald’s playroom. I was over having coffee, I dropped my cup and it bounced right back up into my hand.

Worrying helps you stay safe – or does it?

My father convinced me that I needed to worry or bad things would happen. I came to believe that worry was a sign of intellectualism, realism and “being sensible”. It only makes sense then, that being positive meant you were naive or in denial. Sally Armstrong, an award-winning journalist once noted, “If you write negative news, nobody asks you to prove it. If you write positive news, people want a jury.”

Great thinkers say worrying is–a waste of time

However, the more I studied the great thinkers in history, the more I questioned those beliefs. Recently author Roger Delano Hinkins wrote “Worry is paying interest on a debt you may not owe”. Sixty years ago Mark Twain said, “I’ve lived a long life and had many troubles, most of which never happened.” Four hundred years ago Moliére said, “People spend most of their lives worrying about things that never happen”. And finally over two thousand years ago Plato said, “Not one shred of evidence supports the notion that life is serious.”

The Worry Jar experiment (10 minutes per week)

One day I decided to do an experiment. I got an old cookie jar and cut up strips of paper. At the beginning of the week I wrote down one worry thought per strip of paper. I put the strips in the jar as a symbolic way of “letting them go”. At the end of the week I pulled the strips out, and put them in three piles.

1. “Never happened”
2. “Happened and the consequences were manageable”
3. “Happened and the consequences were just as bad as I imagined”

Guess which was the biggest pile? The first pile contained 85-90% of the strips, the second pile 10-14%, and the third 0-1%. I did this for seven more weeks and the percentages remained similar. I proved Moliére’s theory. Now I do this exercise with participants in my longer programs and people prove it for themselves.