This is a pretty heavy topic. But I am sure some of you can handle.
Once in a while, some trusted friends of mine would confide in me the situations they faced – at work, in relationship, or life in general – and hope to hear my perspective. I love listening to stories and answering questions. In this particular situation, which for obvious reason I am unable to share the details, I could sense that at any point, anxiety would overwhelm my friend, eating up her sleep, and affecting her ability to make the right decisions. So I offered, “None of these what-if are real.” “What do you mean?” she asked. “All these scenarios [you have imagined] are like the prancing horses inside your head, they make you feeling worried. You have to quiet the noise down. Take a deep breath!” “But how do you quiet what goes on in your mind?” she asked.
Good question. How to quiet the prancing horses inside your head? How to rid your worries and attain tranquility in the face of an imminent and potentially desperate situation? To be frank, it is an art that I am still trying to master.
While I am not a big fan of self-help books, there are a few that are life changing to me. It is an open secret that “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen R. Covey has changed the way I divide my time between work and life. Begin with an end in mind is a concept that prompts us to reflect upon what we want to be remembered of, by our loved ones. Since then, for one decade, while working hard during the working hours, I put in an equal amount of effort to live life as purposeful as I can outside these hours. Once in a while, I have friends coming up to me and asked how do I find time to do this and that. In this instance, I think the question of why is more important than how. And now you know why.
The late Randy Pausch is an inspiration and his book “The Last Lecture” has touched my heart. There are two concepts that stick to my mind like that one single habit from the above-mentioned book. One is don’t complain and work harder. I find that extremely useful especially at work. It works equally well in relationships too. Another one is to lead life the right way and do the right thing. My day is full of decision points (and so do yours too I suppose). It is so much easier to pick the right thing to do when in doubt. The outcome may not be the most favorable, in the short run. At least the process is robust.
Back to the topic of prancing horses inside our heads, I borrow the concept from “Happiness At Work” by Dr. Srikumar Rao. This book has so many good stuffs but like the other two books, I can only internalize a few concepts that stick. If you take a deeper look at the root of anxiety, it is not hard to realize that the thoughts that create anxiety are purely our imagination. Not thinking about the what-if does not make the problem goes away, I agree. But feeling worried does not help in crafting the next course of action, even if the best action is to wait. Here are my stories to share.
When I was holidaying in France, the workers had initiated a strike. What if no train will be working tomorrow and how are we going to get to the airport? What if the airport shuts down? What if the flight to Nice is canceled? When my home server that houses my personal data crashed, what if I am unable to bring it back up? What if the support line is not able to help? What if more than one hard disks are crashed and all my data is lost? When new team members are mysteriously added into the team or when there is another round of re-organization, what if my role becomes redundant?
How to quiet these thoughts down?
I agree with some readers that good concepts like the above are easy to understand but hard to execute. That is why we need time to practice (the first concept has taken me 10 years to work on and I am still working on it). I admit that while I am asking my friend to quiet her thoughts and stop worrying, I too am not immune to anxiety. I guess the first step is to recognize and acknowledge that none of those prancing horses inside my head are real. They are my creation. And there is no point keep thinking about the what-if. More often than not, once I will the horses away, immediately I return to my modus operandi of doing the right thing, don’t complain and work harder, and time travel to the end game. Crisis in life often looks diminished viewing from a faraway time horizon – to me that is.