Many of us struggle with worry and fear. The other night, I woke up in the middle of the night, worrying about a decision I had to make. It kept me from sleeping and I was frustrated about it. How can we work through our anxiety to live a life that is more at peace?
Here is an interesting exercise I learned from Henry Cloud, the psychologist who wrote the book “Boundaries.” It’s been really helpful for me when trying to manage my own anxiety and worries.
Outside My Control
He recommends taking out a piece of paper, and drawing a line vertically down the middle. On the top of the left side of the paper, write “Things Outside My Control.” Then write down all the things you are worried about that are outside your control. Maybe it’s a diagnosis, or a natural disaster, or when you are going to die.
Worry on Purpose
Then, spend 5-10 minutes worrying about all these things on purpose. That’s right, instead of trying to avoid your anxiety, give it your full attention. Really go all out here. Think about all the worst-case scenarios and everything bad that might happen. It’s important to let your mind go there and not censor your anxiety.
Set a Time Limit
Importantly, though, set a timer. Let yourself worry on purpose, but only for 5-10 minutes.
Inside My Control
On the top of the right side of the paper, write “Things Inside My Control.” Then write down all the things that you actually do have control over, like your time, energy, actions, and behaviors. Spend the rest of the day focusing on these activities.
Where is Your Focus?
Focusing too much on things that are outside our control is a recipe for disaster. You can’t actually do much to change or shift these things, so it doesn’t usually help to focus on them. But our brains are naturally drawn toward things we perceive as dangerous in our lives. It’s part of our evolution. If we don’t give these things at least some time, they have a tendency to sneak into all parts of our lives. So, it’s best to give them some time, but limit it.
How did this exercise work for you? What has been helpful for you to redirect your focus and energy toward the things that are inside your control?