Worry: Small Things & Big Shadows

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We all know somebody who worries full-time. Their worry is sometimes a function of concern, sometimes a function of anxiety. Worry often gives a small thing a big shadow, as the Swedish proverb goes.

I stopped telling my worriers to stop worrying. Know why? Minimizing people’s feeling is unkind. Telling someone to stop feeling how they’re feeling is as thoughtless an act as it is demanding. We do it all the time. We say stuff like “Cheer up!” When we tell a depressed person to cheer up they’ll feel like their experience is an inconvenience to us. That’s just wrong.

Wayne Dyer calls worry a “useless emotion.” Okay, Wayne. Sorry, brah. I’ll just drop it then. Or, Wayne? Maybe your observation is useless. Now before you get too mad at me, lemme ‘splain.

We attach worry to the future. We don’t worry about the past. We may regret it, but we don’t worry about it. And in the moment, we might feel anxious. So, maybe there’s a good reason why we’ve evolved worry. It can spur our ability to map out, plan for, and engage in a thought process about how bad the future might really turn out. As long as you’re planning and thinking and not just reacting, you may be on to something positive.

So, sure, worrying won’t stop the bad things from happening. But it may spur you on to handle them. Worry, act, enjoy the good things. It’s okay. It’s one of those what it is to be human things.

Neuroscientists say that the human brain can’t distinguish between a real event and a vividly imagined one. This has tripped me up when I talk about a piece of writing. If I talk about it, I trick my mind into thinking I’ve already written it. Then it’s difficult, arduous even, to actually get the writing done.

With worry, what happens is that we build up the worst of the emotional habits. No. Not worry itself, but what I like to call “personal superstitions.” Professional worriers make a habit of entertaining an unfounded belief―that they’re not safe unless they worry. It’s superstition. I’ve dealt with a lot of mine and as a result, I worry a lot less.

It has taken the practice of self-awareness and meditation to come to my conclusions:

First, contentment is not insipid nor an uninteresting state of mind, at all.

Second, worry isn’t so stimulating that it deserves a huge chunk of my time.

But for some folks worry is stimulating! And yet, studies show that worriers tend to be intelligent, creative people. It takes imagination to dream up worries.

My way of diminishing worry has been to expand connection with others and not isolate as much as I am inclined to. Nothing like the light of day that engaging with others brings, and then voila! My worries diminish. When I can talk freely about what’s worrying me, I can gain some perspective―that it’s often just a small thing casting a big shadow.

I try not to be the smartest person in the room. My friends tend to be more rational than I, too. Sometimes. So, when I start to express worry, luckily I’m not told to stop. We’re having a conversation and I get to make a more rational choice for myself in the moment. Try that. It may just help those worries subside.

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Advice: Do You Really Need It? This Will Help You Decide!

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Empathy Outperforms Advice

Who do you go to for advice?

I don’t go for advice. And never through social media outlets like Facebook. I notoriously keep my own counsel. I’m circumspect. Blame it on the existentialists.

There are currently maybe two people in the whole world I would go to for their experience, strength, and hope. Or information.

Perhaps information I don’t have in the moment. Because that’s all we can give each other. No guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, i.e., advice.  Thank you. Nothing personal―that belongs to you and please keep it.

The problem with taking advice is that we stop using our own mind, and start the process of suspending sense and choose to entertain other people’s cynicism and resentment instead.

At best, advice is innocuous clichés and banality. At worst, it’s a toxic tea party worthy of Lewis Carroll.

The Tea Party

Sitting there, hurt, confused and upset with our well-meaning friends, we discuss problems we’re having with another person.

What we could have allowed to evolve in its own way, just for one example, we chose instead to overburden by inviting friends in, and with them, their vitriol. Other people’s bitter criticism never solved anything.

So, there we are, with a romantic partner, a parent, our boss, whoever is on our mind, and circumstances made it impossible to do anything else but let go or accept. Understandable.

Instead, the is that it is wasn’t okay and we went looking for advice. I get it. Especially if seeking advice is really just part of venting. Sometimes we need to give voice to our frustration to help us move on. We all vent. (Kinda what I’m doing here.)

What we really hope for, what advice is supposed to be―a provenance of insight, creativity, and well-thought-out viewpoints, is too often an exercise in other people’s bias. And commonly, it’s an excuse to avoid personal responsibility.

If the relationship with the problem focus ends, the payoff is becoming unhappy and as bitter as the advice givers. Ugh. Not what we hoped for, but we did invite that to the tea party.

What’s more important? Following somebody’s advice or maintaining our own autonomy? In the above scenario, we opted to release our independence for crowdsourcing our point of view.

I avoid taking advice. If I don’t have the money to pay a professional counselor or therapist, I stick with my own mind, deal with Self, embrace my situation, and never surrender.

I did wrong. I made a lot of mistakes. But I’ll never give up my autonomy. I don’t need my Facebook friends to pipe in with their advice and perspectives. To me, the advice culture of social media is derelict. The culture of bush-league advice giving makes it even worse.

The internet is corrupt?

There’s too much porn, too much scandal, too much misinformation, too much urban legend. You know what’s worse? Psychological porn that sensationalizes aspects of life whether sexual or nonsexual, that stimulates a compulsive interest in imposing one person’s dirty will over another person’s―that’s worse.

Advice giving brings with it an inappropriate examination of relationships from outside the marriage, partnership, or other personal ties. It can be way more damaging than what some poor slob does in private in front of his computer screen.

Like Nietzsche said, The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others. I guess it depends on how you define liar. Not being honest with yourself? This is worse than selfies, voyeurism, or tweeting poorly.

The long and the short of it is that taking advice is a function of detaching from self and from situations that involve us, and putting it on someone else. Seeking advice over professional counseling is a slippery slope. If we need help and are in distress, an untrained non-professional could do more harm than good.

It is easier to fall into the phony protection of other people’s conventional wisdom (I say “thought process,” others say “bullshit”) than it is to engage in the difficult task of thinking for ourselves. That’s the trouble with advice—it will not give us clarity and wisdom.

Why not?

Because you are the expert on you. Some other character is not not not the expert on you. Advice often has the effect of getting an individual off the hook of having to take responsibility, or off he hook of taking the time to understand their own thought process, feelings, and behavior.

Each of us has hopefully embarked on navigating through the process of becoming, and hopefully we’re not merely exercising some misguided prerogative of taking on the preconceived notions of a buddy, co-worker, or the lady who sits next to us at church.

Their advice is detrimental because it too often comes from their own errors of judgement and their own negativity.

There is no transgression committed if you can’t think yourself out of a tight spot. It is simply what it is to be human—sometimes to just not know. It’s okay. You’ll figure it out.

Let’s say the problem focus is my boss. Recently your boss treated you inappropriately, and you empathize with my situation. You relate to me your experience, strength and hope. I may glean some wisdom and we’ll connect. That’s a good thing. It encourages accountability on my part, because you’re not suggesting to me what to do.

Your story will help me stop running around my issues like the Mad Hatter. Your experience may inspire me to take a leap of faith, so to speak, and change something in me.

I’m not responsible for the problem person I’m seeking advice for, but I am responsible for what I do, how I cope, my resilience. Your empathy and reassurance are way more valuable than your advice.

Even when making the ill-conceived choice to seek and accept advice, I still retain full responsibility for choosing which advice to heed. Even if, in a sense, advice taking is subtle abdication, that is, a way to subtly avoid accepting full accountability, I still need to to make choices for myself on my terms.

And so, when that day comes, and you find yourself in a tight spot, you don’t fight the world to get out of it. You focus on the fact that you have the power to get yourself out of it. Maybe not at this precise second, but it’s there.

Gertrude Stein said, The whole duty of man consists in being reasonable and just…I am reasonable because I know the difference between understanding and not understanding and I am just because I have no opinion about things I don’t understand. 

And I would add, if I don’t understand, I’m neither offering you advice nor am I seeking your advice about it, either. That will not help us create “our own essence in time,” as Sartre would say.

What I will offer, and what I would hope to receive, is something much more meaningful. Support. I have no idea who said it, but it’s true―you have within you right now, everything you need to deal with whatever the world can throw at you.

It’s crazy, but it’s true―my meta-advice on advice is to not take advice, even this advice. And do you know why? Because empathy outperforms advice.

I believe in you. Life throws some tough curve balls. Swing and a miss? That’s okay. I’ll take you to the batting cages. I’ll be there for you. I’m on your side. I empathize. I’ve been there. You’re okay.