Ask Celes – How Can I Stop Worrying about Things I Cannot Control?

Ask Celes

“How can one not worry so much about things that he/she cannot control?” ~ Katy

Hey Katy, the reason why people worry is because (a) they have no control over the situation and (b) worrying is their way of coping and gaining control over the situation, even though they aren’t. If they have complete control over a situation, they would never be worrying about it to begin with.

So now you know—whenever you see people worrying, it’s because they are trying to cope with a situation they feel powerless over.

The problem is that worrying doesn’t actually solve anything; it only creates a lot of negative vibes which stresses us and other people out. It is often said that 99% of things we worry about never come true–when you worry, you merely give a small thing a big shadow. It is a complete waste of energy which we can better use elsewhere.

Inspirational Quote: "Worry is like a rocking chair: It gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." ~ Erma Bombeck

More inspirational quotes on addressing frustration at Personal Excellence Quotes

So rather than worry, I recommend this four-step approach for any stressful situation:

  1. Identify the issues bothering you. Just plain worrying usually blows any issue out of proportion. Gaining clarity on the exact issues helps you nail down on the core problem so you can address it.
  2. Identify your actions to address those issues. Then act on them. Taking action helps to bring control to a situation which you feel helpless over. Worrying only gives you a false sense of control and doesn’t help you accomplish anything.
  3. Imagine the worst case scenario. Then, figure out your contingency plan to address that. The point of this step is to cover your bases for anything bad that happens. By identifying the worst case scenario and preparing for it, you will literally be covered for anything that will be thrown your way. This was how I allayed my stress in my previous job, which I described in The Night I Cried.
  4. Let go and let things take their course, knowing that you have done everything you can and you are ready for the worst even if it happens. Get everything out of your head and live your life, in the present. I find that Day 25: Forgive Yourself of Be a Better Me in 30 Days Program is very useful for letting go.

Example: Letting Go of an Unresolvable Problem

A simple example would be a time when my website went down two years ago. Usually when that happens, I would get on the 24/7 online customer chat and work with the staff until the issue is resolved.

The problem was that I was on a three-day train ride from New York to Los Angeles. There was no Wi-Fi aboard and my phone had no signal too so I couldn’t connect to the internet. The only times I could get online was when the train stopped for gas and that stop had free public Wi-Fi (which was how I discovered my site was down). The next stop was one day away and I wasn’t sure if it would have Wi-Fi.

The only thing I could think of then was, Really, why now of all times?

Now, issues pertaining my website tend to bother me more than other issues as my site is my career, my livelihood, and my life all rolled into one. Every minute the site is offline, I lose revenue, visitors, and potential business and media opportunities, since no one can access my material. It’s as if my life goes on a standstill; I can’t sit, rest, nor do anything until I get the site back up.

As I began hyperventilating, I decided to get a grip.

So here’s the thing, I thought. I’m stuck on this train for the next two-and-a-half days. There is no internet access aboard. No one around me is able to set up a wireless hotspot. The next pit stop is at least half-a-day away. I can either worry non-stop until I reach the next stop or sit back and enjoy the ride for now. What’s it going to be?

It was clear that the latter, enjoying the ride, was the better option. Sure, the downtime was unfortunate, but there was nothing I could do about it, not while sitting on a train with no internet access. I thought about the worst case scenario—that the site would be down for the next three days until I reached my host’s place. This meant a revenue loss of $XXX and lost traffic of X,XXX visitors. That wasn’t all that bad. I just had to earn them back through other means, maybe by working doubly hard in the next few weeks or coming up with a new product soon.

With that, I sat back, relaxed, and enjoyed the rest of the ride. Then when the train stopped for fuel, I quickly hooked my computer up with the public Wi-Fi and resolved the issue on the spot. The worst case scenario of a three-day downtime didn’t happen—it was just an 18-hour downtime in the end. Not all that bad, really, considering what could have happened.

As for the “losses”, I just took it that they weren’t mine to begin with. I focused on creating new ideas and new opportunities for my site rather than getting hung up over revenue and readership that were never mine to begin with.

Stop Worrying, Start Living

Every time you worry, you project a future which has not occurred yet. This future is not optimistic, but pessimistic—and usually a future that was never going to occur anyway. Your projection of this pessimistic future only enforces it and creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, such that when it happens, you can seek solace in your “spot on” anticipation of this nasty scenario… then move on to worry further about other things as you prepare yourself for the “worst possible” future.

In the end, you are left with a life where worrying is modus operandi of the day and the only reason why bad things happen is because you keep thinking they will happen. You are like a negative-energy magnet that draws all the bad energy and repels all the good energy such that good things rarely happen anymore.

The reality is that you have control the situation; you always have. You only feel helpless because you let the situation overpower you.

To quote Viktor Frankl, the man who suffered three years of hell in Nazi concentration camps; lost his wife, mom, and brother in those camps; yet still managed to arrive at the conclusion amidst dehumanized conditions that suffering can be meaningful:

Inspirational Quote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Viktor Frankl

More inspirational quotes on personal power at Personal Excellence Quotes

All of us came into this world naked and we will leave this world naked, so it’s really silly to worry in between about things we can never take with us at our deathbeds. So why not enjoy life and make the best of every moment we can given?

Here are some useful pieces for reading:

Image: Question mark

This is part of the Ask Celes section. If you have a question to ask me, proceed to the Ask Celes page. Check out past Ask Celes questions here.

  • jen

    Hi Celes,

    Another eye opening advice which gives me some ease. I need it as a person who worry constantly.

    Btw, can I pin your article to my Pinterest? I do not see the Pin Button up there

    Thank you

    • Celes

      Hey jen! Simply hover over the green “Share this” button and you should see a Pinterest option there. You can also pin it directly using the Pinterest bookmarklet:

      Thanks for your kind words! :) :hug:

  • Kev

    Some good points, though it was a weird read for me as I worry constantly, but I am not negative and bad things never really happen to me which makes me wonder about some of the logic in this article. In fact it’s quite the opposite, I worry but good things happen, but my worries are very silly and deep down I am confident and positive about things.

    It’s just certain things I worry about but usually can get over it, always in the back of my mind there is something bothering me though.

    • Celes

      Hey Kev, have you ever considered that you might think that you are positive, but others may quietly feel that you are negative/apprehensive? Or if your worrying tends to be inward, that it may subconsciously generate negativity around you even though you may not think so? I have friends who think that they are positive but the way they worry incessantly actually make them quite negative to be around. I can also easily think of instances where I worry unconsciously which makes me a negative person to be around, something which I only realize when I view the situation objectively.

      Also, worrying isn’t so much to do with negativity as much as it is to do with someone who regards him/herself as helpless and uses worrying as a coping mechanism to gain control of the situation, even though it frequently accomplishes nothing (as explained in the opening of the article). For example, my dad and mom worry when I go traveling but I don’t necessarily see them as pessimists; it’s just because they don’t know what else to do except worry (since they are dealing with a situation outside of their control). If we can focus on issue-identification and actual action to resolve the issues as opposed to metathinking (read: worrying), it will help to save much unneeded (negative) emotions. This energy can also be used more constructively into other areas of our lives.

      • Kev

        Ah it’s just some silly worries I have, nothing major. It’s not to the point where it makes me become negative. A lot of the times people say to me I am so positive, even when I am down in the dumps I never give in and still find a way to see the light.

        I just have a few issues in my head that I find hard to tackle sometimes and I worry about some of them more than I should, for instance one of my worst fears is been stationed in one position dealing with customers. I need to constantly be on the move when working and sitting there with everyone around me just feels horrible but this is just a silly worry that I will get over and conquer. Besides what is the worst that could happen?

        Sorry for the late reply, I’ve been very busy and forgot to check my emails.

  • Amanda

    Great article!

    I am definitely the type to figure out what the worst case scenario is and come up with a plan for it. It helps me to realize that even if the worst were to happen, I have emotional and tangible resources to deal with it. I think a lot of people prefer to stay in denial about things (they also don’t worry, though, so maybe it’s a good idea!) and then are blindsided when something negative does happen. I think part of being realistic is recognizing that both good and bad things are likely to happen to us in life. While we don’t have to dwell on them, knowing how we would handle them makes us better equipped to handle them if they actually happen.

    • Celes

      Hi Amanda! You are right that figuring out the worst case scenario helps us to ease the concern knowing we have the plan to deal with it. My other point about figuring out the worst case scenario which might not have been articulated strongly in the article is that it is about planning for the worst, creating the contingency plan, then getting that thought out of the way. As opposed to thinking about the worst case scenario for the sake of worrying, then turning it over and over in our heads which is absolutely silly and does nothing except attract negative energy and create self-fulfilling prophecies (e.g., thinking we will stumble over our public speeches, thinking we will be late when we are not late yet, and so on).

  • Elton

    I tend to major points mentioned in the article and funnily, majority of people that I know off worry things that they are cannot do or lambasting bad luck when bad things happened to them, instead of focus on maximizing things that they are able to do or in control.

    I guess perception around the situation helps us to maintain our fear and anxiety, even when bad things happened or door is closed, there is always light around the corner and another door opens.

    Worst case scenario situation is always best to used, but not ideal, as life is so dynamic and its not possible to know whats the worst case possible in areas such as business or personal life mishaps, but this is just my personal opinion and not to detriment your thoughts.

    For example, There was once I have lost my passport when travel overseas due to pickpocket (never thought it will happen actually) and I somehow dealt with the case (magically unsure how) and or that has passed for so long, I remembered that being fear of similar issue that arise with travelling and use your point 2: Identify your actions to address those issues (or I should say that addressing fear surrounding the past issue is one of them).

    Nevertheless, great insight shared. :)

  • Alexa

    I always love reading your articles related to worry. Each one helps me just a little bit more and I’m so grateful for that. :heart:

    In this one in particular, I like the idea of “blowing up the problem” into a worst-case-scenario, and then figuring out how you would combat it so you can let that worry go. With a plan in place, “letting go” actually feels doable!

    I think another thing that really helps is writing things out. Just giving yourself permission to write all and anything that comes to mind can really help make something that’s crazy and big seem less insurmountable. I know I always feel better after a good writing session with my journal. =)

    This article I think is a reminder that I have to do a better job of trying to manage my worries, as I was doing good for a while but recently I’ve been slipping back into worrisome patterns. Thanks Celes, this advice really helps!

    • Celes

      Hey Alexa! :D You are right about writing out your worries; that’s akin to brain dumping. Definitely an exercise that can eliminate, if not significantly reduce, stress in just ten to fifteen minutes.

      I’m glad you found this piece useful. :hug: Don’t worry so much because you’re such a smart and capable lady! If you can find something worthwhile to pump your energy in, maybe that will take the worries away too. Perhaps part of the reason why you “have time” to worry is because your capacity is currently not fully utilized by what you are doing/have planned every day/week.

      • Alexa

        Aww Celes, thank you! You’re much too kind. :heart:

        I think you’re on to something, there. Recently I realized that despite all I’ve been taught not to care about what others want me to do, I was still trying to do things to appease certain people in my life. I realized I’ve been wasting all this energy worrying about what I’m “supposed” to be doing and wondering what I would tell these people, since they’re wondering what I’m doing with my future, and expect/demand I do something within that realm of what I “should” do. I realized I could be using all this energy instead to work my way towards what I really want!

        While I’m still a bit worried about displeasing these people, I’ve decided that I’m going to work towards my goals without regard to them. Worst case scenario, I have to do something they expect me to because this doesn’t work out. But in the mean time, I need to try!

        I’m hoping that within the next few weeks, I’ll have a website/blog or few going and will be able to start putting what I love to do to work. And with any luck, this will become my future and I can tell the nay-sayers to get lost. But I have to at least try, right? Hopefully, I can keep my resolve and everything will work out!

  • Bob

    Hi Celes,

    Re. Wireless hotspots:
    The iPhone can connect up to 5 different devices at one time and I am sure other Internet phones can as well. Also there are companies now that offer global solutions for wifi. A really useful device worth buying is a mifi – a mobile device which connects you to the Internet wirelessly – available from telephone retailers, you pay a certain sum for the mifi and then a monthly subscription or pay as you go fee just like a telephone.

    I agree Celes, worry is negative visualisation, the more we magnetise worries, the further we take ourselves from our goals.

    • Celes

      Hey Bob, I knew someone was going to comment about the Wi-Fi. :lol: Like I mentioned in the post, my phone had no signal (the train was traveling across the mountains and some rural areas) so it didn’t matter even if someone had a phone with hotspot function; there was no reception nor internet access. And even if there was signal, it was two years ago when the hot spot function wasn’t so prevalent. The phone I had at that time didn’t have that function; it’s different now though (thankfully).

      Times like this also makes me feel like we are so dependent on the internet nowadays (myself included). Our lives literally revolve around it now. Wonder what will happen if the internet just dies on us one day?

      • Bob

        Wonder what will happen if the internet just dies on us one day? – this would be highly inconvenient Celes, we might start worrying, go backwards and use papyrus, or a wax tablet. We certainly wouldn’t be able to communicate as fast or our message to reach so many!

  • Vincent Nguyen

    Man, I feel like I mention this a thousand times across different sites, but I guess that shows how amazing it is. Stoicism is the one life philosophy that I find to be great for so many different personal development-type things. One of the major things they preach is how to separate the things you can control and the ones you can’t. William B. Irvine’s book on Stoicism is my recommendation for those interested. :)

    • Celes

      Thank you so much for sharing Vincent! :D

  • Joe

    So true,
    Like manifestation in reverse!

    Valuable quote …….. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

  • rachid

    Thinking about things you can’t control puts unnecessary burden on your mind. No matter how much you think about it, nothing will change. So instead of worrying about it, focus on things you can control ,
    “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them have never happened.” Mark Twain
    Thank you for this great post, I really enjoyed it .

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