Is It Helpful?
I’ve mentioned before that I am a worrier. Let’s say I’m a recovering worrier. I used to worry a lot! But since I’ve started practicing mindfulness I worry a lot less. I notice when my mind starts to go there and I do my best to stop.
Yet sometimes I think, “I’m not worrying, I’m planning”. I’m a big planner! In fact, I attribute my tendency to worry to my need to plan, to be prepared. I feel much more comfortable knowing what’s going to happen. Planning things gives me a sense of control. Yes, I know, I can’t control everything and even when I have a perfect plan things don’t always go the way I expect. I’m proud to say that I’ve learned to be a little more relaxed when that happens and I do my best to go with the flow.
But I still like to make plans! And so I spend a lot of time thinking about my plans. I plan a week’s worth of meals so I only have to go to the grocery store (which I hate!) once a week. I plan our vacations in advance so plane tickets are cheaper and there are more hotel options. I plan my presentations carefully so they go smoothly. Planning is important for my peace of mind. The more prepared I am, the less stressed I get.
But it’s easy to cross the line and go from planning, which is productive, to worrying, which isn’t. Thinking about problems you might encounter is good if it helps you prepare for handling them. I always email a copy of my presentation ahead of time in case I have trouble with the thumb drive. But thinking about what I need to buy at the store while I’m walking the dog is useless because I won’t remember it by the time I get home. And how productive is it to think about bad things that could, but most likely won’t, happen to you or a loved one?
Now when I’m thinking about something in the future I stop and ask myself, “Is this helpful?”. It let’s me know whether I’ve crossed the line. If I can do something about it then I’m planning. If I can’t do anything about it then thinking about it isn’t useful. I’m worrying again. It’s time to think about something else or, better yet, practice being mindful and focus on the present moment.