Saturday, January 3, 2009

Awesome Hypothesis #1: No Worries.

Throughout the year, I'll be testing various attitudes, behaviours, et cetera, to see if they make my life more awesome.

Worry is something that drives me nuts in other people, and as is the case so often, it does so because I recognize it as something I don't like about myself. I am a worrier, nervous by disposition, prone to panic at the earliest provocation. Or at least I am in my head. I tend to internalize a lot. (Possibly another thing I need to work on, but that's for another time.)

Worrying is useless. Caution is useful: it prevents you from making mistakes. Preventative actions and decisive actions are useful: they prevent negative outcomes. But worrying is just empty mind-space. Will something bad happen? Possibly. Will the likelihood of it change through the act of worrying? No.

I once worked with a very laconic joker of a guy, who also happened to have been a civil engineering student. One day the office started shaking. I immediately looked at him, assuming he was playing a practical joke that I hadn't quite worked out. He, in turn, was quietly but intently headed to the safest place in the office, underneath a support beam, as he knew what was going on: we were in an earthquake.

There was something about that quiet efficiency that always struck me: after all, few are more aware of the potential catastrophe of an earthquake than a civil engineer. And yet here he was, not screaming, not fretting, not worrying: just doing what was necessary to avoid the most non-awesome possible outcomes.

(Again: I can't speak for what he was doing on the inside. But the outside is what I saw.)

Conversely, I have worked with many worriers, and been one myself in many other situations. I'm pretty sure it's never done any good in and of itself. (I encourage anyone with counterexamples to mention them.) On one show I worked on, I spent months worrying that our team wouldn't make a deadline. Then it became clear to everyone else that we wouldn't make the deadline. Then everyone else panicked. My worry clearly did nothing to prevent the problem. If I worried less in general, would sternly worded caution have helped to prevent the outcome? Don't know, but when the guy who doesn't worry speaks up, people listen; when the guy who worries speaks up, he's just being a pain in the ass again.

Or such is my experience, anyway.

So going forward, I am consciously attempting to short-circuit my emotional "worry" reaction whenever possible, through a combination of preventative actions and emotional channeling. These are phrases I just made up, so they probably deserve clarification.

As to the former: yesterday, I flew back to Dunedin. An hour before I left, I started packing, calmly, to music. There was more I would have liked to do in Auckland, and I could have possibly done more, but then it would have been a mad rush, and I would have started worrying about missing the plane. By not setting myself up for an impossible situation, I didn't have to worry about getting out on time.

As to the latter: I did some maths on the way to the airport, looking at the time, and realized I could possibly miss the luggage boarding time. I kept thinking three things:

1. The bag will get there eventually, one way or another.
2. Nothing you can do will change this.
3. You're driving around with friends on a glorious day listening to SINGLES GOING STEADY by The Buzzcocks. Be here. Enjoy this.

And then I booked like hell when I got out of the car, and got my bag on the plane with 2 minutes to spare.

No worries. It's been easy so far this year. Now that I'm back to work, hopefully I can maintain it. I am confident I will have greater things to worry about through the year; I strive to be equally confident that I will choose not to worry about them.

4 comments:

Todd Stadler said...

This topic would make for an awesome conversation over beer. But in blog/comment form, it's difficult for me to figure out exactly what I want to say, other than to convey personal interest.

I like to imagine I'm not the worrier type, since I know a few worriers, and their needless worrying annoys me, so perhaps I worry less than they. But then, you seem to disprove this theory in your first paragraph. I'd like to believe that my faith precludes me from worrying too much ("God works all things for the good of those who love Him", goes one popular verse), but then such verses are often quoted by compulsive Christian worriers, so hmm.

Anyhow, I agree with your worrying/caution dichotomy. Worriers like to think they're cautious, but often worry leads to rash actions that are the antithesis of caution. Perhaps. And cautious people often don't fret at all. They know there's a possibility for things going wrong, but what are you going to do? In fact, I'd say that worriers are, at some level, really bad at probability.

Is worrying just believing (almost always foolishly) that you have (or should have) control over a situation? Is worrying addictive, hard to give up, for that reason? Or is it conquerable through sheer force of reason?

Also, I asked everyone in America, and they don't know what a "luggage boarding time" is. Or "maths". Okay, on the latter actually I'm just jealous that you say "maths" without sounding preciously affected.

Alastair said...

All of the wonderful things - In life you can't buy
They all can be yours with the right frame of mind
Just look and you'll find - (no run, no lie)
There are no secrets to hide - (no run, no lie)
Leave your problems behind - leave your problems behind
Tra la la la la - la la la la......
Hepcat in the front - to make you boogie bump
Raise your glass and tip your brim
No worries friends - No worries

Imagine that you're sailing on the big blue sea -
Just you and your best girl for company -
Rockin' the boat while the trade winds blow -
You'll never forget how you love her so....
Tra la la la la - la la la la......
Hepcat in the front - to make you boogie bump
Raise your glass and tip your brim
But no worries friends no worries

Imagine that you're sailing on the big blue sea -
Just you and your best girl for company -
Rockin' the boat while the trade winds blow -
You'll never forget how you love her so....
You feel sick - you feel sad - the love you had
Left you blue?? In the time will you remember that it happened to you -
Just look and you'll find - (no run, no lie)
There are no secrets to hide - (no run, no lie)
Leave your problems behind - leave your problems behind
Tra la la la la - la la la la......
Hepcat in the front to make you do the ska jump
So dance, laugh, and sing.. No worries friends -
No worries.......

dd said...

Al - I'm listening to that Hepcat song as I reply. It needs to go on the Awesome playlist.

Todd - "luggage boarding time" = cutoff for getting the luggage on the plane.

We'll have to have a full conversation over beer sometime, but briefly: I am trying to conquer it through willpower. I believe it is not unlike quitting smoking: changing your brain to respond differently when it has been habituated one way all your life. (Although for the analogy to work, you would have had to have your first Marlboro in the obstetrician's room.) And that is difficult, especially in new and unexpected scenarios, when we fall back on old behaviors.

But I try, I try, I try. Because it's more awesome to try than not to.

dd said...

Also, in my haste to set up automatic folders, I forgot to make sure I could see all of them. So I didn't notice these comments til this morning. Whoops.