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I once heard it said that worry is paying interest on debt you might not owe. To fully function to the best of our ability, we must be fully focused in the now moment. The number one cause for accidents on jobsites is a lack of focus. It is impossible to be in a state of worry and still be focused, in the now moment.

Two polar-opposite things cannot possess the same space in time. In other words, it cannot be day and night at the same moment. And you cannot be in two different states at the same time—unless you are physically standing on the state line with one foot in one state and the other foot in another. You cannot be grateful and a victim at the same moment.

As I slowly learn Spanish, I learn a lot about English. There is much Latin in our vocabulary. The Spanish word for “worry” is preocupado. The word in Spanish helps us understand what worry does to us: it keeps us preoccupied. Worry keeps us from being fully present, fully functioning in the now moment. It also causes our bodies to release chemicals that cause us to feel bad, increase acid in our system, take away our focus, and turn a protective mental state from a resource to a burden.

In the study of epigenetics, we learn that each of us is a community of 300 trillion cells, all driven by our environment. The most important environment that controls us is our thinking. The body releases sixty-three known chemicals. What we are thinking about—what is going on in our heads and hearts—dictates how we feel and how we function. Our thoughts can either be a positive motivator that propels us forward, with hope, or they can be a negative drain on our emotional and physical health and thus affect our ability to function and our belief systems. When we worry, we cause our bodies to release chemicals related to doubt, fear, and uncertainty.

If we are going to function at the highest levels of our design, we must learn how to focus on the right things and do our best to remove worry. Dr. Stephen Covey, in his seminal book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about the two circles of life: the circle of concern and the circle of influence. He tells us that we should keep our focus on where those two circles overlap. Within the circle of influence are those things we can control or affect. Within the circle of concern are those things we are concerned about. Where they overlap is where our focus should be.

When we worry, we are running scenarios of things that might happen and have negative consequences. As leaders, we need to be prepared for whatever situations might occur. However, worry is the creative process, in the negative sense, running on its own and creating chemicals in our bodies that cause our minds to go places they should not go and causing our bodies to release chemicals that make us sick, anxious, or hopeless. Those feelings do not motivate us; they demotivate us from taking action because they affect our B.S. (belief system).

In her book Who Switched Off My Brain? Dr. Caroline Leaf makes this statement that should wake up every able-minded leader: “Research shows that around 87 percent of illnesses can be attributed to our thought life and approximately 13 percent to diet, genetics, and environment. Studies conclusively link more chronic diseases (also known as lifestyle diseases) to an epidemic of toxic proportions in our culture. These toxic emotions can cause migraines, hypertension, strokes, cancer, skin problems, diabetes, infections, and allergies, just to name a few. Despite all the marvels of modern high-tech medicine and decades of innovative research, these illnesses are increasing worldwide.”

How do we combat these menacing mental mitigators? By taking control of our thoughts, we hold them captive. To think is to create, and we must be aware of what we are creating through the automatic thoughts that run through our brains on a moment-by-moment basis.

Here are some tips for controlling your thoughts:

Check in with your thoughts daily. In the morning and in the evening, journal your thoughts. Pay attention to what you are focused on. Become aware of the pattern of your thoughts. Are they worrisome, or are they solution-oriented?

Separate your thoughts into two categories: things you are concerned about and things you have the ability to control or have an effect on. Focus your attention on where those two overlap.

Remember that there are two ways to change something. You either have unilateral authority to change things, or you can help effect change by talking with others to find out their concerns and then strategize on how to change those things that you are not satisfied with.

Regarding those things that occupy a lot of time and space, put together a plan to solve, fix, or reduce your concerns in relation to them. When we have a plan in place, it makes us feel like we are in control, and it reduces the worry and fear.

If I could be like Michael J. Fox and go “back to the future” and tell a younger me a bit of advice, I would tell that little me, “Be careful what you hold on to.” For years, I struggled with worry. The preoccupation of what might happen, what might go wrong, what might crash kept me from focusing on creating a better future. Now that I hold my thoughts captive, I can plan and prepare without putting myself through all the emotions associated with negative possibilities that are all outside of the realm of my control.

Over the years, I have learned that true power lies between the stimulus and the response. Dr. Viktor Frankl, the father of Logotherapy, says, “Between the stimulus and the response, there is a space, and in that space is your power; it is your freedom.” That is true power—to control one’s own mind and thus the chemicals and feelings that come from what we do in the recesses of our minds.

Take control, take back your power, and live in the quiet freedom that can be your mind.

“That the birds of worry and care fly over your head, you cannot change, but that they build nests in your hair, this you can prevent.”
—Chinese Proverb

Worry is written by Scott V. Black