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Put Down The Glass

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A college professor stands at the front of his class holding a full glass of water.

“How heavy does this glass of water feel to me?” he asks.

One student replies, “16 ounces.” Another says, “12 ounces.” A third student guesses, “20 ounces.”

“Actually,” the professor replies, “the exact weight of this glass of water is irrelevant to how heavy it feels to me. If I hold it for a few minutes, it feels relatively light in weight. If I hold it for a couple hours, my arm will certainly start to ache. If I try to hold it all day long, at some point my arm will cramp up and become numb, causing me to drop the glass.”

As his students nod in agreement, he concludes, “The weight of this glass of water won’t change. However, the longer I hold it, the heavier it will feel to me. This is how you should think about the worries in your life. Dwell on something for a few minutes and it’s no big deal. Stress about something for a few hours and your brain may start to ache. Brood on something all day and it will paralyze you mentally, making you incapable of thinking about anything else.”

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From inflation to Ukraine, given the uncertainties we are living with these days I thought it would be an appropriate time for an article on how to wake up with less worry.

The Past

“I’d rather regret the things I’ve done than regret the things I haven’t done.” -Lucille Ball 

If we didn’t have some regret we might not learn from the bad experiences we encounter. But regret can also be a slippery slope and snowball quickly. The objective is to learn the lesson and then let go. 

Did you know you can’t have two thoughts simultaneously? So if you are constantly regretting the past, you can’t focus on the present. 

Some people hold onto regret like they’re holding a glass of water too long, at which point it becomes heavier and heavier. That’s why Italian filmmaker, Frederico Fellini, said, “Regrets are the past crippling you in the present.”

The Future

“Forget the past – the future will give you plenty to worry about.” -George Allen

Do you worry about the future? In psychology it’s sometimes referred to as the “What if…?” trap. 

“What if I don’t get into college?”

“What if I’m not able to have children?”

“What if I don’t get the job?”

“What if I don’t get the promotion?”

“What if I don’t pass the test?”

“What if I get into a car accident?”

“What if I end up alone?”

“What if I get COVID?”

The best advice I’ve heard on worrying about the future is from Tom Petty: “Most things I worry about never happen anyway.”

But sometimes thinking about the future can actually help us deal with the present.

I talked about this a few weeks ago in my article “Well, maybe.” 

Bad things are going to happen. This is impossible to avoid. But as I said in that article, we must resist believing that “a bad thing is a bad thing” and nothing more. 

So many times what we perceive to be a “bad thing” actually ends up having a silver lining (turns out for the better in the future). Certainly not all the time, but a lot more often than we give credit for. 

If you realize there may be a silver lining in bad occurrences (whether or not this turns out to be true), psychologist advise that this can help you get past them.

The Present

“Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift, which is why we call it the present.” -Bil Keane (The Family Circus cartoonist)

One thing that sets humans apart from animals is we have what’s called “temporal focus.” Put simply, this is the ability to think about the past, the present, and the future. It’s believed that, as opposed to humans, animals “live” almost exclusively in the present.  

Human beings’ ability to think about the past, present and future can be a double edged sword. While it gives us the unique ability to savor memories of the past and dream about the future, it can also burden us with regret about what has already happened and worry about what may happen. 

You’ve heard the expressions “be in the moment” or “live in the present.” For those of us who have a strong temporal focus that consumes us with negative thoughts about the past and the future, psychologists say we should try to discipline ourselves to focus more on the present. 

Last week my oldest son, Brian, made the comment that he is working on being “Here in space and now in time.” 

Perhaps author Eckhart Tolle said it best: “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make NOW the primary focus of your life.”

Much of what I just shared can be debated, but one thing cannot…when you are consumed with worry, it’s time to put down the glass.