Reality Check: The Worry-Weed Patch

Even if you’ve never gardened, you’ve probably noticed that a patch of bare ground doesn’t stay bare for long. Nature doesn’t like empty space.

What fills that space? Weeds, of course. Lambs-quarters take up residence in the garden; plantain plants itself in gravel; dandelions will even grow in cracks in a sidewalk. No matter how inhospitable the spot, there’s a weed that will thrive.

While we could debate whether these plants are weeds or nature’s gifts, for now, let’s define a weed as anything that grows where it’s not wanted. Unless planted, bare ground fills with weeds.

What about other empty spaces? For example, how about empty space in our lives—when we’re bored and can find nothing we want to do? Or empty space in our thoughts, when we find nothing engaging or interesting. Or perhaps we have empty space in our feelings, times when we just feel “blah.”

For some folks, having those empty spaces is not a problem.

Others, however, find that if they have nothing to occupy their hands, their minds, or their hearts, then worries—just like weeds—fill that empty space. They mull, fret and question, “What will happen tomorrow? Next year? What if this disaster happens? What if, what if…?” Even the most unlikely events can begin growing in that empty mind-space and take on a life of their own.

Choice theory suggests that our physiology, feelings, thoughts, and actions are all part of a system, referred to by Dr. Wm. Glasser as “total behaviour.” What’s so helpful about understanding this system is that we can learn to take control of the parts we can control, and taking that control helps us indirectly affect the rest; the parts we can’t directly control.

Consider what you have control over. You know that you can pretty much control what you do—what actions you take. (I’m not saying that deciding what to do is easy, but you can choose to do or not do.) You also have considerable choice and control over what you think. However, have you found that it’s difficult to control how you feel?

If and when a feeling of worry pops up, you know it’s not all that effective to say to yourself, “Stop worrying.”

A more effective way to change a feeling is to take action—change what you are doing. In other words, instead of allowing that empty space to fill up with weeds (worries) take pro-active action to fill it with something else.

But what? Actions: write, sing, walk, paint, dance, talk, work…

Time passes, regardless. You know that when you are engaged in activities, time scoots right along, doesn’t it? Whether that engagement is through an interest in your work or through a concern for other people, when you know that you are fulfilling your potential and your purpose, baseless worries skulk to the background or disappear altogether.

Take a look at the opportunities you have to become truly engaged in your own life, so you can fill those empty spaces with whatever it is that you value, rather than with weeds that come along uninvited.

Have you found that taking action can change worried feelings?

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