I’ve made myself physically sick with worry.

Yep, I mean the vomit comet. Many times too. Early on, it was when it came to a big rugby game, then it was when I thought I’d got my girlfriend pregnant.

As I got older, it was more around worrying about finances, especially when I found myself unemployed and a mortgage to pay. I lost hours, no, days to worry, and to what end?

Did it solve my problem each time? No. We didn’t win the game because I worried, but we might have lost it. My girlfriend wasn’t pregnant because I worried and worrying didn’t pay my bills.

So if worrying isn’t helpful, what can you do instead? Here are six alternative approaches

Keep busy

“Get busy living or get busy dying.”

This famous line is delivered both by Andy Dufresne, played by Tim Robbins, and by “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman, in the 1994 hit film, The Shawshank Redemption.

For Andy, this is the mantra that keeps him going inside Shawshank Prison. It’s a choice we all have the ability to make. We can throw our arms up and complain about what’s happened, the injustice of whatever that may be or we can double-down and do something about it.

My Mum drilled into me that if I didn’t like something I should change it, and if I couldn’t change it, change the way I think about it. “But whatever, you do, don’t whine about it,” she would say.

What’s busting your chops right now? Whatever it is, what is one small thing you can get busy doing to change it?

Stop trying to find the best way

There is no ‘best way’ there is only the way you choose. It will be filled with imperfections, just like life, just like you. Get over it. I wasted 20 years trying to find the ‘best’ way to be successful and earn more money, climb the ladder etc.

I should have chosen one-way and learned to become the best at that. Instead, I was like the Magpie going from one shiny thing to the next. I was great out of the gate and appalling at staying the course. Which is ironic from a former long-distance runner.

Part of that I out down to a lack of clarity about my values, goals and what ‘success’ meant to me. I guess a kind of immaturity. Hmm, that was hard to write.

Now I have clarity on those things, I’ve found that though I’ve developed the commitment and willingness to play the long game, make the sacrifices (it’s 10pm as I type this after a 10-hour working day) and to ‘embrace the suck’ as Navy SEALS say.

If you are in debt, looking for a job or starting a new business, play the long game and beware of shiny objects.

Take action

A few years ago, I was called into my boss’s office one idle Tuesday at 4:55 and without warning, told to clear my desk and a month’s cheque would be in the post.

That night I couldn’t sleep. I came downstairs, grabbed a glass of Jameson, a notepad, and pen, and set to work. A line went down the middle of the page. On the left, I wrote all the bad things that might happen.

On the right went down all the good things that might happen as result. I refused to stop until the list on the right was twice as long as the list on the left. I then went to bed and slept like a baby.

When I woke up the next day I had a ready-made list of things I could set to work on. As the saying goes, ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’ he also makes mental mischief for idle minds.

You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great. Action trumps worry every time.

Look forward

I spent four years living in the Caribbean and one of the things I loved to do was spend a day out on the ocean on a boat. We’d drink beers and cruise around. Sometimes I’d find myself staring out off the back of the boat mesmerised by the wake.

I’ve spent hours of my life doing that.

Which is how many people spend their entire lives, looking backward to where they have come from, instead of looking forwards to where they want to go.

What are you wasting time looking back on that you can’t change? What if you spent that time doing something to create the future you do want?

As Baz Lurhman said in his famous song Suncreen,

“Don’t worry about the future
Or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing Bubble gum”

Baz Lurhman

Love surprises

We’ve all just spent weeks if not months, in lockdown. It’s been hard sometimes to distinguish between days and even weeks. I’ve felt like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day. Maybe you did too.

What I relish now are surprises. Life is full of surprises, some will be good, some will be bad but I’d rather a life of both kinds of surprises than a life of none. Of sameness.

That would be a greater threat to my mental health and long term security than being called into my boss’s office at 4:55pm on some idle Tuesday and told to clear my desk.

Why? I know I can do something about that being unemployed, but how you do change a life of sameness? Embrace the good and the bad of life, for what they both are…temporary.

And remember, thoughts aren’t true and feelings aren’t facts. They constantly change like the clouds in the sky and so will your fortunes.

Back to Baz,

“Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much
or berate yourself either
Your choices are half chance, so are everybody else’s”

Baz Lurhman

Practice gratitude

During my tough times, I came across Craig Ballantyne and his early to rise website. Craig was talking about his daily routine and the importance of keeping a gratitude journal.

Being a student of personal development I bought myself a large moleskin A4 notebook with lined pages. I drew a vertical line down the middle and wrote three things I was grateful for on one side and three things I achieved that day down the other.

I wrote my first thing that night and it felt good. By night three I looked at those entries and it felt silly and pathetic, those few things lost on what felt like a great expanse of an empty page.

But I persevered and by the end of the week, it didn’t seem so bad. By the end of the month, I was hooked. “Wow, just look at all that stuff,” I remember thinking.

Some nights I wrote just three things for each, sometimes I wrote 5,6,9 things. That habit carried me through one of the toughest 18-months of my life. As Churchill said, “If you are going through hell, don’t stop.”

Don’t Stop

I didn’t. I found it again several years later and spent some time reading through what I wrote with great fondness and self-pride. It’s amazing just how much I had to be grateful for and how much I had come to see as some kind of divine right.

Another of the things my Mum drilled into me (she did it with love and warmth and the occasional kick-up the arse when needed) was that the world does not owe me anything. “It sure as hell does not owe you a living.”

She also reminded me to be grateful for what I had. She grew up in a tough part of Manchester, with four siblings and not much money. By many nights her Dad would bring in beggars off the street and share what food they had.

Be mindful and grateful for what you have rather than have not. I found it to be a great way to offset a tendency to worry. Times are good now, but the discipline of keeping a gratitude journal would benefit me to re-start.

Which of those six things struck a chord with you most? Choose one and give it a go. I’d love to hear how you get on.

. . .

This is dedicated to a late family friend, Barry Palmore. He introduced me to the field of personal development when he recruited me to network marketing when I was 18. He loaned me his Zig Ziglar and Brian Tracy books, cassettes, and videos and I lapped them up. Years later, as he was fighting cancer he gave me ‘The Magic of Self-Direction’ by David J. Schwartz from which this article takes its inspiration. Here’s to you Barry. Gone but never forgotten.