The Problem Versus the Path Forward

I have a lot of things that I worry about.

I worry about my children. Are they developing well socially? Educationally? Are they challenged but not completely overwhelmed? Do they have a balance of free time and learning activities? Are they healthy?

I worry about my parents. Are they still doing all right? As they grow older, are they prepared for the passing of one or the other of them? Am I prepared?

I worry about my wife. My friends. I want the best for all of them.

I worry about my own economic and professional future. I worry about my own health, too.

It is really easy to get caught up in a big bundle of worry. It’s easy to find yourself in a situation where your mind constantly wanders off to something you’re worried about. It distracts you and fills you with unease and stress.

That type of stress is distracting. It keeps you from focusing on what you need to do. It can contribute to physical ailments, too.

I’ve found only one way that works for me to keep me from this type of distracting stress. I focus entirely on the path forward.

If I find myself being distracted by a worry, the first thing I do is ask myself if I have a plan forward and I’m already doing something about that worry. If the answer is “yes,” then I know I can toss that stray worry aside. I’m already dealing with it and that’s enough to settle that concern.

If the answer is “no,” then I try to take an hour as soon as I possibly can and figure out the path forward for that problem. I sit down with a piece of paper and a pen in front of me and begin asking myself some tough questions.

Why am I worried about this? I want to figure out what my stake in the problem is. If I’m worried about something, I need to have a stake in it. If I don’t, then I’ve shown myself that it’s foolish to worry about it.

Once I understand what my stake in the problem is, I ask myself what I can do to put that situation on the right track.

I don’t worry about what others might be able to do or say they’re going to do. I can’t control that. All I can control is what I choose to do.

I usually end up jotting down some things I should do to help fix this problem. I add them to my to-do lists appropriately and then try to spend at least a little time right then moving forward on the problem.

Again, I don’t worry at all about what others may or may not be doing about the problem. That is simply outside of my control and it’s not worth worrying about.

I can’t waste my time worrying about the choices that other people make. All I can worry about is the impact I can make on that decision.

Once I have a plan and I’ve made progress on that plan, I find it much easier to brush aside worries in the moment. I leave them until the end of the week, when I sit down for a couple of hours and do a “life review” – something I consider an essential part of my week and of my mental balance.

If you have a worry in your life, the worst thing you can do is let it just sit there distracting you and adding stress to your life. Finding a path forward and starting a journey down that path helps immeasurably.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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