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HOW TO BECOME THE HAPPIEST PERSON YOU KNOW

In the next three chapters, you’ll learn the step-by-step approach to how you can use the #5SecondRule in combination with some recent research-based strategies to beat fear, stop worrying, manage or cure anxiety, and change the way you think.

If you’ve seen me on TV as a commentator for CNN or read my columns in SUCCESS magazine, it’s easy to assume that I was born with the confidence of a warrior. That assumption only gets strengthened when you watch my YouTube videos, my TEDx Talk, or experience me live on stage. Yes, I am confident now, but I was not born this way. For most of my adult life, I was a loud-mouthed extrovert who was plagued by deep insecurity. Confidence is a skill I’ve built over the years by practicing acts of everyday courage.

What a lot of people don’t know about me is that I have suffered from anxiety for more than twenty-five years. I had debilitating post-partum depression when our first daughter Sawyer was born and I couldn’t be left alone with her for the first two months. I have taken Zoloft to control my panic attacks for nearly two decades. The struggle with my thoughts has been real and, at times, terrifying.

When I first discovered the Rule, I used it to change my behavior. The Rule worked wonders, and as acting with everyday courage became second nature, my confidence grew stronger. However, anxiety never disappeared. It was there simmering beneath the surface. I focused on learning to live with it, managing it, and making sure I didn’t let it boil over into full blown panic.

About four years ago, I started to wonder if I could use the #5SecondRule to change more than my physical behavior. I wondered if I could change my thoughts. I had seen the effects it had on other habits—so why not try to break the mental habit of anxiety, panic, and fear? They are patterns that we repeat after all. They are just habits.

I started using the Rule to change the way that my mind worked. I began by using the Rule to break the habit of worrying. As I mastered that skill, I used the Rule to control my anxiety and beat my fear of flying. It worked.

As I write this sentence, I can tell you—I have cured myself of anxiety. I haven’t taken Zoloft in years and am panic attack-free. I no longer have a habit of worrying. And my fear of flying? Gone. Learning to take control of my mind, direct my thoughts, and dismantle fear has been the single greatest thing I have ever done to improve the quality of my life. I almost never feel worried. And the rare times that I do, I just, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and direct my mind towards the solutions rather than worrying about the problems. I have transformed my mind using the Rule and I am the happiest and most optimistic that I have ever been. My mind is working for me instead of against me.

Now, it’s your turn.

First, you’ll learn how to break the addiction to worrying and negative self-talk using the #5SecondRule, the science of habits, and the power of gratitude.

Second, you’ll dive into the subject of anxiety and panic. You’ll learn what it is and what it isn’t. And I will give you the step-by-step method for how you can interrupt, reframe, and eventually eliminate anxiety from your own life.

Finally, you’ll learn a proven strategy for how you can beat any fear. Using my fear of flying as an example, you’ll learn how to use the Rule with “anchor thoughts” to prevent fear from taking over your mind.

Everything you are about to learn is so simple and powerful that you can even teach it to your kids.

CHAPTER TWELVE

STOP WORRYING

More than any other change, ending your habit of worrying will create the single biggest positive impact in your life. Believe it or not, you were taught how to worry. As a kid, you heard your parents worrying constantly “Be careful,” “Wear a hat or you’ll catch a cold,” and “Don’t sit so close to the TV.” As adults, we spend way too much time and energy worrying about things that we can’t control or that could go wrong. When you get to be near the end of your life, you’ll wish you hadn’t.

Dr. Karl Pillemer is a professor of Human Development at Cornell University and is the founder of the Legacy Project. He has met with 1,200 senior citizens to discuss the meaning of life. He was “shocked” to learn that most people near the end of their lives had the same regret: I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my lifetime worrying. Their advice was “devastatingly simple and direct: worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime.” You can stop worrying. And the #5SecondRule will teach you how. Worrying is a default setting that your mind goes to when you aren’t paying attention. The key is catching yourself when you drift into worry, and then regaining mental control by using the Rule. Here’s an example.

My husband recently got his motorcycle license and just bought a small, used motorcycle. Yesterday, I was sitting inside the house and noticed him on the bike pulling out of the driveway. As he drove down the road, I noticed that my mind immediately started to drift toward worry.

I started worrying about whether or not he would get hit by a car, become a statistic, and if I would soon get a call from the police telling me that he’s been in an accident. The worry hijacked me within five seconds. That fast. And you know what? My worrying about it won’t keep him safe and it won’t prevent an accident. As one 83-year-old in the study said, my worrying “won’t solve anything.” It will just put me on edge for the entire time Chris is out riding his motorcycle—which robs me of enjoying the present moment.

As soon as I catch myself worrying, I use the Rule, 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 and I think of something more positive—like the thought of him smiling as he drives down the road.

The funny thing is that Chris is also a huge cyclist. He competes in triathlons and is out on the road taking 40 to 50 mile training rides by himself all the time. I never worry about that. But here I am worrying about the motorcycle he is driving down our road at 10 miles per hour. Could something go wrong? Of course it could. But it usually doesn’t.

When you start to use the Rule to end worrying, you’ll be amazed by how often your mind just drifts to something negative. Mine does it every day. It really sucks. And each day, I fight against it. There are some days that I have to use the Rule a dozen or more times to control my thoughts. Just the other day I caught myself drifting into worry over and over again.

Our daughters were returning home from a service trip in Peru and throughout the day, I caught my mind drifting to thoughts of plane crashes, missed flights, falling off a cliff in the Andes, bus accidents, lost bags, and the girls being stranded at the airport. The girls were fine, and without the Rule I would have ruined my day. Each time I caught my mind drifting to a bad thought, I would say to myself “oh no you don’t…” and just point it to a thought that made me smile—like the girls talking a million miles an hour that night in the kitchen as they told us about the trip.

Feelings of Love Often Trigger Worry

Another thing that has surprised me about worry is just how subtle it is and how fast it can seize control of you. I’ve been surprised by how often I start to worry the moment that I feel happiness or love.

This spring, it happened to me as I was looking at our 17-year-old daughter. I had this incredible moment when my heart just suddenly swelled up and I felt a tidal wave of love wash over me. And then, without warning, all these worries flooded into my mind and stole the moment. All I felt was fear.

We were at the mall. Sawyer was trying on dresses for her high school prom. It had been a long afternoon. We were on our third dress store, and she had easily tried on more than 40 dresses—and she hated every last one of them. Telling her she looked amazing only made her mood worse.

I was in the dressing room with her, putting the rejects back on the hangers and handing her the next gown to try on. I started panicking that we’d never find one that she liked. I handed her another one to try on and said, “Let’s just bang through these next three and then get out of here.” I stepped out of the dressing room to give her some space and called Chris.

Suddenly she called out to me, “Mom. Can you come in here?”

I tried to read her voice but couldn’t tell if she was crying, frustrated, needing help with a stuck zipper, or something else. I cracked open the door. She had on a floor length gown and I could see her reflection in the mirror and she looked, in a word, stunning. It was perfect. The dress was peach and had beautiful flowy side panels that were pink. It was everything she had wanted—no sparkles, no lace, an open back, and a bright color. Our eyes caught in the mirror.

“What do you think, Mom?”

I could feel the tears coming. When she was an infant, I remember experiencing that same tidal wave of emotion that can wash over you when you love someone so much. In the middle of the night, I’d wake up to go check in on her, and there standing alone in her nursery, watching her sleep on her back with her arms raised up above her head, I’d get hit with this tidal wave of love—and just marvel at my ability to love something so much. It felt like my heart might burst.

That’s what I felt standing outside the dressing room in the mall. I just felt love. And then, the worries rushed in and stole the moment from me. Without warning, I was thinking about her heading off to college, getting married, being a new mom, living far away from me, time passing, getting older, and my life being over. My life flashed before me. Time was racing by and for a fleeting moment, I felt I was losing her. I felt overwhelmed with sadness and loss and my eyes swelled with tears.

Sawyer saw me getting emotional, and thought it was because of the dress. “Ah, Mom. Don’t cry. You’ll make me cry.” But I was crying because of how scared I was to see her grow up. I was crying because time was passing too fast and I wanted life to slow down. Worry robbed me of all the joy in that moment. It took me away from Sawyer and into a dark place in my head. Instead of just being present and in awe of my beautiful daughter, I felt afraid.

That’s how worries and fear hijack your mind and rob you of the magic and wonder in your life. Brené Brown observed this exact phenomenon in her research for her best-seller Daring Greatly. She found that feeling a worst-case scenario in moments of joy (such as not being able to enjoy a hug with your child without worrying about something bad happening to him) is an amazingly common phenomenon. And why is it so hard for us to soften into joy? “Because we’re trying to beat vulnerability to the punch,” says Dr. Brown.

When your mind takes you somewhere sad, dark, doubtful, or negative, you don’t have to go with it. I love what Hein wrote to me: “99.999% of the time, it has always been a fake reality that I had created in my head.”

When you find your inner voice becoming an “enemy,” as Hein and I have experienced, it’s important to “stop worrying” and recognize that in those 5 seconds, you can reclaim control.

I started to silently counting to myself, “5- 4- 3-…” and as I counted, I could feel the fear lowering inside by body. Counting yanked me out of my head and planted me in the present moment. It switched gears from worry to focus. I was not going to let my brain rob me of this experience with my daughter. I was not going to allow the habit of worrying to derail me from being in the present and taking a mental photograph.

Then I asked myself two simple questions: “What am I grateful for in this moment? What do I want to remember?” When you ask that simple question, you impact your brain at a biological level. In order to respond you have to take stock of your life, relationships, and work and search for an answer in the moment.

It forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. As soon as you think about what you are grateful for, you’ll start feeling grateful instead of worried. The answer to the question was clear to me. I was grateful to have such an incredible young woman as my daughter. And after three hours of drama, I was also grateful she found a dress.

Katie is also using the Rule to reflect on what she is grateful for and to control her worries:

“Nothing” in life is perfect. Nothing at all. But you can use 5- 4- 3- 2- 1 to quiet the mental chatter and learn to appreciate all of the small moments like feeling grateful for your daughter.

Feeling grateful doesn’t just feel good. According to neuroscientist Alex Korb, it changes your brain chemistry by activating the brainstem region that produces dopamine. With my worries gone, I took a deep breath and stepped into the dressing room to move closer to her and put my hand on her shoulder. Our eyes met in the mirror.

“Well? What do you think, Mom?”

“I think Luke is going to have a heart attack. You look absolutely gorgeous.”

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