Mark Twain

(Mark Twain...looking worried)

This week’s reality check - or, as I like to call it, “whack upside the head with the Frozen Fish of Reality” (Google Monty Python's Fish Slapping Dance for the reference and have a good laugh)comes courtesy of the great American humorist and writer, Mark Twain.

We’ve all been faced with a situation that we don’t want to deal with. Maybe it’s having a difficult conversation with someone. Maybe it’s getting your taxes in order. Maybe you’ve been feeling ill and don’t want to go to the doctor. The reason we’re afraid is not because we aren’t capable of having conversations, or of physically going through tax records, and we’ve all been to a doctor. We can do it. We just don’t want to. There's a difference. A big one.

Obviously, this is no fun, but we make it worse by imagining in our heads how that experience is going to be before we have it. If you’re a particularly creative person, the stories you tell yourself are going to be much worse. So, while it can be a blessing, creativity can also be a curse. Take the conversation example. You see in your imagination that the other person reacts badly. If it’s a romantic partner or spouse, you imagine that they leave you. If it’s a boss, you imagine that they will fire you. If it’s a friend, you imagine that they will hate you. If you go to the doctor, the news will be bad. If you do your taxes, you'll owe more than you can pay, etc., etc. This starts the downward spiral into inaction, procrastination and anxiety. What you're doing is convincing yourself that something is true before it even happens.

Mark Twain is quoted as saying “I have spent most of my life worrying about things that have never happened.” Mark Twain was a very creative guy, so you can imagine the thoughts he got up to! But, here’s the truth: a 1990 survey by the University of Cincinnati found that eighty-five percent of the things we worry about never happen. (I’ll pause while you read that line again). 15% of what we worry about actually does happen. The good news is that you can handle or fix 79% of that. That leaves us unable to deal with 3.15% of what actually happens to us. All that worrying we've done suddenly seems ridiculous.

I'm as guilty of this as anyone and I can fret with the best of them. However, lately I’ve made a concerted effort to stop myself having the conversation or imagining the outcome. I’ve just forced myself to do the unpleasant task because it gets worse the longer I wait. And guess what? I’m still here. I found I could handle it. You can, too. Don’t be like Mark Twain. Stop worrying about things that never happen. The only way is to face up to it, get out of your own head and the stories you create, and just do it. You only have a 3.15% chance of failure.

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