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    Worry Isn’t Preparation

    Ron is well paid and valued at his job, but he constantly worries that he’s about to be fired and will wind up on the street. George is HIV positive, but although his lab numbers are excellent and he’s energetic and in good shape, he’s constantly terrified that he’s about to get sick and die. Mike has been in a happy relationship for years, but worries almost daily that his partner is about to lose interest and leave him. All of these men understand that they’re poisoning their happiness today by dwelling on what might happen tomorrow, but none of them can stop worrying obsessively.

    Many of us have a lot in common with these men. Excessive, unproductive worry is one of the most common sources of day-to-day stress, and stress-related health problems (low back pain, hypertension, digestive problems, headaches, insomnia, etc.). It’s often also a root problem in our social anxieties and phobias, our addictions and depressions.

    tomThe first step in overcoming worry is to understand that the problem is the worrying, not what we worry about. This step is crucial, but difficult, because worry is hypnotic and self-sustaining. When we worry excessively about tomorrow’s danger, we forget that things are okay today, and scare ourselves into believing we’re in an emergency now. And since we can’t do anything about an emergency that isn’t real in the first place, we feel weak and helpless, which causes us to worry even more. We begin to break the vicious cycle and awaken from this trance state when we realize that what causes our fear is what the mind is doing today, not what might happen tomorrow.

    The next step is to get re-acquainted with the present. Most of us spend so much time leaning into the future that we’ve completely forgotten one of the great “secrets” of life – that the present moment is usually safe and uncomplicated. When I traveled in India and Asia, I noticed that everywhere I went, ordinary people were adept at abiding in the moment, and lived in a calm contentment, even when their outward circumstances seemed dire. In the East, this simple sanity is mere common sense; only Americans seem to think of it as exotic and mystical. For us, the habit of future-tripping is deeply ingrained, and most of us can’t loosen its grip unless we practice some form of mind training.

    Most “spiritual” practices, such as yoga, meditation, Qigong, and tai chi, are in fact mind-training disciplines, whose basic purpose is to teach the mind to stay grounded in the present. Those who are serious about decreasing the amount of worry in their lives can profit greatly by practicing any of these disciplines. Another helpful resource is Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now. This modern classic explains the importance of present focus with unmatched clarity, and offers practical advice on how to achieve it.

    Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. His website is