One of my favourite practical applications from the book 10% Happier was this simple question. Sometimes the things we worry about are irrelevant thoughts that only distract us, but sometimes there are genuine problems that we need to work out. It’s okay to worry, plot, and plan, but only until it’s not useful anymore. For example, it is useful to plan out your trip to the airport (deciding what time you have to leave by, what you have to do before that, what you need to pack and what you need to have with you…), but when you start overthinking it, running through your trip and worrying about whether you have everything for the seventeenth time, ask yourself: is this useful?
Through his research, Dan finds that people who meditate are generally happier, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t “suffer like a normal person.” It doesn’t mean that you’ll be in a blissful state all of the time and you never let your emotions have control, but that you can better manage them. You can’t control what is thrown at you, but it’s about how you learn to deal with stressful situations and live in the moment instead of worrying about the future.
Game Plan: The next time you catch yourself worrying about something or overthinking it, ask yourself if what you are doing is useful. If you’re worrying about a test because you haven’t studied, those thoughts might be useful because they will encourage you to look at your notes. But if you know that you’ve prepared, those anxious thoughts are not helpful. Being able to identify which worries are useful will help you in putting together an action plan: either do something to better prepare, or realize that there is nothing more you can do and try to let that thought go. Replace it with: I am ready, I am prepared, I can do this.