Can Worry Be Productive?

Fretting. Can it actually be a strength?! Haven’t we often heard that worrying only makes us ineffective?

If you’re worried about worry, too, read on!

This year, as part of my resolve to be more congruent, I have decided to opt out of negative thoughts.

That one on my neck is supposed to be over my congruent heart :)!

That angle mark on my neck is supposed to be over my congruent heart :)!

I’ve hit a snag on the issue of worry because I’m still not convinced it’s entirely negative–for my writing or my personal life. It might be an important part of a life balance that makes me more productive overall.

Big Picture Versus Small Picture Worries

I’ve learned not to worry tons about the everyday stuff but I will probably always worry about big picture stuff. I worry about what people in my life are going through. I worry about my progress as a human being.

The Problem with Never Worrying

On some level, I’ve enjoyed the suffering of The Worrier. I once wrote a poem I titled Worry Warrior, which I will spare you from at this time. It was motivated by my resistance to someone’s insistence that we shouldn’t worry. Ever.

The advice to never worry is consistent with a certain Bobby McFerrin song. But even at age 9 or however old I was when the song came out, I had problems totally agreeing with some of the advice in “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.”  I still love that song, but you actually do have to worry about your landlord coming to collect your rent.

Card with Quote by Meher Baba and Inspiration for McFerrin's Song - Wikipedia

Meher Baba Card and Inspiration for McFerrin’s Song – Wikipedia

I agree with not wasting time on worry when facing problems with foreseeable solutions. I’ve recognized the value of not sitting on my butt a-fretting when I could be doing something to fix the issue!

Benefits of Worry

For me, ‘not worrying’ is more of an elusive concept when I’m up against a problem that just doesn’t have ready solutions. In those more ambiguous struggles, worry has sometimes actually felt productive in a couple ways:

  • Emotional purging. A fine line separates worry and emotional purging! I really believe emotions need to be acknowledged and dealt with. Worry can mimic that, in fact, the only difference I’ve been able to detect is that worrying cycles without ever getting to acceptance, peace, or resolve.
  • Leveraging the Only Thing You’ve Actually Got to Get What You Haven’t Got. I’ve felt that by worrying I was saying to the universe, “The only currency I have is my time or my will, and by sitting here worrying I’m spending that currency in an effort to invoke greater power than I innately have.” That’s pretty productive! That’s why worry has felt like faith to me.

There is definitely a max point after which continued worry generates diminishing returns (you’re welcome, fellow econ or business majors). Sometimes it just goes too far. Sometimes it shuts my energy down. Sometimes it makes me squelch a pursuit for facts and only feel emotion. That’s easy to do when a lot is as stake or when a problem is threatening in nature.

Worry in Moderation?

Maybe worry just needs to be better managed. Maybe it’s a question of amount or extentI wondered, would it be more effective to worry on a time limit? That gives you all the benefits with none of the downsides!

So I committed to experiment on the subject. You can read my accounts here:

Thus Far

Spoiler alert!  These two experiments seem to confirm my hypothesis. Worrying in moderation has felt more emotionally and practically productive. I’ve found worrying for a little bit is an important thing to face and pass through. But worrying beyond that is probably fear. It feels good to say that I’m attempting to opt for bravery instead. It’s more fun!

I’m moving forward with this way of worrying because although it demands an uncomfortable awareness, energy, and inner work, it creates new energy at the same time. That’s fascinating and unexpected! When I exert my will to switch gears mentally and emotionally, I’m not a victim of worry’s entropy.

I get off that worry train when I should!

So, although it’s not as catchy as ‘Don’t worry, be happy,’ my money is on the phrase ‘Worry conscientiously, be happy.’ Pretty sure my lyrics wouldn’t have won the Grammy Song of the Year!

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