A lot of things keep us up at night. Overthinking won’t let us power down our brains and instead, we take a journey on a near-infinite loop of imagined fears and outcomes.
Stressing about problems in our lives is normal, but some of us sit helplessly as our over-active imaginations spin our anxiety like a fidget wheel.
We presuppose every way a situation can go wrong, but there’s another way of looking at those imagined outcomes. We can assume the worst, so why can’t we assume the best?
Letting go of all that existential dread starts with a revolutionary thought…
You aren’t the only good person in the world.
Putting a Positive Spin on Negative Thoughts
We’ll spend hours with our eyes closed, picturing in full color every way that something in the future could spiral out of control.
What’s worse, our brains might drag up past events that have already been resolved without disaster, and yet we stress over the ways they could have gone much worse. These concepts sound ridiculous in the light of day, but when the darkness closes in, they can seem real and probable.
You can’t stop all bad things from happening, but you can prevent 100% of the catastrophes that only occur in your mind.Scott Sentell
My worst nights always start with a lost puppy.
The Lesson of the Lost Puppy
I looked for new ways to reign in the destructive side of my imagination after stressing over the imagined fate of my dog. What if she was lost? What if I couldn’t reach her to provide help, food, a gentle hand?
What about every other stray dog on the planet? Like those cities in other countries where sweet mommy dogs just wander the streets and beaches and plop down a litter of puppies whenever and wherever they feel like it. That stresses my brain!
Who will love them and give them a home? Who will dress them in Halloween costumes??!!
I had to find a way to stop my brain from getting getting stuck in such a debilitating groove.
The Lost Puppy Solution
Then, after many sleepless hours, I realized the one thing I never considered. There were millions of other people in the world who worry about the same things.
If my pup was ever lost, I could safely assume there were other people she would encounter who would gladly help her. Even if I can’t find her, or I can’t protect her, or provide for other stray pets, there’s always someone in the right place at the right time who can. I wasn’t the only positive force in my neighborhood, my city, or the world for that matter.
Even if I’m never reunited with my dog, my first thought shouldn’t be that a tragedy has occurred, or she’s been initiated into a coyote pack.
My initial thought changes. There are others who will come to her aid, take her in, give her a home, or take her to a rescue where she will find another good home just like mine was.
I’d be sad, but I can live with it. Subsidizing that sadness with the most tragic thoughts I can concoct every night doesn’t help anyone. Someone will share a turkey sandwich with a stray dog. Someone will nuzzle a puppy on the sidewalk.
Now take this renaissance of positivity and apply it to the other worries you clutch closely to your chest.
Start by picking one problem to change your expectations on.
Believing in the Good of Others
How do I know it’s true? That there are other forces of good in the world? Because I’ve lived it.
We’ve all been in situations we thought we’d never emerge from, never survive. But we always forget the part where someone comes along to extend a hand.
Your problem may not have disappeared immediately, but it’s usually one of two things. Your disaster is averted through the help of someone else. Or someone just appears on that dark night, to share in the disaster, to be a companion, and make it bearable.
For some reason that tragedy was unavoidable, or perhaps your actions made it inevitable. And yet, you received a helping hand or a companion in pain, even when you didn’t deserve it.
We assume the world is wicked, but something other than evil responds.
A Lack of Faith in Positive Thinking
If you believe in a higher power, this type of doubt verges on a lack of faith doesn’t it? Even if you can’t reach out and rescue someone, does God turn away?
Does God not sit with the defeated, the downtrodden, the victims, the dying? Is God not fit to oversee creation? Did God not originate compassion?
We struggle to believe a lot of things, but the notion that your higher power is a force for good shouldn’t be a hard concept to internalize. Didn’t God take care of creation long before you were born and will God not continue to do this when you’re long gone?
God will comfort. But God doesn’t have the luxury of short sightedness. Sometimes bad things have to play out. God might be guiding someone to a better place, to a stronger self, but to get there some hard times must play out.
So, don’t despair over every puzzling circumstance that arises. You don’t order the days and set the schedule. Set the anxiety you feel over the fate of the universe on a shelf. Exercise real faith for once. There are acts of good and of mercy that have played out without your participation. They will continue to do so.
So, don’t let your anxiety fool you each night into picking up those burdens.
Thinking up the worst possible scenarios is a great trait for a paperback writer. Inflicting horrific things on your main character to keep the reader enthralled is almost expected. But in your life, you’re the protagonist.
So don’t be sadistic and cruel to your main character. If you’re just a normal non-fiction human trying to get through life without your heart exploding, work each day to reframe your thoughts.
Do your best to subvert bad and accelerate good. But when you feel powerless, put some faith in people you know and don’t know around you. Trust that good people exist and that people you thought of as bad can sometimes do good.
You can’t stop all bad things from happening, but you can prevent 100% of the catastrophes that only occur in your mind.
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