Not all worry is bad. There is the kind of fretting that motivates us to take action and the other kind of fretting that constipates us. But when we name or identify our worry, then we can use it to our advantage. Otherwise, it might just eat us alive.
My fourth grade students are notorious for asking, “What if.” If I let them, they will perseverate on these two little words. For instance, when a deadline for the end of the year school play looms on the horizon or the due date for an essay is closer than they think, they will ask a series of questions.
“What if we don’t get our lines memorized for the play?”
“But you will get them memorized,” I reply.
“What if someone is sick that day? Who will take their place?”
“Nobody will get sick. You will all be fine.”
“What if we don’t get the essay done by the due date?”
“Oh, you will. I am giving you plenty of time to do it. All you have to do is use your time well.”
I surmise that it is by stating their fears, they are naming them, and bringing them out from the confines of their own brains. They need confident reassurance and I am the one to give it. Then, when they are assured, from a source, other than themselves that they can do what they need to do, then most of them succeed.
They all have what it takes to pick up their script, and practice their lines at home or in the classroom. They can pick up their pencil, open their notebook and begin writing about the topic they’ve chosen for their essay. Naming their worry actually gives them the drive to push forward, getting them past their imagined worst case scenario.
What is true for fourth graders is also true for adults. In naming our fears, whatever they may be for the day, we can assure ourselves that we do have what it takes to do the next thing. Whether it is picking up our pen to write that letter to someone, approaching a new colleague with a handshake and reassuring smile, or taking the next step toward better health habits, we do not have to get stuck with the “what if” frame of thought.
Why bother naming your worries. Naming the worries takes the “what if” and turns it into “I can.”