In the book, Find The Upside of the Down Times, I write about a time when I had a $36,000 hospital bill with no insurance and I couldn’t imagine how I would ever be able to pay it. This occurred right after I had been shot in the chest, so I was convalescing at home, not able to work. I’m self-employed, so if I’m not working I don’t generate income.
All I could see was a future of going deeper in debt and never being able to get out. This was not the goal I wanted to achieve. But I couldn’t imagine how to fix it and so I couldn’t stop worrying. Does this all sound a little familiar? I bet we’ve all felt this way at some time. Perhaps you might even feel this way right now!
Some friends tried to reassure me by saying, “Don’t worry, everything will work out. Just think positively!” Yeah, right. What did they know?!? This was serious! What they are saying was definitely one of those, “It’s a lot easier said than done” things, and was absolutely the last thing I wanted to hear.
I eventually learned the positive thinking they were encouraging is only half the truth. Worry is a natural process of the mind. That’s true too. I needed to learn how to use my worrying about where I didn’t want to go, to help me get out of the worry and help get me to where I did want to go. In this case, it was to get all my hospital bills paid. That was my real goal. But just worrying about not paying my goals only made figuring out how to pay them harder. I just could not figure out how I was going to solve this very real problem.
Worry is like a signpost pointing in a direction you don’t want to go.
If you were driving down the road, for instance, and saw a sign that said, “Highway ends. Cliff 100 yards,” would you keep driving? Of course you wouldn’t. But with worry we tend to keep following the negative thought, even if it is about to take us over a cliff. The resulting negative behaviors sometimes even lead to a self-fulfilling negative prophecy.
I was worrying that my hospital bills would never be paid. That was a direction I did not want to go. But the thought caused me to sit around feeling depressed, which didn’t help me solve the problem! I had to learn to recognize the difference between what was real in my worry and what was fantasy. That was the trick to changing the worry, recognizing what was a negative fantasy – worry, and what was real – an opportunity. Then I could turn the negative fantasy into a more proactive ‘Positive Opposite Possibility.’ It’s called a Goal!
The opposite of a worry (where you don’t want to go)
is called a goal (where you do want to go)!
Actually, a goal is also a fantasy, but it is a positive one. So I choose to tell myself the positive opposite of my worry. I stated the goal I wanted to believe (but just didn’t know how it would happen-yet!). I told myself, “I know this bill will be paid, I just don’t know how it will happen.” By holding this thought in mind a new possibility occurred to me, “Maybe I don’t actually have to pay this bill myself, it just has to be paid!” Isn’t that true? The hospital doesn’t care how it gets paid. I didn’t know how that would happen, but it helped me feel less stressed about the situation. It helped me start exploring possibilities I had never considered, possibilities that were impossible when I was just worrying. This led me to eventually cross paths with a person who actually had the answer to my problem. Amazing! As hard as it may be to believe, my whole bill to the hospital was paid without me paying it! (See Chapter 2, Find The Upside Of The Down Times).
Think about it this way: it was possible to pay the bill whether I believed it or not. I just didn’t know it. As long as I worried about not paying it, my thoughts made me feel terrible and led to behaviors that did not solve the problem. When I started to practice holding a positive possibility in my mind, even without knowing how to get there, my behaviors led me in a direction that solved the problem.
I learned that when you don’t know how to solve a problem, it is also true that you know a step you can take in the direction of solving the problem. That’s just being persistent. When you turn around from your worry you see a goal. Holding your mind on the goal moves you in the direction of achieving the goal, and telling others what you want to achieve allows them the opportunity to help you succeed.
From this experience I learned that the answers to our problems are out there somewhere. We can use our worries by “flipping” them to their positive opposite possibility, a goal. We can take steps to help find the answers we need, even if we don’t know everything about the “how”.
I know these ideas will need more support to develop them into a habit. You may download this free set of handouts and listen below to an audio of a 55 min live presentation: Turning Worries into Action Plans, right now. I’m leading a group through understanding and applying the materials in these handouts. But in listening you could apply these ideas to your own challenge or worry. What else would be more important for you to be doing right now than taking the time to transform the quality of the rest of your life?