It happened again. You’re distracted from the task at hand because your mind is busy with something completely different.
Something is occupying your thoughts and taking you out of the moment. Does thinking something through over and over feel useful somehow? Somewhere along the way you became convinced that this type of thought process will help you find an answer or solution.
The good news is: you did catch yourself doing it. Also, you’re not the only one with this habit.
Do you want to stop spinning your mental wheels, allowing your energy to be drained and anxiety to take hold of your body and mind?
This habit may be tough to let go of (remember, you’ve probably been convinced that it’s useful). However, a part of you knows that this can’t go on.
Here are three questions to stop asking if you want relief from being anxious. Note that these are three questions to stop asking yourself. Use the alternative questions provided instead to free up some mental space and give yourself better direction.
These changes may seem simple at first, but they can be quite challenging – so give yourself some slack and take it one step at a time!
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Stop asking: “Why?”
Although it may appear to be a necessary question, it is often a dangerous one for an anxious person.
“Why” can suggest that there is one all-encompassing reason to be found that will somehow make a situation make sense. Continuously asking “why” also suggests that it’s necessary to know “why” before you can move on or take action.
It is perhaps most dangerous because “why” isn’t the question that actually leads you closer to the reasons for something!
Ask instead: “What,” “Where” and “How?”
More specifically, ask yourself what you want, where you want to be, and how you imagine you can take one step closer to those things. You don’t have to have all of the answers right away, but pursue the answers to these questions at the times when you do consciously think about a situation.
Don’t feel as though you have to completely throw out your desire to know the “why.” Simply put it on hold and strive to accept that there may be multiple reasons, some of which you may not need to fully understand. The necessary reasons and insights will often become clear in a natural way as you figure out the “how” of getting toward where you want to go.
Give yourself permission to either take action on a problem now or put it on hold for later. Don’t let it run wild in your mind behind the scenes. This may cause you to feel some fear, so allow yourself to practice this and get better at it over time.
Stop asking: “What does this mean?”
This question is dangerous for two reasons:
First, it is an invitation for over-analyzing. Asking this question is suggesting that something has significant meaning, and it can lead you to spend lots of time wondering about the significance of tiny details of the past or the imagined future.
Second, this question promotes thinking in extremes, otherwise known as black and white thinking. For example, you may be looking for the meaning in every comment that your partner makes, trying to figure out if he or she cares about you or not. Not only does the answer to what another person feelings not exist within your own mind to be found, you’re also assuming that the answer is one of two extreme options: either loving you or not loving you. You’ll be stuck wondering and wandering in circles.
Ask instead: “What do I feel?”
You may not know if a certain situation or action has meaning. It likely has multiple meanings. You certainly can’t read another person’s mind and know exactly what he or she was thinking or what was intended by an action.
You can, however, notice how you feel when something happens. Are you afraid? Excited? Both?
Instead of wondering what someone else feels or what something means, practice acknowledging what you feel and chose your intention with your actions. Noticing your own feeling will allow you to chose an action that is best for you.
Extra tip: Spending time searching for meaning of an external situation within your own mind is often a way of avoiding communication or building trust with someone else. It can be hard to start a conversation or to ask a few questions, but start practicing now, or you’ll stay stuck in stuck in the wondering trap!
Stop asking: “Why can’t I do this?”
It may be clear to you why this third question is unproductive, as it is formed in a negative way. However, it is quite dangerous because you may not even realize that you’re asking yourself this question.
Pay attention to your thoughts and words and notice when you’re assuming that (or asking why) you cannot do something. Focusing only on what you’re doing wrong will not give you that clear path to the solution that you think it will.
Ask instead: “How AM I doing this?”
In other words, “In what way am I addressing this already?”
Things may not be working perfectly, but you can observe the way that you are relating to a problem already. Notice little shifts that you may want to make, and be sure to especially make note of the things that may in fact be working for you.
Your goal can be to allow yourself to take an action without knowing for sure what comes next, or in other words, taking a small step forward without the whole path being clear to you.
What action will you take today to help move yourself forward, rather than staying stuck?
Keep up the great work catching yourself when you do are spinning in mental circles. Now, practice shifting to using more useful questions.
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Click here: download this article as a .pdf (it’s free)!