I saw the words below on Twitter recently and they really got me thinking about what happens in our heads when we worry about something.
“Worry is a misuse of imagination.” -Dan Zadra
Just think about that for a moment…
WHAT GOES ON IN OUR THOUGHTS WHEN WE START TO WORRY?
HOW IS OUR IMAGINATION INVOLVED IN WORRY?
When we worry our mind runs through lots of scenarios.
We imagine potential outcomes.
We picture things that could happen.
We see things that might go wrong.
Worry draws us towards the worst case scenarios. Our thoughts become irrational. Our imaginations can take us to dark places.
For instance, your spouse, partner, child or parent is travelling home from somewhere, they are late and not answering their phone. After a while you will probably begin to think:
Why are they late?
What has happened?
Which is very rational.
However, soon if we are not careful, worry begins to set in, our imagination is let loose and we start a thought process that can go something like this ….
What if there has been an accident?
What if it was a bad accident?
What if they are hurt?
What if they are badly injured?
What if they died?
How would I cope?
How would the family cope?
Before you know it, you are flooded with strong emotions anticipating and imagining what might be. You feel;
Unable to think straight
Unable to focus
Rationality flies out the window and is replaced by a jumbled mind that cannot seem to help but imagine the worst.
You lose control over your thoughts.
You lose any sense of peace or calm.
I have been there myself many times. It can creep up on you slowly, before you even realise it has taken hold.
Or perhaps you have a strange and unexplainable symptom in your body so you ‘Google it’. Before you know it, you have diagnosed yourself with some of the worst diseases out there.
This happened to a lady in a bed near me when I was recently in hospital. She Googled her symptoms and found a shocking diagnosis. She asked the Doctor about it and unfortunately he didn’t really give a definitive reply. Somehow the lady took that to mean that this worst case scenario was a real possibility, or even probability, and before you knew it she was on the phone to friends and family, totally distressed, telling them how bad this illness could be and might get.
Unfortunately in hospital there is little privacy so you can hear everything that is going on.
This poor lady spent all day reading up on this condition, allowed her imagination to run wild with it and obviously ended up totally distraught for most of the day. At one point I heard her say to her husband, in floods of tears, ‘if it gets as bad as it says here (on the internet) I think I would just kill myself’.
It really did sound awful.
The next day it turned out her tests were normal and they couldn’t find anything wrong. She asked the Consultant if it could still be the diagnosis she had found on Google and they said none of the tests showed that or anything else out of the ordinary.
A lesson in being careful what you feed your imagination with.
Worry takes over our thoughts. Before we know it, our body and mind are filled with so much anxiety and fear that we can’t think straight and can start to feel physically ill.
Most of the time we soon discover that worry was totally unnecessary. We put ourselves through torture and nothing came of it.
It all turned out to be OK in the end.
That person walked through the door telling us that they only got stuck in heavy traffic or we discover that our self diagnosis was way off the mark. Our worry again wasted time, energy and head space.
BUT SOMETIMES THE WORST CASE SCENARIO DOES COME TRUE – WHAT THEN?
Yes, sometimes bad things do happen and in those moments we can think that our worries were justified. That they perhaps prepared us for what was to come. And yet;
Did the worry before hand actually make dealing with the crisis easier?
Often it doesn’t.
Instead it actually wears us out before the real crisis hits. When you let your imagination loose on that potential scenario before hand, you can fall apart just thinking about it. But when things actually do go very wrong you usually somehow find you do have the strength to deal with it.
That’s because when you do face the real crisis you have no choice but to get on with it. You have to find that strength to get through.
We only have today’s strength today!
Worry tries to get you to focus on yesterday, today and tomorrow all at the same time. Which is why we end up feeling so overwhelmed!
“So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Matthew 6:34 – The Bible)
SO HOW IS WORRY A ‘MISUSE’ OF THE IMAGINATION?
That word ‘misuse’ can almost sounds a little harsh. Is not worrying a natural part of life? Some of us are just ‘born worriers’…
Yes I believe many of us do have a natural tendency to worry and negative thinking. I know that from my own life. But that doesn’t mean we can’t change that. If I understand that my imagination plays a key role in how worried and anxious I get, I realise that to find more freedom I have to look at my thought processes and think through how I feed my imagination.
I have to change the way I think.
BUT HOW DO WE REALLY CHANGE HOW WE THINK?
HOW DO WE TAKE CONTROL OF OUR IMAGINATION?
The starting point is becoming more aware of our own thought processes. For instance, if I start to allow my imagination to focus on;
it will lead me to a dark place and I will then find I do not have room to;
new ideas or best case scenarios.
Worry hampers our perspective and creativity.
We all have the ability to create. Being creative isn’t just about being artistic or musical. It’s also about;
making things happen,
thinking outside the box,
Creativity is vital to our growth.
If my imagination is full of worry and negative scenarios it takes up lots of my mental capacity and energy that can be used for positive creativity.
Worry robs us of our positive creative energy.
The only way to change this is;
Track our thoughts back to their root.
Look at what feeds our imaginations.
Then retrain our thinking processes.
We can ask ourselves; Do I feed my imagination with good things? With people, words and things that inspire and encourage me to explore, dream, discover, create and build?
Or do I allow my imagination to be fed by dark and negative things? Which causes it to run away from me into worst case scenarios, dark thoughts and hopeless mindsets?
It comes down to choice, and good choices are the pathway to freedom. Freedom in our imaginations doesn’t come instantly, it’s a process, but if we choose it, we can learn mental & spiritual disciplines to encourage it.
I don’t know about you, but I want to use my imagination for good.
To create new things.
Find solutions to problems.
Dream dreams and see with vision.
Think differently and find new ways to do things.
Have faith and see with a healthy and optimistic perspective.
Creatively connect with those around me.
Encourage others and be part of changing lives.
That is what our imagination was built for and that’s what it needs room for. Our imaginations are a gift that need to be set free to see with new eyes, dream, create and spread great ideas.
How do you use your imagination? Could you use it more effectively?
Worry does not empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength. – Corrie Ten Boom
Let me know what you think, I very much welcome any comments below. This post is part of my .Breaking Free. series of blog posts. If you liked this post then maybe take a look at these which so far include: