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Do you find yourself playing the “what if“—“if only“—“I should” game? Does this game leave you feeling tense and nervous or confused about how to get what you want, feel happier and have greater peace of mind? Read on and discover a three-step plan to reduce your stress and be happier now.

“Some people are making such thorough preparation for rainy days that they aren’t enjoying today’s sunshine.” ~William Feather

To understanding what’s causing your discomfort listen to what you‘re saying to yourself. Most likely every thought that causes worry focuses on what you don’t want. Here are some common stressful thoughts:

“What if I lose my job?”
“What will happen if my kids get sick?”
“I should be spending more time with my family.”

Notice how the statement “What if I lose my job?” is focused on not wanting to lose a job or “What will happen if my kids get sick?” is focused on your children being sick and not knowing what to do. Even a statement such as “I should be spending more time with my family” is really focusing on the time that was not spent with the family. Every one of those statements, and most likely any other thought that causes you to worry, is either focused on what you do not want or what you wish had not happened.  

When you focus on what you don’t want you can’t help but play the “what if“—“if only“—“I should” game.  

So, what exactly is the “what if“—“if only“—“I should” game? As human beings, it’s perfectly normal to be concerned or to worry about things to a certain degree. The problem occurs when the burden becomes a major stressor that affects your sleep, your attitude, and your general happiness. If you find yourself constantly returning to the same set of worries, and if doing so makes you feel uncomfortable, restless and tense, you‘re a major-league player of the “what if“—“if only“—“I should” game.  

This game almost always leads to a cycle of discomfort, confusion and pain. In fact, if you find yourself feeling uneasy and thinking about that same subject more than three times, you can almost bet this cycle has begun. Think about it. Worry causes stress. Stress affects your mood and creates problems with how you interact with the world. Facing these problems cause even more worry. Unless you learn to break the cycle, you may find yourself spiraling downward into the quicksand this cycle can become.

Breaking Free  

Once you stop focusing on the things you don’t want, and start working toward what you do, it’s possible to escape this cycle and find genuine happiness. Rather than just waiting to stop playing the “what if“—“if only“—“I should” game and hoping that your concerns will go away, it’s important to develop skills and strategies that will make it easy to identify and stop the cycle before it takes hold of your life. Just like a bad habit, excessive worrying is a pattern that can be broken with a little practice.  

Here is a three-step plan that will immediately help you play a new, more rewarding game and easily escape from the burden of worry.

Step one-Recognize Your Feelings  

Above, we’ve talked about how playing the “what if—“if only—“I should” game causes stress and worry while making you feel very uncomfortable. There is a reason for this discomfort. Think of it as a warning signal that something deeply important is missing from a situation. Before you can control your worrying, you’ll need to be able to identify the source of the worry before it becomes too large to handle. Any feelings of discomfort are part of your emotional guidance system. They are showing you the path to the life you truly want.

Step two-Identify What You Want

If you‘re not going to focus on what you don’t want, it’s important to know what it is that you do want. For example, if you hear yourself say something like, “I hate driving in the rain,” safety is probably what’s most important to you. In that situation, safety is what you do want. Or by thinking “My son is so sick, what am I going to do?” contribution, clarity, and caring about your son are most likely what would have you feeling worried. So what you do want is to understand what’s going on with your son and find a way help.

Once you‘re able to identify what’s most important then you‘re able to be in action creating what you want in the world.

Step three-Take Action!  

Now that you’ve identified what’s important to you in the situation and what you do want, its time to decide what kind of action you can take. Even the smallest action toward your new goal is better than sitting around worrying. Once you‘re in action, you’ll find that you no longer have the time to worry! Focusing and working toward the things that you really want will release you from the whole unproductive worry game and set you on a path toward reclaiming the life that you’ve always wanted to live.

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