Worried? Anxious? Afraid of Things to come?
The most common fear in our modern life is the fear of the unknown, fear of things which might happen, but yet might not. Fear, which at times can get so intense that it completely paralyzes us, and prevents us from trying new things. But since we have no idea what the future might bring, our worries are based on our assumptions, thoughts, and beliefs, rather than concrete knowledge. As a result, each and every one of us has our own, personal, and subjective perception of reality. A subjective perception that has a significant effect on our ability to assess risk, and make correct decisions.
On one hand, if our beliefs are too optimistic, we might end up getting hurt. While on the other hand, if our beliefs are too pessimistic, we end up avoiding things that are actually good and beneficial for us. But, since worry is a product of our perception, it is also under our control, and if we were to manage it correctly, maybe we could finally make perfect decisions.
This article will trace our worries all the way back to their point of origin. Discovering the true source of our worries, and the entire process by which they are fabricated. By the end of this article, you’d be able to locate the origin of your worries, and could decide for yourself which of them you should keep, and which you better let go of.
The Evolution of Worry
Worry is a product of the generalization of fear. It is a consciously induced fear which arises due to different beliefs we hold regarding certain situations, people, or events. The beliefs that certain things may pose a potential threat to us, even though they appear to be completely safe. This special ability to make ourselves afraid might sound like some weird form of self-abuse, but from an evolutionary perspective, it seems to make a lot of sense.
As we all know, nice guys finish last. Being nice might feel good, but the fittest are usually anything but nice. To be powerful today as well as throughout history, a person has to display unreasonable amounts of hostility; Crush the opposition; plant irrational fear in the hearts of the masses, and walk over enemies and friends alike. Even today, in the 21st century, we can still see leaders and governments fighting their own people all over North Africa and the Middle East. All out of fear that in the future something might happen, something so scary would justify the complete destruction of their own country. This is all done in the name of fear, or more accurately – worry. An intense, persistent, and often irrational sense of fear that makes people do anything in their power to protect themselves, even in the absence of any apparent threat or danger.
But on the other hand, an irrational amount of self-induced fear is what creates great empires. Believing that “Maybe Iran will nuke the world; maybe ISIS will attack us; maybe Saddam Hussein had chemical warheads; maybe Syria…” So we must attack them first, just because we’re afraid of what might happen if we don’t. Intense and irrational worries lead to inflated defense contracts even at a time of peace, invading other nations without apparent reason, and an unexplained desire to conquer as much land as humanly possible. Those we consider to be great leaders sent their own people to die fighting battles that in many cases, later proved to be completely unnecessary.
But throughout history, the one to be the most irrationally afraid and break the peace first, is also the one to enjoy the element of surprise. Those who didn’t live their lives in fear perished by the hands of the great worriers. Making worry an excruciating emotion, but a superb motivator. While making us, the descendants of the most irrationally afraid people in history, the ones who were so deeply possessed by worry to always be the first to attack – the ones to survive.
Worries of Modern Men
We are the descendants of those who continuously worried that one day they might not be strong enough, might run out, or not have enough. Those who accumulated well beyond their needs, and protected themselves well beyond any apparent threat. Just because they never stopped being afraid. From millionaires to multi-billionaires, an entire culture built around those who can never have enough, those who can never feel safe.
The insatiable people, those who always feel the need for more and can never be satisfied are the ones we wish to be like. Making worry and the self-replication of fear to be the preferred method of self-motivation. Causing people to continue struggling for their mere existence, long after they have regained safety. Fortifying themselves from the world and defending themselves from others like them. Accumulating immense amount of lands and more wealth than they could spend in a hundred lifetimes, without ever feeling satisfied. Making worry into a powerful motivator, but an excruciating emotion.
Where do Worries Come From?
Our conscious mind goes through life collecting knowledge. Some of this knowledge is factual, based on our own experience of reality, and the rest of it is made of assumptions. To save time and cognitive effort, our mind doesn’t thoroughly investigate each and every detail of reality. Instead, it fills in the blanks with assumptions, and creates an image of how things probably are.
We use the input from our senses and emotions to fabricate a mind-story. A story that explains all the other unobserved variables, those we aren’t personally exposed to. Assumptions about how others around us feel, what they think, and what their intentions might be. But with the same factual input, each of us seems to fabricate different assumptions, and come up with a different mind-story. This is the freedom of perception, the freedom we all have to build our own mental-model of reality, and create our own subjective reality. It is this subjective reality which invokes our worries.
As each and every person is living in their own separate and personal subjective reality, each is vulnerable to different threats. Most subjective models of reality are quite similar, while others are vastly different. When a person’s subjective model of reality becomes too unique and separated from the common perception of reality, we consider them to be crazy. They are now afraid of things which obviously can’t hurt them, or feel too safe when they shouldn’t. In other words, they have lost touch with reality. But since an objective point of view has yet to be determined, as long as the differences remain minor, society is accepting of a relatively wide variety of reality models.
Political views are a good example of these different reality models. Each political group believes that the world, and the people in it, are motivated by different aspirations and hold different intentions. Therefore, each group attempts to react to these assumptions the best they can. Each completely convinced that their perception of reality is the objective reality, but only the majority group gains control. While due to the lack of an objective measurement tool, we remain completely clueless as to which of them is indeed the right one, if any at all.
The assumptions which construct our internal model of subjective reality are influenced by our belief system. Each person is holding on to their own personal set of beliefs, and those are used to fill in the blanks. Whenever we require information that we do not possess, our mind uses our belief system to fabricate an assumption. A default value to be given to variables which we have no factual information about.
For example, if I want to make a girl happy, I’d buy her flowers. That sounds like a good idea right? We have no idea who the girl is, nor what she likes, but the common belief is that women like flowers, so we assume. Some assume women like flowers, some assume they might like chocolate better, and others assume that attention and quality time is what they really want. The important thing to notice is that the assumptions we make have nothing to do with the actual girl, the object of the assumption, and everything to do with our own personal belief system.
Calibrating Worry – Optimism & Pessimism
Worry is not a response to the objective reality, but to our own personal and subjective perception of reality. It is a reaction to possible future events, as we believe they will probably be. Since these have yet to happen, worries are based solely on our assumptions. But the future is uncertain, and therefore, these assumptions are often inaccurate.
To come up with accurate predictions, one must perceive reality exactly as it is. Until we’re capable of that, making a perfect prediction is just a matter of chance. Due to that, we all struggle either with false and irrational fear on one hand, or with the lack of preparation on the other. These are caused by two different types of perception errors – false positive, and false negative – better known as pessimism and optimism.
Pessimistic Belief System
Pessimists are those who tend to perceive future events as more threatening and dangerous than they eventually are. Filling up the blanks with negativity and fabricating assumptions which will later prove to be exaggerated. Overestimating the probability of negative events, and assuming that the future will be more negative that it actually is. Consciously making one’s subjective reality seem dark, negative, and scary.
The pessimist dreads being caught off-guard, and therefore, when faced with uncertainty, they will prepare for the worst possible scenario.
This keeps them on their toes, always prepared to deal with whatever the future might hold, and protects them from disappointment.
But that comes at the cost of living life under a constant sense of threat. Filling the blanks with negative assumptions, and filling their lives with unnecessary fear and irrational worries. Causing pessimists to become over protective, aggressive, and afraid of new experiences.
Optimistic Belief System
On the other side of the equation, there are the optimists. An optimist is a person who tends to assume the future will be more positive, and less threatening than it actually is. Optimists are usually more concerned with the negative effect constant worries have on their well-being, and therefore, choose to reduce worries by underestimating, or even ignoring the probability of negative outcomes.
Under conditions of uncertainty, the optimistic belief system would tend to create more positive assumptions. Fabricating future expectations which reality will later fail to satisfy. Consequently, making one’s subjective reality seem brighter than the actual objective reality.
Optimists initially enjoy lower levels of stress and worry combined with a more positive attitude toward life. But as they tend to underestimate the level of risk, they also fail to anticipate coming threats and remain unprepared to meet life’s challenges. This causes optimists to often walk into dangerous situations which the pessimists would have been able to easily avoid. Eventually making optimists fill their lives with real worries, rather than false ones.
One should never fake reality in any manner.
Reaching Balance by Achieving Realism
Pessimists are hurt by worries to protect themselves from disappointment, while optimists are hurt by disappointment to keep themselves from worrying. As both strategies prove to be maladaptive, it seems that neither of the extremes can qualify as best practice.
When managing worry, much like any other emotion, balance seems to be the only positive solution. To reach the level of minimum worries, our perception of reality must be as accurate as possible
When danger is lurking, one must worry and prepare, but when the future is safe, one should remain calm and care free. Therefore, to minimize our worries we must self-correct our own belief system. Make the necessary adjustments so that our assumptions about the future would be as close as possible to the actual outcome. Slowly shifting our perception of subjective reality closer and closer to the common, objective, reality.
Managing our Belief-System
Unlike our instinctive fear, our sense of worry is open for interpretation and highly influenced by our perception and our beliefs.
The ability to apply our subjective interpretation on situations and perceive them to be safe or dangerous, regardless of their objective properties is the essence of our incredible human diversity. But at the same time, as it disconnects us from reality, it is also our greatest flaw.
Having a completely realistic sense of reality might seem as impossible as foreseeing the future, but it should still be the goal of our aspirations. If our belief system were to be based on facts alone, our sense of reality would remain clear of distortion, and our worries would always be justified. Making worry not a tool of self-intimidations at all, but a tool for calibration. An emotion which gives us the opportunity to test our belief system and correct our misguided assumptions.
When the future proves to be worse than you imagined, you’re too optimistic and need to be more prepared. But when the future proves to be better than you anticipated, you must be too pessimistic and need to let go of some false beliefs. These two are deviations which we need to rectify in order to correctly function in reality and make decisions about the future.
The more realistic a person becomes, the easier it would be for them to maneuver around life’s obstacles, while at the same time, the less irrational worries they experience. A stable connection with objective reality is one of the most important steps for achieving a high level of emotional intelligence, as well as sanity, balance, and happiness.