I know people who step on the punchline when I’m telling a joke. Or get it right when I rhetorically say, “guess who I bumped into at Costco?”  Or interrupt me when I pause for dramatic effect.  Annoying, right?  How about when we do it to ourselves?  

I sometimes get into my own head before an appointment with divorcing clients.  They seemed so ANGRY at their last meeting.  How can I stay neutral when I really want to tell one or the other that their aggressive style isn’t working?  What I ought to do is stop finishing the story before the meeting even starts.  I need to follow my own damn advice and quit pre-worrying!

There’s a fine line between preparation and pre-worrying, isn’t there?  Studying for an exam constitutes preparation.  Forgetting everything you learned in class because you’ve convinced yourself that you’re a horrible test-taker is an exaggerated yet true example of pre-worrying. 

I’m reminded of one of my all-time favorite movie quotes, from “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.”  The hotel’s manager, Simit Patel, says, “Everything will be all right in the end. If it’s not all right, it is not yet the end.”  

How are we able to finish our own story when the end hasn’t happened yet? 

I think we can begin by observing our own thoughts.  Try noticing how often you finish your own story before it’s finished, how frequently you catch yourself pre-worrying, or how you instinctively land on the worst-case scenario.  When I finally mustered up the nerve to point this out to a dear friend of mine (if you’re reading this, I think you’ll know I’m talking about you) he answered me with “yes, but . . .”    Try again, my friend.

Once we’ve become aware of this habitual negativity, can we seize the opportunity to change the habit?  It’s entirely possible, you know, to substitute the best-case scenario instead.  It’s just as realistic to believe you’re going to ace the interview rather than telling yourself they’re never going to hire you because you don’t have a college degree.  

Psychologists tend to agree that there’s a fine line between worrying and anxiety.  If you find yourself walking that particular tightrope, how can you tell where you might land?  If you can keep your worries in perspective because they’re the result of a real event, such as a toothache, you’re probably not crossing over into anxiety.  On the other hand, if your worries lead to recurring and unwanted thoughts, if those thoughts negatively affect the quality of your life, or if they interfere with your relationships and responsibilities, perhaps you might need to talk to a professional about managing your anxiety.

When I catch myself finishing my own story, I grab my journal and write down my thoughts.  For me, once they’re out of my brain and onto paper, I can let them go.  

If this resonates with you, please comment and tell me more.