I’m at the top of a steep staircase holding a suitcase, and my feet are bigger than each of the steps. I visualise myself tumbling down, screaming uncontrollably, and landing at the bottom with splayed limbs and blood seeping from my head.
Scenarios like this are commonplace in my life. Why? Because – like a lot of people – I’m a worrier. It’s a characteristic I always poked fun of in my mother growing up, as she chewed the skin around her fingers until it bled while contemplating next month’s gas bill. Nowadays, it’s a characteristic that unfortunately unites us – our bi-weekly phone calls frequently peppered with the phrase ‘I don’t know what you worry for’ (that’s northern speak for ‘I don’t know why you’re worrying about that’).
A wealth of worries
And you know what? Neither do I. You name it, I worry about it. My weight and whether I’ve eaten too many Weight Watchers points today; that this top looks stupid; that I’m no good at my job; that I don’t read enough books and my once well-honed brain is turning to mush; that I’ll never be good at baking; that I haven’t hoovered in a week.
Top of the worry pile is money, despite having a decent salary and no debt (excluding my colossal £20k student ‘loan’). I worry if I spend £40 in a weekend on a night out and a few nice bits of food, and that I’m still not out of my graduate overdraft.
What’s bizarre is that I worry like this despite being pretty damn money savvy. I’ve been my mother’s financial adviser since I was about 15 and got my first savings account after investigating the best interest rates online. I take surveys, mystery shop, and enter competitions in my spare time, and get cashback on pretty much everything I buy online. I sell unwanted stuff on eBay and Amazon, and haven’t paid full price in a restaurant for quite some time.
Where’s the logic?
Unsurprisingly, then, I struggle to reconcile these illogical thought patterns with my own knowledge that they’re a little bit bonkers, and not at all constructive.
Studies have shown that 85% of the things we worry about never happen. I don’t know if that’s because we worry about things that are statisically unlikely to happen, or because we take decisive action to prevent them from doing so, but I’m willing to bet it leans more towards the former.
As I got to thinking about worrying this evening, after a day full of it, I was transported back to my studies of philosophy – more precisely of the concept of weakness of the will.
A weak-willed agent is one who decides that a certain course of action, A, is better, all things considered, than another course of action, A, and, despite believing himself free to do either A or B, does B.
Taking the cake
I frequently, for example, find myself in a situation where I’m presented with the opportunity to eat baked goods. Usually, I know that the best thing to do, all things considered, is not to indulge, as I’d like to lose weight and cake – remarkably enough – usually has a high calorific content. And yet, despite being free to turn the cake down, I scoff it (and usually go back for seconds, but that’s by the by).
Many philosophers believe that genuinely acting against what we really, truly, deep-deep-deep-down, honestly believe is the best thing to do is impossible. They believe that there exists a necessary connection between the judgement that – all things considered – I shouldn’t eat the cake, and the action of not eating the cake. They therefore think that whenever I eat the cake, I don’t really believe that not eating it is the best thing to do.You with me?
Now, it would be terribly convenient to posit that when I scoff the cake, I’m having some kind of uncontrollable, out-of-body experience. I’m pretty sure my Weight Watchers leader hasn’t heard that one before. But if we truly weren’t in control of translating our judgements into action, it seems that we could not be truly said to have free will. And that’s a whole ‘nother juicy can of worms that I aint going to open.
Wanting not to want to
So how does this all relate to worrying? Well, take the worrying about my weight that’s an almost inevitable consequence of eating a slice of cake, or the worrying about money that comes after buying new clothes.
By this logic, if I was really, seriously committed to reducing my weight or my overdraft, I wouldn’t eat the cake or ransack H&M like a a contestant on Supermarket Sweep.
I can conclusively prove, therefore, that the majority my worrying is absolutely and utterly pointless – and I bet most of yours is too.
So the lesson I’ve learned from this little philosophical jaunt is this:
If you don’t care enough, are too scared, too lazy, too busy, not strong enough, or just too stupid to do what you know you should do, then you’ve either got to buck your bloody ideas up and get your priorities right, or else save yourself the time, anguish, and general illogical mental douchebaggery of damn well worrying about it.
As for the creepy visualisations of falling down stairs or getting mown down at zebra crossings? Well, I guess I’ve just got to be thankful I have an active imagination…