Everything one can find on earth that is not made by nature has been made by humans. Thanks at least in part to the human capacity called imagination. Imagination lets us use past memories and project the future.
Imagination not only gives us creative and innovative ideas. It is also the driving force in helping us solve problems. The faculty of imagination is available thanks to the evolution of neo-cortex. One of the latest development in human evolution.
As far as we know, only humans seem to possess this capacity. Other animals seem to lack it. At least they don’t seem to manifest it at the level we do. Imagination lets us play with the reality. With imagination, we can take reality and blend it or modify it at least in our minds in unforeseen ways.
Something that we don’t easily realize is that when it comes to raw physical strength or physical attributes that can help one survive, we are a very weak animal.
We don’t have thick skin. We don’t have fur. We don’t have strong claws, sharp teeth or strong hooves. Neither we have that much of physical strength. We are no match compared to some of the wild predators like big cats, bears, elephants, rhinos, crocodiles and hippos. We stand no chance against these animals if it were only for the pure physical strength or defense mechanisms.
What gives us an upper hand is our brains. Especially our new brain, which gives us, among other faculties, the faculties of imagination and problem solving. Although we can discuss more about the distinctions and overlaps between imagination and problem solving, that’s besides the point. The key is that we can imagine as well as problem solve.
Imagination lets us foresee something that doesn’t exist today. What actually transpires in the future may or may not be of our liking. But imagination doesn’t play favorites. It lets us see what we may indeed want to see. And it lets us see equally well what we may not want to see.
Worrying is seeing in the future what we may not want to see. In this regard, worrying is pretty much the flip side of imagination. We worry, because we are able to imagine the future.
If we couldn’t think about the future, if we couldn’t foresee or foreshadow, there would be no worrying. One can’t have the capacity to imagine things, without the burden of potential worries that come along with the agency of imagination.
Then how can one deal with worry? If we had finer control on our minds such that we can always put it deliberately where we want and away from what we don’t want, worrying won’t be much of a problem.
Because in that case we would be able to command our minds away from the imagination of our dislikes and towards the imagination of our liking. Unfortunately, we don’t possess such finer control with our minds to begin with. Depending on several factors that may be present, our minds seem to choose on their own which path to take.
There is yet another issue that exacerbates worrying. And it is our ability to problem solve. We take pride in our problem solving abilities. The hallmark of our problem solving ability is the capacity to stay on the problem at hand for a really long period of time.
Although this may sound counterintuitive at first, when faced with a problem, no matter how hard we try, we seem to get trapped in the thoughts about the problem itself. No matter how hard we try to move away from the problem in our mind, we tend to effortlessly slide back to the problem. There is almost a type mysterious attraction that keeps drawing us back towards the problem at hand!
This is a necessary attribute for anyone to be able to solve any problem. You have to have the capacity to stick to or to dwell on the problem long enough, if you ever hope to be able to solve it. This tendency of sticking to thoughts that worry us or dwelling on things that cause worry come natural to us. And this exacerbates worrying.
As we can see that the worry is a byproduct of our natural capacity to imagine and to problem solve. One can’t just pick one and not have the other one.
We also know it very well that worry has its own twin brother (or sister). It is what we call the challenge. Same set of external factors or problems can cause one person to tremendously worry and other to feel a sense of challenge that can be filled with excitement.
For example, when you know you may lose your job, you will start worrying. You may get swamped by a multitude of negative ‘what if’ scenarios. If you pause for a moment and take stock of yourself, you realize that the situation can definitely be viewed as a challenge.
But you know the thought of re-framing the situation lasts only for a short while. Very soon the worry advocates in your mind restart their arguments with full force. This is the effortless sliding that I was referring earlier. This is a typical scenario, but it doesn’t have to be that way.
One example where you can see people adopting challenge attitude is sports. In competitive sports, players may worry about their opponents a bit, but their main attitude is that of a challenge. They pour their heart and soul in preparation for the duel. Of course it is always possible that one may not be able deal with defeat very well and may get depressed. But at least we see people facing their adversaries with an attitude of challenge.
For most of the problems that we face, it is equally possible to either feel worried or feel challenged in a healthier way. One can choose to have either a ‘crippled’ attitude, or an ’empowered’ attitude. It seems the majority of people are prone to worrying when faced with problems and a lucky few are prone to adopt a challenging attitude. We don’t know why it is so.
What is known is that, for most of the problems in life, it is possible to re-frame them as a challenge. Although it may not come naturally to us, we can definitely accomplish this or at least improve a lot over time. We have to train ourselves to bring this intentional re-framing of the situation.
A word of caution is warranted here though. Re-framing may not be possible for all challenges faced by us. There is a time, when the best way is to accept the reality and move on. But in general, we tend to underestimate the power of re-framing the situation in our mind.
In summary, worry is the flip side of imagination. You can’t have just one and not the other. There are at least two possible ways to deal better with worry.
When faced with a problem, try to re-frame the problem as a challenge that you are ready to take on. It may take a while to shift the attitude, but it can be done with practice.
Another way is to improve the finer willpower, the ability to intentionally place your mind, where you want to. This means re-wiring the brain. Cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation and anti-depressant medications can help. As these are the ways to change our mind by re-wiring the brain.