“Why are you out of bed?”
“What are you afraid of?”
“There’s a monster under my bed!”
“There are no monsters. Go back to bed.”
“Nooooooo, I’m scared.”
Sound familiar? Almost every parent has done this. Holding a little hand, down on your hands and knees with a flashlight to prove there is nothing under the bed—unless you count the stray sock, a missing toy, and a few dust bunnies.
Your little one thinks you are a superhero. You faced the monster and saved the day, or in this case, the night. With imagination tamed, feeling safe and secure, your child falls asleep.
Imagination is an amazing thing. Children hone it to a fine art. With a towel on their shoulders and a leap from the couch, they fly!! They feed you imaginary sandwiches and wipe imaginary crumbs from your chin. They introduce you to friends only they can see. They scare themselves at bedtime. Years pass, towels are used for bathing, imaginary sandwiches and friends are forgotten. Monsters no longer hide under the bed. Reality replaces imagination.
Or does it? Many adults continue to exercise their imagination. They don’t have towels on their shoulders or imaginary friends, but they do believe in monsters created entirely with their imagination. Your child, no longer afraid of monsters, is a teenager now. You worry she doesn’t take school seriously, or her current boyfriend is a bad influence, or her college fund isn’t going to be enough. Get the picture?
Adults may not imagine monsters under the bed, but they do imagine a multitude of scenarios that would scare Freddy Krueger, and it’s socially acceptable. A vivid imagination is never questioned if the name is changed from imagination to worry. It is commonly accepted that everyone worries; it’s part of being a responsible adult. How else can you be prepared when the unthinkable happens? If you have played out the worst-case scenarios in your mind, you are ready to deal with them.
Worry is as useful for you as monsters under the bed were for your child. You make things up in your head, believe them, and scare yourself. Who will take you by the hand, shine the flashlight on your imaginary fears, and make them disappear?
Worry is using your thinking to predict the future or to continue to relive the past. Predictions rarely come true, and if they do, worry did not change the outcome. It only made you miserable before the outcome happened. How much have you changed the past by worrying about it? Unless you conquered time travel, it doesn’t work. The past is past. It doesn’t change and it doesn’t cause you pain unless you bring it into your present by thinking about it. So the monsters (worries) of the future and the past are simply you using your imagination to scare yourself. Seems a bit silly, doesn’t it?
Worry (scaring yourself with your imagination) raises your level of tension and lowers your mood. From that low state of mind you expect to find solutions to your problems. It won’t happen. High tension and low mood doesn’t make for good problem solving—ever. Recognizing that you are scaring yourself helps the worries go away. You shine the flashlight on your fears and recognize they are imaginary. From a calmer state of mind, you deal with problems as they occur rather than in the future or the past.
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