Worry and Imagination: Two Sides of the Same Coin?

I couldn’t sleep last night. I tossed and turned. I kept checking the clock, knowing that morning would soon arrive. I finally got up a little after 4:00 a.m.

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AcePixure, Image #6487475

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/AcePixure

The problem was not that I was worried. The problem was that I was having a creative brainstorm. I was thinking about a new way to market books. (I’m a publisher, after all.) My brain was going a mile a minute.

I have had plenty of nights where worry kept me up. You probably have, too. I have lain awake many a night, anxious about my kids, my health, my job—you name it. I have worried about it all. In fact, if worry were an Olympic event, I would have a Gold Medal.

And all for naught.

In Andy Andrews new book, The Noticer, the main character, Jones, says to another character, Walker,

Forty percent of the things you worry about will never occur…. Thirty percent of the things you worry about are things that have already happened—in the past. And all the worry in the world ain’t gonna change what’s already happened, right?”

Walker agrees and Jones continues,

Twelve percent of all worries have to do with needless imaginings about our health. My leg hurts. Do I have cancer? My head hurts. Do I have a tumor? My daddy died of a heart attack when he was sixty, and I’m fifty-nine…. Ten percent would be petty-little-nothing worries about what other people think.”

He then concludes,

So if my math is right, that leaves eight percent…. Eight percent for legitimate concerns … these legitimate concerns are things that can actually be dealt with. Most people spend so much time fearing the things that are never going to happen or can’t be controlled that they have no energy to deal with the few things they can actually handle (pp. 54, 55).”

As I got up this morning, I realized how very similar worry and imagination really are. Both of them involve visualizing the future. In a sense, worry is simply an unproductive use of imagination.

But the differences between them are also profound:

  • Worry leaves you feeling drained. Imagination leaves you feeling energized. Even though I didn’t sleep last night, I got up, ran four miles, and couldn’t wait to get to the office.
  • Worry is about survival. Imagination is about possibility. My brain was going so fast last night, I was seeing hundreds of possibilities. It was a true brainstorm.
  • Worry makes you dread the future. Imagination makes you eager to get to the future. In my mind I could see, smell, and almost feel what I wanted to create.
  • Worry focuses on the bad things that might happen. Imagination focuses on the good things that could happen. In my mind, I saw my project as a strategic stepping stone that could change the world! At least of publishers and booksellers.

As I thought about this some more, it occurred to me that my brainstorm actually started out as a worry. The stimulus for it isn’t important. However, it all shifted when I thought to myself, Okay, so what if that did happen? What would that make possible?

If you can imagine the worst—and see the possibility in it—you have turned a corner. Everything begins to shift. Worry is transformed into creativity.

Question: What are you worried about? How can you turn this into an opportunity to imagine a new possibility?
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  • http://nikiturner.blogspot.com Niki Turner

    Well, if faith and fear are reciprocals, it only makes sense that creativity/imagination and worry would be as well. Faith without the ability to imagine, to dream, to believe in the unseen is not faith. And fear without worry loses its power to hinder us from moving forward despite feelings of fear and anxiety. Great post!

  • http://www.AFriendInTheStorm.com Cheryl

    Great question, Michael!

    Like a lot of women, I worry about saying the wrong thing and injuring my relationships. I'm nervous about being misunderstood, and consequently, rejected.

    Now that I'm getting my first book published, I have the media asking personal questions. My devotional gift book's for people who are disillusioned with God when they're going through a difficult time, so I worry about how much I should share about my childhood. I don't want to hurt my parents.

    I'm nervous that a lot of my non-writer friend who don't understand the promotion process might misjudge it, and I'm nervous my unpublished writer friends might be jealous. It's filled with literary rhyming poetry so I'm nervous that the literary crowd might think it's not literary enough and the traditional crowd might think it's too literary. LOL!

    I want to flip my worry around and welcome my adventure with "A Friend in the Storm" as an opportunity to die to self and care more about God's thoughts. I want to welcome His inner stretch of the soul so I can fearlessly embrace His blessings, and testify to His fear-lifting power.

    Thanks for your example and inspiration, Michael!

  • http://ashleyclarkwrites.blogspot.com Ashley Clark

    What is especially humorous about my reaction to this post is my somewhat neurotic reaction to the world around me while I was reading it.

    So, as I'm reading and fervently agreeing with your blog, suddenly a strange sound came from my front door, and my dog started barking her head off. It sounded kind of like a firework was going off outside my door, so of course, my natural reaction is to assume someone is trying to break into my house.

    Now that I have regained a normal breathing pattern and am no longer in danger of fainting from fright, I'd thought I say thanks for this blog. I appreciate a strategy to turn anxiety into productivity.

    • http://ashleyclarkwrites.blogspot.com Ashley Clark

      By the way, I apologize for the egregious tense errors in my earlier post. That was a nice illustration for the importance of proofreading. :)

  • deafmom

    So the motto of this post is… replace worry with imagination and release the possibilities in your future– I like that!

  • http://www.embracepositivepassion.com Georgiana

    What a wonderful way to contrast worry with imagination! The fearful things in life are unconquerable mountains that we internally build with anxiety, fret and worry. From now on, I’ll chop away at my huge roadblocks by incorporating my imagination on how to make them better with positive thoughts. I don’t even see my glass as being half-empty, not even half-full but overflowing! :-)

  • http://aprilhawk.wordpress.com April Hawkins

    Worry just takes the life out of you. Looking back, I see the joys I have missed all because I was worried too much. I just love the advice that Jones gave out. I was reading through some things in The Noticer last night that I had highlighted!
    Your post is a wonderful reminder of what is important and what we need to focus on.
    Thank you for sharing.

  • http://twitter.com/ThatGuyKC K.C. Procter

    Really needed to hear this today. Thank you for sharing.

    Never thought about the similarities and polar opposites of worry & imagination before.

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  • Ron Smith

    Really good point. I am a world class worry wart. Help me Lord.

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/RIESW77HFLBR7MCC4BUCCLZCMY Shawneda

    I have allowed worry and the physical stress it produces to impact me more than I knew until one day (in the last five months) God showed me how it has hurt me despite how my creativity has helped me. God bless you for posting this…I needed it…and now I’m excited about the opportunities this has made available to me.

  • http://www.jeremysconfessions.com Jeremy@confessionsofalegalist

    In a book I have been reading the author makes a similar point, but he is suggesting that we need to worry less about the items that don’t allow for good creativity and be concerned more with the things that can help us grow. Maybe change that 8% you speak of to 10-15% by giving others in our company the lesser things to worry about. In other words Improving our control over the things we put our creative energies in to.

  • http://twitter.com/schwendimann Blake Schwendimann

    Thanks again for the encouragement.

  • http://www.renaissancerules.wordpress.com Randy Bosch

    Sometimes the turmoil is due to “Anticipation” – perhaps a form of “Worry”, but of a more positive (less sinful?) variety? Can’t wait for it to happen, when will morning come!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Like Christmas Eve when you were a kid!

  • http://twitter.com/koozzz Jeff Kusner

    “anxiety in a man’s heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad.” ~ Prov 12:25 (ESV)
    so i know this post is a bit dated but what was the creative brainstorm you had about marketing books? inquiring minds want to know!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Honestly, I don’t remember. Sorry.

  • milonoah

    I used to be eaten up by worry until God graced me with a gentle revelation about learning how to let go and go with the flow of life, like floating on a stream down river (we had just acquired a kayak and found out how much we loved the water). Just this year I rediscovered a love of reading which I began doing to cope with the death of my mother. Reading quickly turned into writing and free now from most worry, I can go with the flow of my creativity. I feel weird telling people that this past year had been one of happiest since I lost my mom, but I feel sure she is free from suffering in the loving arms of God and is probably enjoying watching pursue reading with the same passion that she did.

  • http://twitter.com/AdamsOrganizing Elise Adams

    I love this post!!! I am glad that I am not the only one up all night thinking of great, new creative concepts. Even more importantly, I am encouraged to hear that you see the seeds of creativity inside what can start out as fearfulness. So often I hear this from my clients and fellow-recoverer’s…a paralyzing focus on what could or might happen to them. We have been gifted with a bit of God’s creative energy–what a difference we could all make in this world if we used it to imagine and create solutions instead of wasting it all on endless spiraling obsession with worry.

  • http://richardlittledale.wordpress.com/ R Littledale

    Yes yes – I totally agree. Often if I get up ridiculously early it is because I have an idea which simply has to be framed with words and can wait no longer. Glad to find a kindred spirit!

  • http://katieax.blogspot.com Katie Axelson

    I’m worry about post-graduation life… but I’m inspired by all of the exciting things God can and will do through it. Thanks for the reminder about the similarities yet difference between the two.


  • http://suburbiauncovered.com/ Matt Powell

    As a pastor I find myself tempted to ‘worry’ about so much… everyday.  This is a really good action item for me.  My worries often turn into ideas for me as well but I’ve never realized it happened that way.  To be able to capture the temptation of ‘worry’ and curb the moment into a brainstorming session is genius.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com Michael Hyatt

      Worry is a sign of high intelligence. ;-)

  • Dkriss

    I just asked my 7 year old son what imagination was. He said, “it’s like the dresser (in our bedroom) was a big piece of candy.” I asked how imagination made him feel …”happy, Pop!” Thanks for the post — I’m in the middle of a major worry and it certainly was timely.

  • Joe Bunting

    This is fascinating Michael. Great insight.

  • http://thingsithinkaboutwhenihavetimetothink.blogspot.com/ FennyPenny

    I’m a chronic insomniac. But for all the right reasons. At night, once all the kiddies are tucked into bed and husband is snoring softly beside me, suddenly there is SPACE for my mind to race free. And I love that space, it’s where all my epiphanies come from. Thanks for this article, it confirms to me that insomnia is a friend.

  • Rob Sorbo

    I’m not a worrier, but my wife would give you a good challenge for that gold medal. It’s hard to watch, because it overwhelms her and eats her from the inside out, but nothing I say helps.

    • http://theordainedbarista.com Barry Hill

      Does the listening help? Usually what I say doesn’t help with my wife worry less either. However, my active listening and validating her feelings helps sometimes. Thanks for your comment, Rob!

  • Margie L

    Taking a worry and creatively turning it into an opportunity to make a message out of a mess!  Right?

    Now, I want to thank you for sharing such inspiring, uplifting material.  I’m starting, at 49 years of age, from ZERO to make a comeback from a lifetime of mediocrity and failure.  I know, that sounds a tad dramatic, but it is, none the less, true.  It’s a long way up, but your posts are part of what energize me to keep going.

    God bless, Mr Hyatt!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thank, Margie. I am glad you are finding my posts helpful.

  • http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/ Paul Jolicoeur

    I have experienced this my self, my mind is running a mile a min with ideas thoughts and worries (two sides of a coin). I believe this is a part of the creative process. I have a post on how faith and fear have the same definition (even the same side of the coin), the difference being what they attract, the post is right here: http://www.pauljolicoeur.com/gotfear/

  • June Jewell

    This is a brilliant revelation that I never considered. I am a chronic worrier and also have a million creative ideas. Sometimes I just want to stop thinking! I will try and remember this next time I can’t sleep at 3:00 am and try to make the most of it by converting my fear to creative use. Thanks Michael! Your advice and book have been extremely valuable to me.

  • AbbasPrincess

    Great post, and very timely for me personally.
    I say this because I’ve just recently discovered a danger for those that are creative have an eye for details. The details can over crowd and push aside the creative, leaving it no other space to express itself but as pure worry.
    Love the encouragement and the reminder to re-channel all that imagination and creative energy towards dreaming and casting vision for yourself.
    Thanks for your post.

  • http://twitter.com/cupojoegirl Eileen Knowles

    Thanks for reposting this. My husband found out yesterday that his job needs to cut his hours and his pay for the unforeseeable future.  We know it could be worse…many people have lost their job.  We are trying to see the possibilities in this new season and not dwell on the problem. 

  • Mikavexo

    Hey, let’s add to this by talking about self fulfilling prophecy in conjunction with worry.  When we worry, we tend to think of the things that can go wrong, which may actually cause them to go wrong.  When you find yourself worrying about something, visualize how you want it to go instead of what you are afraid of happening.  By visualizing the positive you can imagine the steps that need to be taken to make it happen the way you desire.

  • Heikki

    Thank you for this post. I’m just starting out my business and a couple of days ago I received an email from a possible client. The project would be big and at first I had almost a slight panic attack. “What if I don’t know how to do this? What if I don’t succeed and the client won’t get what he’s asking?”

    Then I remembered this post and I was able to shift my thinking. “I’ve never done anything like this but now I have a chance to do something new and interesting! I could do the thing X like this and the thing Y like that – and then I could…” I was thinking about all the possibilities this project could make possible and now I’m really looking forward to it.

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  • Lori Lara.com

    Great book…When I entered therapy for major depression 7 years ago, my counselor told me that worry (a main ingredient of depression) is simply negative imagination. A huge light-bulb went on when she said those words to me. She encouraged me to use my imagination for good and hopeful things, which has made all the difference in the world in my longstanding recovery.

  • Deborah H. Bateman

    Thanks for sharing this post. This is something that has become a reality in my life lately.
    Deborah H. Bateman