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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