19. Anticipatory Attitudes
When I look back on all these worries I remember the story of the old man who said on his deathbed that he had had a lot of trouble in his life, most of which never happened.
Winston Churchill (20c British statesman)
This area covers mental dispositions towards events that are not experienced but anticipated. These attitudes can affect our mental state, performance and even our health. We will consider here three such attitudes: worrying (characterised by apprehension), as well as optimism, and pessimism (characterised by overall positive and negative attitudes respectively).
Worrying can be defined as an apprehensive reaction to the possibility of an undesirable outcome. It has characteristics of anxiety (because uncertainty is involved) and fear (because it has an object). The object of worry is always at a space or time distance, so relief from worry through immediate action is not possible, which is why it can be very frustrating.
Is worrying really useful?
The emotional impact of worrying may help focus the mind on the problem. Goleman (of Emotional Intelligence fame) writes that ‘worry is, in a sense, a rehearsal of what might go wrong and how to deal with it; the task of worrying is to come up with positive solutions for life’s perils by anticipating dangers before they arise.’(1) However, not only are worries unpleasant, but they usually become circular and repetitive, occupying our mind to the extent that they, in fact, prevent us from finding a solution: ‘worriers typically simply ruminate on the danger itself, immersing themselves in a low-key way in the dread associated with it while staying in the same rut of thought.’ This, in turn, makes assessing the situation more difficult and can be exhausting – much time and energy can be wasted on worrying. Just think about the last time you worried a lot: did it really help?
So, why do we worry?
Despite being unpleasant and mostly useless, there are many secondary reasons why worrying is so common: