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How to Stop Worrying

Posted in Friendly Philosophy

Idea: The core of worry is imagining yourself outside the present.

I’ve been obsessed with the topic of imagination recently. This is partly because I realized that imagination is central to worry. You imagine something happening to you (or involving you) in the future, and feel distressed about it.

I don’t know how to not feel distressed about something. But I do know how to stop imagining. Specifically, to imagine yourself outside the present, you have to pay less-than-full attention to what you’re presently seeing and hearing.

Why? Imagination takes the parts of your brain involved in seeing and hearing,1 but uses them for pretending to see and hear things that aren’t there. So, if you focus those parts of your brain on your present environment,2 they’ll be too busy to imagine. And if you can’t imagine, you can’t worry.

But why would you want to shut down your imagination like this? We’ll have to talk about that later.


1. I can’t offer any scientific studies to back this up. Feel free to do some research on the topic to see if I’m right. But I seem to remember hearing something about it and I think there is a pretty clear trade off between visual imagination and vision, and between auditory imagination and hearing. Next time you get a song stuck in your head (auditory imagination), for example, try listening really hard to your surroundings, and notice how the imaginary song gets quieter or even disappears.

2. There’s a lot to be learned from Buddhist mindfulness practices!

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