What to Do When the What-If's Crawl Inside Your Ear


Do you tend to be one of those people who has a hard time sleeping or concentrating because of all the different things that they're worried about? In this week's video I will teach you how to handle the What-if's when they crawl inside your ear, so that you are able to sleep or to concentrate or be present and spend time with loved ones when you want to.

The What-If's

I want to start with an excerpt from a poem that I used to love as a child. I don't know how many of you ever read Shel Silverstein when you were younger, but my mom used to read it to me and I loved all of his works.  He has this poem about a little kid that's called, "Whatif".  It starts out something like this:

Last night while I lay thinking here,
the what ifs crawled inside my ear,
and pranced and partied all night long,
and sang their same old what if song.

And then he goes on to list a litany of all these things that a little kid might worry about and some of them are fantastical and some of them are really practical. Things like: 

What if I fail that test?
What if green hair grows on my chest?
What if no one likes me?
What if a bolt of lightening strikes me?

And on and on he goes to list all of these different things. I'm sure you could fill in a few of those with worries of your own that have crawled inside your ear when you were trying to sleep at night and make it really difficult to drift off to get that much needed sleep.

What I'm going to do is give you a couple of ways to work with your mind when those "what ifs" crawl inside your ear either late at night when you are trying to concentrate on another task or person that needs your attention. 

The Worry Tree

The first one comes from a story about a man who would come home at night and have all of these things running around in his mind from work. All of the, "what ifs" bouncing around in his brain.  And before he'd turn off the car and walk into the house to have dinner with his family, he would imagine writing down each one of these "what ifs" and making them into little paper ornaments and hanging them on a tree outside of his house. And he called it The Worry Tree.

What he would do is go one by one through all of the worries that he had and hang them as ornaments on his worry tree. Not as a way to get rid of them, because we can't really make these things go away, but as a way to set them aside for a period of time so that he could be present and actually spend time with his loved ones.  Knowing they have been set aside somewhere that we can pick them up again when we are ready allows our brain to let them go for a period of time.

Safe Container

Variation number two is something called a Safe Container. The idea of this one is similar to the Worry Tree above, in that you would imagine writing down each one of your "what ifs" on a little piece of paper.  But this time I want you to imagine putting them in some kind of container that you visualize is safe enough to hold them. 

Some people imagine a steel box. Some people imagine some sort of cement, walled off jail cell.  Personally, I'm a Harry Potter fan, so I imagine that nested chest system that they locked Madeye Moody in the fourth movie and it's just locking chest, upon locking chest, upon locking chest, and so on and so forth.  And that's where I imagine putting my little pieces of worry paper so that I can set them aside for a period of time and get to sleep because my body needs it so desperately. Or, concentrate on work because I really need to get something done.  Or set them aside so that I can spend some time with a friend who needs me.

Try It Out

I want you to see if you can try one or the other or both of these exercises in your life and see what that does the next time you're worrying. And if you find that it is still difficult to take those things and put them aside, hang them on your worry tree, I want to let you know that that's totally normal and that it will get easier with practice.

Stress Management Group - Now Enrolling!

If you feel like you could use some more guidance in this area or some extra practice together and accountability in a group, then check out my new Stress Management Group that's coming up in Boulder, Colorado starting after the Fourth of July.  We are going to practice this and other techniques for calming that busyness in your mind, so that you can sleep when your body so desperately needs it, or concentrate at work and get things done so that you have more time and energy to dedicate to doing what you love.

Space in group is limited and by application and interview only.  So check out the group page below and submit an interest form to apply.