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How to Shred the File called “All the things that might go wrong”

by Dr. Amy Johnson on January 19, 2012

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“Children are happy because they don’t have a file in their mind called ‘All the things that could go wrong’—Marianne Williamson

Do you remember what life was like before you had a file called “All the things that could go wrong”?

Do you remember what it was like to wake up with not a care in the world? Before the mental tape starts broadcasting your to-do list or the memory of that thing you screwed up or predictions of what might go horribly wrong that day?

Depending on your childhood, you may actually remember this time. Or your file may have been created earlier than most and you might not remember ever feeling totally free and not weighed down with worry.

It doesn’t matter now. You can get it back if you once had it, or you can get it for the first time now. Yes now, as an adult. Really, you can.

The tape won’t necessarily shut off for long, but that doesn’t matter either. Sporadic moments of being free from the running tape are bliss. So worth working toward.

Here are some of my favorite ways of pausing the tape. Shredding the ‘All the things that could go wrong’ file. These tools are either taken from or based on Stephen Hayes’ Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).

1) Know what your file says. Write down every “Holy shit X could go wrong” thought you have over the course of a week. (Extra credit: read over the list and have a good laugh at yourself.)

2) Name those could-go-wrong stories. Maybe you tell a good I-could-run-out-of-money story. Or you tell a whopper of a what-if-I-get-cancer story. Or you’re a my-husband-is-going-to-leave-me-and-my-kids-will-hate-me kind of gal. Naming your stories highlights how predictable and habitual they are and it helps you to distance yourself from them. You begin to see that when the I-suck-at-my-career story starts playing, it’s not personal. It’s not real. It’s just a groove in the record that’s so practiced it’s difficult to erase.

3) Remember that none of these stories mean anything unless you make them mean something. They are empty and meaningless in and of themselves. Any sting they have is only because you’re choosing to believe them.

The tape starts automatically—the file runs without your permission—but no one said you have to pay attention.

4) One last tip, just for fun: Change the voice. Try telling your No-one-loves-me-and-I’ll-always-be-alone story in a Mickey Mouse voice. Or say it the way Yoda would say it: “No one loves me and always be alone, will I.”

Now how serious does it sound?

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