The Union Path

How to Overcome Worry and Take Back Control of Your Life

Worry can feel like an intractable, oppressive force, but when we observe it objectively we can start to understand why we do it and how it's not very helpful. Worry can make us feel worse and often doesn't accomplish anything, making it a habit to be aware of and try to break. Worry can have a negative effect on our life, making it seem smaller and feeling bad.

Worry is habitual and can make us feel like our life is out of our control. It is important to recognize that we can choose our feelings and take control of our life by practicing feeling good. Worrying can lead us to live an avoidant life, trying to avoid what we fear.

But often, when we come up against what we worry about, it can be liberating to realize that it wasn't as big a deal as we thought. We can also look at how we tie our identity to our job and the impact of losing it, which can be crushing in multiple ways. After losing a job, the speaker realized that the identity and value they derived from their job title was an illusion; the worry and effort to protect themselves from the job loss was wasted energy.

It was through this experience that they were able to discover the futility of worry and their true identity. Worry is not productive because there is nothing we can do about it. We must bring intentionality to our thoughts and feelings, focus on what we know, and respond with faith and confidence when we realize that there is nothing we can do.

We can choose how we engage with worry, questioning it and finding the value in it to ultimately change us. We do this by paying attention, being grounded in the truth, and choosing the relationship we have with it.

Key Lessons
  1. We can choose to observe our worries objectively and understand that they often don't accomplish anything.
  2. Recognizing and questioning our worry can help us to be liberated from it.
  3. We should tie our identity to something more than our job in order to take control of our lives.
Full episode transcript available at:

What is The Union Path?

Mindful monologues to awaken your consciousness and nourish your soul.

In this introspective podcast, I aim offer you heartfelt rumination to inspire your own growth and self-discovery.

Are you seeking deeper meaning, truth, purpose or peace in your life? Join me as I unfold observations and awareness along the spiritual path - what I have learned, struggled with, found insight into.

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There is no dogma here, only my pondering as I illuminate and ponder our shared experiences living.

My hope is that by modeling raw exploration rooted in courageously questioning “why?”, these thoughtful meanderings awaken self-understanding and nourish your soul.

Consider these unconventional audio journal entries as a way to inspire and awaken your own internal wise teacher, taking your hand to guide you in looking within your own mysterious inner landscape in a new way. Feel less alone. Find inspiration to expand your self-awareness and consciousness with me each week.

The Union Path Podcast

The Unreliability of Worry


[0:00:20] John Coleman: Worry? Why do we worry? What do we think it does? What do we think it's actually getting done? How do we believe it's useful? How do we believe it's helpful? When we think about worry, what do we think about? What sort of feelings or emotions come up? What do we associate with worry? What does worry feel like really? What what's worry like to experience, especially chronically, especially over a long period of time, what's it like to struggle against worry? Does worry feel like something we're doing or something that's being done to us? Is there an oppression or a bondage that comes along when we think about worry? I ask these questions and I think it's important that we ask these questions with anything in our life. Do we have frequent relationship with anything in our life that seems to be chronic, that seems to kind of have a life of its own that seems to just happen over and over and over again?

[0:01:36] John Coleman: And for many of us, one of those things is worry. One of those things is fretting about this or that. Sometimes it can feel constant. Sometimes it can feel intractable, like this is some feature of life that we're just being jostled about because this is just the way life is. This is just what happens when one lives a life. But what I think is so interesting about worry, especially from a removed, more objective point of view, is actually how complicated and nuanced this idea of worry is and why it's also so useful to really look at our own worry, really ask ourselves what are we doing? What do we really believe we're getting done? Why are we doing this? Why do we have this habit? Why do we have this default response? Why do we have this thing that seems to live within us that doesn't really seem to be under our control? It doesn't actually seem to be something we're doing, seems to be something that is being done to us. Seems like it's something that was put there by someone or something else that then we are forced to be subject to sometimes we are forced to be ruled by. But why? Where did this come from?

[0:03:11] John Coleman: Why did this happen? Why does this continue to happen? When we specifically look at our worries, we specifically look at what we worry about. Like a lot of habits, like a lot of things in our life that seem to just happen, we don't usually think very much about, could be we don't even really know that much about. Bringing this awareness to them can only be really helpful but really enlightening as well. If it's something we haven't really ever looked at, it something we haven't really ever thought that much about. The that's an excellent opportunity to start to learn, to grow, to build our own self awareness through bearing witness to what we actually do in a moment by moment basis. What we're actually doing what we're doing actually feels like what beliefs we have around what we're getting out of what we're doing and through the act of observing, especially the act of observing without judgment, just being aware, paying attention to what we actually do, how that actually feels can really start to answer some of these questions. Can really start to propose potential answers for these questions which if sat with and held for long enough, fuller answers can emerge. But when we think about worry, if we kind of pull back as far objectively as we can and we really look at the value of worry, really look at what are we actually achieving, what are we actually changing, what's actually getting done? I think if we're honest the answers to these are pretty unclear or if they are clear I think we have to acknowledge that worry isn't particularly useful. In fact, a lot of times worry actually just makes things worse. The very least worry makes us feel worse. Worry can lock us in this repetitive ruminating cycle of conjuring up images and feelings that seem to just make us feel worse and worse and worse. More anxious, more afraid, a more full and profound pit in our stomach, our more full and profound distrust of life and apprehension towards the future.

[0:06:00] John Coleman: Worrying can be a really powerful souring agent towards our ideas and perspective about our life, about what our life is, about where our life is likely to go. Worry can be a really noxious ingredient to add to our life and thus affect the overall flavor and tenor and experience that we have within our life. And especially if we look at chronic worry, something that we've worried about for so long. We spent hours and days and weeks and months and years agonizing about the possibility of something quote unquote bad happening to us. That's a lot of energy, that's a lot of attention, that's a lot of focus, that's a lot of life that we've spent worrying. That's a lot of attention that we've given towards our worry. And attention can only be focused on one thing at a time. And when we've used and spent our focus on worry that in and of itself can make our lives seem feel and be so much smaller. Because if we're focused, if not overly focused on one particular circumstance, one particular outcome, one particular event then we're largely missing everything else in our life. This can really sour our attitude and perspective and opinion of our own life because it seems like our entire life is comprised of the same feeling of whatever we're worried about. Because we're spending so much of our life in that feeling we're surrounded by it, we're engrossed in it and our overall sense experience of our life typically ends up being the cumulative feelings that we've had. If we feel bad most of the time our attitude about our life will simply be that our life mostly feels bad. If we feel good most of the time then our cumulative attitude towards life will be that our life mostly feels good. This is obvious and very simple but there's something a little deeper embedded in this that if we want to get to a good life then our life actually has to feel good. A good life can't be experienced merely through thought.

[0:08:52] John Coleman: A good life can't be experienced merely through ideas. A good life has to actually be experienced, has to actually be felt. And so when we think about living a good life the simple truth is that a good life needs to feel good. There's no way around this but our feelings are malleable. Often our feelings are generated by whatever meaning we attach to particular circumstances or situations or events. And this is where our free will comes in. This is where our agency comes in that it is absolutely true that we choose how we feel about any particular thing. But the way that we choose to feel is habitual. When something happens to us and we apply a certain meaning to it and thus generate a certain feeling every time we repeat that exact same feeling that association gets stronger that becomes more real to us because we've experienced it more times that's happened more frequently that's happened more reliably even though we're the ones applying the meaning. And over time it's really easy to forget that we're the ones applying the meaning because this feels so automatic. Because it's so habitual. It feels like something that we're not necessarily doing but something that's being done to us. And this is the worst part about building a habit of worry of building a habit of associating negative, if not deeply negative feelings around certain possibilities is that we experience those feelings every time we think about that possibility. We're practicing feeling bad. We're practicing a set of circumstances or events or outcomes that aren't actually happening but we're living through it anyway.

[0:11:09] John Coleman: We're affecting the overall tenor and experience of our life by practicing feeling bad. And even though we're choosing to do this doesn't actually mean that it's conscious. In fact, it usually isn't because we've practiced the same thing over and over and over again. It feels like it has a life of its own. It feels separate from us. It feels adversarial. Sometimes it can feel dominant and controlling. But the truth is our feelings are ours, our thoughts are ours our choices on what we think and feel are ours. But if we've practiced chronic worry, if we've practiced worrying about something happening that can't help but affect our behavior because we've built such a story, we built so much strength around these feelings that we predict we'll feel if such and such ever happens, that we can't help but live in an avoidant life. We can't help but live a life where our focus, sometimes our main focus, is avoiding whatever this circumstance is. And of course there are things that happen to us, things that can happen to us that are truly horrendous, that are truly gutting, that are truly awful to experience and live through. But I would say those things are actually not the majority of what we actually worry about. And I say this because I've experienced, and I think a lot of people have experienced the thing that I worried about the most happening to me. And coming through on the other side realized that wasn't actually that big of a deal. There's a liberation to it.

[0:13:17] John Coleman: There's a freedom to it. There's also a sense of futility and wasted effort and wasted energy and wasted time. I was worried so much of this thing happening to me, and then it finally did. And I had constructed this giant out of this problem that turned out to not actually be that big of a deal at all. And the hardest part about this is realizing that even though I had done this, even though I had made a mountain out of a mole hill, I'm not sure I could have done anything different. At the time that I can look back and see the futility, the wasted energy, the wasted emotion, just ask myself, what was all that for? That seems so wasteful, so pointless. But then if I look a little deeper, I can see that I was so worried because some fundamental part of me was being threatened. Specifically, some fundamental idea of me was being threatened. Some part of my identity, some part of my basic security, some part of my handle and comfort with the way life is was feeling vulnerable, was feeling threatened. And it's actually through experiencing what I was the most scared of, what I was the most worried about that made me realize that I'm not as vulnerable as I thought. A lot of those fears, a lot of those perceived vulnerabilities were actually fairly superficial. When that happened, that didn't really cut to the core of who and what I really am. It really, actually burned off a lot of ideas of false identity, false identification with more superficial things. One of the areas where I've experienced this personally is in the area of losing a job.

[0:15:26] John Coleman: This can be crushing. This can be gutting because culturally it's not uncommon to build a lot of our identity around our jobs. That job title is a really important identifying marker. And we see this we see this truth in our behavior because what happens when we're as adults introduced to another adult? What's one of the first questions that we get asked, or we ask, so what do you do? This is a loaded question. Kind of like the second question of where are you from? Maybe a follow up question where did you go to high school? Where did you go to college? Sure, some of these questions are curiosity, but I think if we're honest, a lot of times these questions are yardsticks. Let me see who you are. Let me see how important you are through what you do. Let me figure out where in this cultural hierarchy you sit compared to me. Let me do some quick comparison so I can build some ideas about who you are and build some ideas about your perceived value. I think we all know this.

[0:16:50] John Coleman: So when we lose a job, when we lose that identity, that can be really crushing. And it can be really crushing in multiple ways, because now, not only do we lose this piece of identity, we lose this bit of financial security. Just like getting punched and then kicked and then more than that in social settings. Boy, can it be hard to answer that. So what do you do? Question that can feel like it just drains all the blood out of the upper half of my body. That can feel like, oh, let me show you how much of a peon I am while I try to dance around this. Oh, I'm between things right now. Oh, I'm taking a break. To reevaluate such and such, I may have tried to put on a confident, ALM face, but on the interior, I was not only crushed, but I was scared. I was living through my nightmare. I had built so much identity and value and purpose around this job title. So much of myself was invested and identified in this job. And then to see it go away, and then even worse than that, have a big struggle to replace it and have to spend a fair amount of time without any job at all, that was absolutely crushing. But having experienced that, I can say, and it sounds kind of funny now, thinking back to that experience.

[0:18:37] John Coleman: And my stomach still flips when I remember how I felt, when I remember what that was like. To actually go through that actually ended up being one of the best things that ever happened to me. Because I was building my identity, my sense of self, my perspective of myself, of my own value, of my own worth, how I made sense of who and what I was through this thing that actually didn't really matter that much at all out of this thing. That was really more of a better answer to the question of how do you spend your time every day? Rather than the question of who are you really? And that ended up being a gift. It ended up being a gift because not only did that lead to me getting in touch with a far deeper, far more real, far more sustaining and valid sense of identity, sense of self, but it helped me begin to realize the futility of worry. Because if I look back over so many things I did in that job and the ones before it, I was working really hard, really hard to protect against, to inoculate, against ever losing that particular job. I was always trying to make myself important. I was always trying to make myself impressive. I was always trying to make myself needed because in the inside, I was scared to death of this going away. Scared to death of losing the income, sure, but way more scared of losing my identity, losing myself because I was so wrapped up and enmeshed. I had so lost my sense of self in this job. And it's through hindsight that I'm actually grateful that it went away in the first place because that was a major stumbling block. That was a major obstacle to really getting to know myself.

[0:20:43] John Coleman: My true self, my real self, was living life in a hall of mirrors. I was living this web of illusion. And it wasn't until I was forced to drop this identification that I could start to begin to see what was actually real. That I could begin to see that not only did this identity that I derived from my job have very little to do with who and what I really am. But this worry that I had really colored my life, really set me back. Because I wasn't actually trying to grow. I wasn't actually trying to fully express who and what I am. I was doing whatever I could to maintain this relationship, was doing whatever I could to avoid these feelings that I had associated with this worry. And it didn't matter. It happened anyway. And I can smile about it now, but at the time, I was an absolute steamroller. But sometimes that's what we need sometimes that's what we need to be able to see the truth. Because there was no way I could have seen the truth before then. The truth that I knew was unshakable. The truth that I knew was absolute that I am what I do.

[0:22:20] John Coleman: And what I do is my job title is my job. But the thing I think about the most is that all of that worry not only didn't it have anything to do with preventing what ultimately happened to me, all of that worry was wasted energy because there was no possible action. There's nothing that I could have done to solve a problem of losing a job because I hadn't lost it yet. That's the whole thing about worry, is that unlike concern, there's nothing to actually do. These are all possibilities. These are all probabilities even. But nothing is actually happening yet. There's nothing real we can do with any of this energy, which is why it just recirculates over and over and over and over again. These feelings in this energy ruminate and recycle because there's no action we can actually take. So the energy just spins and spins and spins because it has nowhere to go. There's no way to complete that circuit, transfer that energy into action because there's nothing to actually do. And this is the main thing that I think about now when I think about worry, when I start to worry about something. I ask myself the very simple question of is there anything right now I can do about this? And if the answer is no, then I decide to put it down. I decide to believe something different honestly.

[0:24:00] John Coleman: And admittedly this is something that's taken a fair amount of practice. But I really work hard. I really try to mind my mind, to mind my feelings and to bring intentionality to what I think and what I feel. And my intention is to live a good life and my intention is to feel good. And if something feels bad but there's nothing I can do about it, then I do what I can to rectify that feeling and move past it, not let that cycle through me and repeat ad nauseam endlessly. Because that's one of the gifts of awareness is we can really start to identify and discern negative feelings that are helpful and negative feelings that are unhelpful. The helpful ones are the ones encouraging us, spurring us, wanting us to do something, to change something, to do something different or to be different in some way. The unhelpful negative emotions are the ones with no possible action attached to them. If we're worried about the moon falling out of the sky and crashing on our head, well, what can we actually do about that? Obviously that thought, that worry in and of itself is completely unhelpful and it's up to us to decide not to entertain it. This is where faith comes in. This is where confidence comes in. This is where knowing comes in. Because what can be so insidious about worry is it draws us away from our own knowing. It makes us react to it instead of responding from what we actually know.

[0:25:59] John Coleman: It pulls us out of our peace, it pulls us out of our calm, it pulls us out of our confidence, pulls us out of our security because it presents a counternarrative to all of those things. But that reaction that jumping out of ourselves is a choice. And we can choose to remain grounded in what we know. We can choose to believe that when there's something for us to do, we'll know it. That if what we're worried about, we're actually aware of, that. We're not worried about something because we're actively avoiding it. And there are things that we need to actually do. This is a call to action. But if we are aware of whatever we're worried about, if we look at the situation or circumstance and can honestly say there's nothing to really do right now, the at that point we can respond appropriately to that worry and say thank you for bringing this to my attention. This is something that actually matters to me. If this were to happen, it would be something I'd be very concerned about. But for right now, this isn't actually happening. For right now, there's nothing to actually do. So I can set this down. I can move on to something else.

[0:27:21] John Coleman: I won't fall for the trick that it seems worry likes to play, of getting me stuck in this endless loop, of thinking of all the possible things that could happen to me that I don't want and then all the possible things I might have to do because of that. I can stay grounded in reality. I can stay grounded in the present moment. I can stay grounded in the truth of what's actually happening. I can stay grounded in my own consciousness, in my own knowing of what's actually happening and respond appropriately. For most of us, there are very few true emergencies in life. For most of us, there are very few situations that completely blindside us and we have no response to. For most of us, we're far more capable of dealing with things when they happen than we give ourselves credit for. For most of us, we spend a lot of time worrying about things that never actually happen, or at the very least, if they do, we're far more capable of dealing with them than we thought. And so we can choose. We can choose how we engage with worry. We can choose what meanings we draw from it. We can choose how much we engage with it and entertain it, how much power we give it. Because ultimately, we have agency, we have autonomy. We have authority to think and feel whatever we want.

[0:29:00] John Coleman: And we can bring our intention to our worry. We can bring our intention to our full life, to our whole life, and choose how we want to live it. And that means choosing how we want to live with and through and past worry. Our life is our choice. We choose how to live it, especially over the long term. And when we find that worry has robbed us of the life that we want, that worry has made our life more small, more bleak, more uncomfortable, more painful. We can choose to renegotiate our experience with worry. We can choose to look at our worry, question it, find the value in it, and allow those observations, allow those insights to ultimately change us. Because a lot of times our worry comes from deep inside of us, comes from things that may very well be completely unconscious to us. But by holding on to what we know is true, especially what we know about our own worry, those things deep inside of us can and will slowly change. We can be conscious of more and more of what's within us, more and more of what's actually creating and fueling this worry. We can heal these parts of ourselves and move on. And we do it through paying attention. We do it through being grounded in the truth. We do it through being grounded in our own knowing.

[0:30:51] John Coleman: And we do it by choosing the relationship and the engagement and the value that we have with worry.