How to Let Go of Excessive Worry and Restore Peace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Power of Positive Thinking" by Norman Vincent Peale. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you often find yourself in a state of worry, thinking about all the things that could possibly go wrong? Why are the consequences of excessive, chronic worry?

Excessive worry is a destructive and unhealthy mental habit that can actually cause health problems. The word “worry” is derived from a word whose literal meaning is “to choke.” Think of worry as choking the flow of your power. Worry is also dangerous because when you fear something for a long time, you can actually draw it to you, helping the fear come to pass.

In this article, we’ll discuss the consequences of excessive worry and how you can banish it from your life once and for all.

The Health Consequences of Excessive Worry

Some physicians have linked worry to arthritis, in particular, noting that in people with arthritis, factors including financial problems, grief, loneliness and other negative emotions are usually present. Another study of 176 executives around age 44 found that half had high blood pressure, heart disease or ulcers, with worry a factor for all with those ailments. 

Excessive worry can even shorten your lifespan. A study on longevity found that those who lived to 100 were busy, used moderation in all things, didn’t overeat, had fun, went to bed and got up early, were free from worry, and had faith in God. Married people have been shown to live longer—perhaps because they share the burden of worry instead of doing it alone.

Breaking the Worry Habit

The good news is that worry is a habit, and because you can change any habit, you can break the worry habit and live more freely and happily. There are 3 steps to this process:

1. Believe you can: The first step to banish worry is to believe you can. With God’s help, you can do whatever you believe you can do.

2. Empty your mind: Emptying your mind is important because fearful thoughts can clog your thinking. The five minutes right before you go to sleep are particularly important because the mind will absorb the last ideas you’re thinking while conscious. To empty your mind, visualize yourself actually emptying your mind of your worries and anxieties. You can think of it as emptying a bathtub after removing the stopper, or you can imagine reaching into your mind and plucking out the worries one by one.

3. Refill your mind with positive thoughts. Since your mind won’t stay empty for long, you must refill it with positive thoughts of faith and hope. Repeat a calming affirmation such as this: “God is filling my mind with peace and hope, protecting me and my family from harm. God will guide my decisions.” Do this six times a day. When you fill your mind with faith, there won’t be any room left over for fear. 

Practical Anti-Worry Techniques

There are many techniques that can prove helpful when eliminating worry from your life. A few are outlined below.

Attack the Small Worries First 

Peale likens this to a method he observed on his farm for cutting down a big old tree. First, workers began snipping off the small branches, followed by the bigger ones, and then the top. The trunk was last, but was brought down more easily since it was stripped of all branches. 

Think of your worries as a big tree built up over a number of years. It’s much more manageable to make it as small as possible by cutting off the little worries rather than trying to attack the whole thing at once. Eventually you’ll snip off all the smaller worries and hit the main trunk of worry, but at this point you’ll have developed the skills to defeat worry and eliminate the worry habit entirely.

One way to cut small worries is to stop using worry words in your conversation and replace them with faith words. For example, instead of saying, “I’m worried that I’ll be late,” vow to leave extra early so that there’s no chance of being late. Without worry, your mind is clearer, making it more likely that you’ll be timely.

The “ I Believe” Technique

Another anti-worry technique comes from a friend of the author, Dr. Daniel Poling. Poling starts his day every single morning by repeating the words, “I believe,” three times. This tactic conditions his mind to faith as he begins his day, giving him the positive attitude that he’ll be able to successfully overcome any difficulties the day throws at him. This shifts your mind from negative, fear-based thoughts to positive, faith-based thoughts and attitudes.

Peale shared the “I believe” technique on a radio show and heard from a woman who tried it. This woman had an unhappy marriage, frequently bickering with her unemployed, heavy-drinking husband. She also lived with a complaining mother-in-law, adding to the negative surroundings. She started the “I believe” affirmation, and within 10 days her husband got a job, the household was happier, and her mother-in-law even stopped complaining. She said her “worries disappeared.”

Fill Your Mind With Thoughts of God

Peale’s friend, the artist Howard Christy, has his own anti-worry technique. Christy was an incredibly happy man; Peale marveled at his ability to be joyful and seemingly never worry. Christy said he tried to worry once to see what all the fuss was about, but gave up because it didn’t seem to make any sense. 

Christy’s method of keeping his mind worry-free: every morning, he spent 15 minutes filling his mind with thoughts of God, leaving no room for worry. The idea is that by filing your mind with thoughts of God’s goodness, protection and power, instead of thoughts of fear, you get back thoughts of faith and courage. 

Let Go of the Past

Another friend developed an anti-worry technique that helped him learn to stop rehashing the mistakes he might have made during the day. This man was a worrier, always thinking he said the wrong thing or did the wrong thing, and then fretted about it endlessly. He couldn’t let go of his real or imagined past mistakes.

But he created a simple ritual that helped him learn to leave the day behind. He put up a calendar by his office door that showed one day at a time. As he left his office, he ripped off the day’s page, rolled it into a little ball and threw it in the trash. He said a prayer, thanking God for the day, apologizing for any mistakes he might have made, acknowledging his victories of the day, and then giving the day back to God.

This method allowed him to physically let go of his mistakes, releasing him from the accumulated worries of days past. It closely follows a Bible verse, Philipians 3:13-14, which says, “…forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”

How to Let Go of Excessive Worry and Restore Peace

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  • That there is no problem or obstacle you can’t overcome with faith, positive thinking, and prayer
  • The practical techniques of applied Christianity
  • How to take control of the events in your life rather than be directed by them

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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