"If there's a solution...why worry? And if there's no solution...why worry?"
What a thing for the Dalai Lama to suggest! But he does. Here are his exact words:
"If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it's not fixable, then there's no help in worrying. There's no benefit in worrying whatsoever."
Easy to say, right? I mean…who among us wouldn’t want to be free from worry?
But is it even possible? How can anyone, even the Dalai Lama, imply we should never worry?
Isn’t “worry” part of what it means to be human? Doesn’t it help motivate us to hustle and try harder and do good work? If we give up on worrying, what would make us do what it takes to get things done?
Cause and effect
Letting go of worry and stress seems hard (maybe impossible) for most of us. Understandably: external pressures, ever-rising standards of what “success” means, and seemingly more things than ever that all want a bit of our time – you wouldn’t have to ask a lot of people before you found a few who confessed that they, too, often feel overwhelmed.
What’s more, there’s an unspoken assumption in our culture that seems to suggest life is like a math equation: do this and you’ll get that. This action will lead to that outcome. That thing you wanted didn’t happen because you did the wrong things along the way.
Sometimes that’s true. Our intentions and actions actually affect what happens in the end.
Yet sometimes it’s not true. Even with our best plans and processes we sometimes end up with results that are very different than what we’d hoped for.
Our “cause and effect” mentality leaves us feeling we’ve failed if we work hard to put 1 + 1 together and somehow don’t end up with “2.”
Experience: the great teacher
Here’s a thought to consider: what if we looked to our life experiences as a master “lesson plan” that gave us the experiences and learning we needed to move forward to the right long-term result?
Really. What if each moment, each life experience, were like a “teacher” delivering a lesson that will be useful and additive as we move forward in life?
Think that over for a moment. In a reality where successes and setbacks might sometimes feel random, arbitrary, or beyond our control, one thing we can count on is learning from our experiences. As we face uncertainty about outcomes – “Will this path succeed?” “What if it doesn’t work?” – that might seem out of control, what if the one thing we could control was the process and what we learned from it?
Might we bring more curiosity and awareness to the work we were doing?
Could we trust our instincts more?
Would we be more open to collaboration and creativity?
Might we actually think more expansively about what success meant and be able to envision an even better result?
“If this, then that” vs. “Process over outcome”
It’s easy to be theoretical about “not worrying,” and “trusting the process,” but hard to figure out what that means when it comes to actually taking responsibility, creating impact, and being the person you most want to be.
And in the cause-and-effect mentality of the Western world and modern life, we’ve been taught to judge ourselves largely on the external praise and rewards we get for getting the right answer or achieving the one desired result.
Let’s step back to the Dalai Lama and see if any of his wisdom helps expand our solution set.
“Follow the three ‘R’s: Respect for self, Respect for others, Responsibility for actions.”
Begin with Respect for self. As you feel the pressures or worries set in, take a moment to center yourself and to remind yourself that you are in a process of learning and growing – a process you will learn from as you continue to become the person you wish to be. Connect with the actions and experiences that have brought you to this place. Realize that new experiences will continue to move you forward.
Then, uphold respect for others. Recognize they are learning and growing, too, and while holding on to your self-respect be aware of your own impact on how they succeed.
Finally, take responsibility. Ask “What IS possible right now?” Be curious and aware as you consider what first steps you can take to move forward, offering what you can while being honest about risks or blocks in the path to success. Be accountable to yourself as you learn what you need to succeed, take the right first steps, and respectfully work with others to ensure you’re on the right path.
See all of this as a process, and focus on that – the step-by-step actions that move you forward – rather than simply the outcome.
Do you notice anything different when you approach a challenge that way?
Respect the wisdom of reality
And remember: sometimes even our best processes, our best laid plans, turn out differently than we’d planned. That brings up a fourth “R”: Reality.
It’s interesting to see the Dalai Lama’s wisdom echoed in as business-minded a source as Harvard Business Review. Writing on “Steve Jobs’ Five Biggest Mistakes” and how they shaped his long-term success, HBS suggests:
“Even the great business visionaries and luminaries of our times often fail and have setbacks. Imperfection is a part of any creative process and of life, yet for some reason we live in a culture that has a paralyzing fear of failure, which prevents action and hardens a rigid perfectionism.”
And yet those who succeed keep moving on, doing what they can to move forward, learning from the experience, and being respectful and responsible to the process. This may lead you on a different path than the one you expected to be on – and once again call on the Dalai Lama’s wisdom:
"Sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck."
Think about that, and all you learn by walking forward on the path, next time you face a challenge. Believe in your steps. Be respectful and responsible.
And above all: don't worry.