Have you ever had the experience of solving a big problem, or removing a major source of stress from your life?
Before you solved the problem it dominated your life for weeks or even months on end. It sucked up all your time and energy and mental bandwidth. It felt like life and death.
When you thought about life without the problem, having achieved the outcome you wanted, you imagined it as a life of bliss. A promised land of freedom and pleasure and possibility.
“If I ever get there,” you may have said to yourself, “I’ll never sweat the small stuff again. Nothing can be as bad as this. Life will be so great and I’ll be so grateful. I’ll enjoy it and appreciate every moment.”
Then one day you solved the problem, or it solved itself. It was out of your life and it was such a relief! You were free! You experienced the rush of pleasure and relief for real. You basked in your new found freedom and felt truly blessed.
But afterwards, you found yourself getting concerned about something else. Something that only came into view once you had solved the big problem.
Perhaps it was an unintended consequence of the solution. Or maybe it was something completely unrelated, that you had forgotten about while you were preoccupied with the old problem, but which now started to loom uncomfortably large.
Maybe it was weeks or months before you found yourself worrying about the new problem. Or maybe you were surprised to find it popping into view within a few days or even hours of solving the old one!
However long it takes, however strong your intentions, once you solve one problem, then sooner or later you find yourself facing another one, and if you’re not careful, getting worried and anxious about it.
I call this The Conveyor Belt of Worry – however many problems you solve, there’s always something new for you to worry about. The conveyor belt never stops, so your worries are never ending.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
Look at little closer and you’ll see that one of the drivers of worry is a frustrated expectation. The unspoken demand is for a life free of problems and difficulty, where you can relax into uninterrupted pleasure and success, with nothing to bother you.
You’ve probably noticed life isn’t like that. It’s constantly presenting us with new challenges. And very often, new problems don’t simply replace the old ones, they are the direct result of previous solutions or successes.
You pass an exam, and you feel great – then you have to deal with the pressure of next year’s exams.
You land a job or get a promotion, and you feel great – then you have a whole new set of responsibilities to deal with.
You release a hit single or a book or a product, and you feel great – then you have to cope with the glare of publicity and the weight of expectation around whatever you produce next.
You have a good year and earn a lot of money, and you feel great – then you have a big tax bill to pay, and a new set of decisions to make about how to manage your money.
And so on.
Life will never stand still, and it will never be easy for long. Which means new problems will always be hoving into view, shortly after you’ve dealt with the last one.
But this doesn’t mean you’re stuck on the Conveyor Belt of Worry. Because what’s really on the conveyor belt are just problems, or challenges, or difficulties – things you need to deal with, or solve or overcome.
The worrying part is optional. And as we’ve seen, it’s partly caused by that unspoken demand for a life free of problems. As long as you’re fighting the reality of having problems, as long as it doesn’t make sense or offends your sense of the way things should be, you’ll experience frustration and worry.
But if you accept that you will always have problems in your life, then the conveyor belt is simply a Conveyor Belt of Problems. You need to deal with them, but there’s no need to worry about them, and there’s nothing wrong, because that’s just the way life is. One problem after another. (Not to mention one pleasure after another.)
So next time a new problem appears in your life, just after you solved the last one, don’t worry. Remind yourself that this is the way things should be. When you do this, you’re no longer on the Conveyor Belt of Worry. Which means you have more creative bandwidth for solving the problem and rising to the challenge.
You can hear an audio version of the article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 2’36”.