“Face your worry and see it as an illusion. It cannot exist unless you give it power and give it life.” ~Robert Anthony
When I tell my kids that we’re going to do something new, like attend a minor league baseball game in my city’s new baseball stadium, their reaction is, “Cool! Let’s go!” They can’t get out of the door fast enough, and nothing but eager anticipation is on their fresh minds. They have no idea what to expect, and that doesn’t bother them in the least.
When I saddle up to go to a new baseball stadium, responsibility and anxiety play much bigger roles in my mind than eager anticipation. I worry about what time I need to arrive and when I should leave to get a good parking spot. I check my wallet to make sure that I have sufficient resources to cover anticipated and unanticipated activities. I wonder if I will enjoy the experience, at least enough to justify the hassle.
While my kids enjoy the experience from the moment they learn of it, I withhold judgment and enjoyment, and that keeps me from completely enjoying new experiences. Research has shown that the strongest psychological benefits of a vacation don’t occur during the vacation, but rather in the time leading up to the vacation. It’s as we eagerly anticipate something fulfilling like a vacation that we find peace and happiness. If we don’t eagerly anticipate something, we rob ourselves of those feelings.
Recently, I was invited to participate in a charity golf tournament for the school in which I taught 17 years ago. When I left my career as a teacher, I was also the school’s golf coach. If anyone should participate in the school’s golf tournament, it’s the school’s former golf coach. Ironically, but through no small coincidence, I’ve been away from golf almost as long as I’ve been a parent. I intended to get back into golf, but it never happened, and I learned from just a few swings the week before the tournament that my body was no longer suited for golf. Not only that, I didn’t feel comfortable even walking to and from tee boxes and greens any longer. Seventeen years had done nothing to improve my mobility on uneven terrain.
In the days leading up to the tournament, I worried about my limited level of participation, and if I should even bother going if all I was going to do was ride around in the golf cart. One of my former golfers had invited me, and his company had graciously picked up the tab for our foursome. I didn’t want them to waste an entry on me, if I wasn’t going to be able to contribute to the foursome’s score. He told me that it didn’t matter; they just wanted me along for the company. Still, I contemplated backing out, even as I drove into the golf course parking lot.
I’m very happy that I didn’t. I spent a beautiful sunny afternoon with three former students, learning about their careers and families. Four former students were in the foursome in front of me, and genuinely seemed happy to see the old coach/teacher as well. At the dinner afterward, I was reunited with former colleagues and more former students. No one really knew that I didn’t golf. In fact, I walked away with a box of brand-new golf balls that my foursome won.
Had I not attended, I would have missed out on everything. As it was, because of my anxiety, I only cheated myself out of the happiness of eager anticipation in the days leading up to the tournament.
How often do we let our anxiety rob us of eager anticipation? We worry about things that usually don’t happen, and even if they do happen, they’re not as bad as we feared. So we’re a couple of minutes late for the baseball game or we parked in the wrong spot, is it all that bad – bad enough to worry about? Very rarely.
Challenge yourself to eagerly anticipate an upcoming event or activity. Conscientiously resolve to minimize anxiety. Bring out that inner child and enjoy life a little more thoroughly.