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There’s an old story that therapists sometimes refer to in discussions about negative thinking: a person is in an open space, hitting himself repeatedly with a hammer, causing himself noticeable discomfort.

When asked by someone nearby why he continues despite the pain, the man simply puts down the hammer and responds with a relieved smile, ‘Because it feels so good when I stop.’

During Mental Health Awareness Week, this metaphor is particularly poignant. It reminds us of the importance of addressing our mental habits and encourages us to seek healthier strategies for managing stress and anxiety.”

One reason we often cling to worry—or, in some pathological cases, actively pursue it—is that worry can resemble goal-chasing behaviour.

When we worry, we set negative goals or imagine scenarios we want to avoid, which creates a sense of anticipation. A healthy sense of worry leads us to prepare and mitigate risk. However, when there are no productive goals present, worry can evolve into a negative and addictive thought process that is hard to break. Additionally, and somewhat ironically, clinging to worry often becomes self-reinforcing because it gives us a sense that we are already doing something (that is, worrying) to address potential future concerns—a vicious circle.

The relief that comes from not encountering negative goals or imagined stressful scenarios is similar to the pleasure associated with achieving positive goals. It provides a sense of satisfaction and reward: alleviation. For example, consider someone who worries they may be late for a meeting due to traffic (negative goal: to not be late) and then feels relieved after arriving on time, or someone who worries about a conversation (negative goal: to have the conversation not go poorly) and then feels relaxed after the conversation turns out fine. However, this relief is not the same as genuine satisfaction from achieving meaningful goals.

It’s important to recognize when worry becomes unproductive and to develop healthier coping mechanisms for managing stress and anxiety.

At the same time, it makes sense to commit to productive and worthwhile goals as a means to counteract psychic entropy—the natural tendency of the mind to lose focus, allowing thoughts to scatter and ruminate. This often leads us to look for things to worry about.

How about you?

Do you ever feel hammered by negative thoughts and worries?

Have you found coping mechanisms and ways to remain on track without being overwhelmed by negative emotion?

I would love to hear your stories, so feel free to share them below.

All the best for now,


PS1: The article is published today on the occasion of Mental Health Awareness Week that runs from 13 to 19 May 2024.

PS2: Join me on May 16th, 2024, for the ACCA Europe’s Online Event: European Mental Health Week. I’ll be speaking at the seminar “Mental Health & Wellbeing For Accountants,” where I’ll explore the relationship between limitation and happiness. This event features a lineup of expert speakers offering invaluable insights into managing mental health in the accounting profession. 🌟 Register now to secure your spot.

PS3: This article includes an extract from the 2nd Edition of my book The MARVEL of Happiness: Principles, Stories, and Lessons For Living Fully. All rights reserved. More book details here.

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