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Starting today, 43 Things users can export their goals and entries from the site. Starting August 15, we will make the site “read only”. 43 Things users will still be able to view the site and export their content, but we won’t be taking any new content from users. We hope to leave the site up for folks to see and download their content until the end of the year. Ending on New Year’s Eve takes us full circle.

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As of today, you will be able to download your goals and entries. See more about that on the FAQ page. Thanks for 10 great years of goal-setting and achieving.

- The Robots.

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starstuff in Sheffield is doing 41 things including…

Worry less.

32 cheers

 

starstuff has written 25 entries about this goal

Integrity

There is strength in books.

A favourite author writes in her autobiography that “feelings are frightening.” I look up to this author, and to read of her own struggles with feeling props me up on the inside, too.

You have to be careful what ideas you absorb into yourself. The idea that I am a worrier (a label I was given by my mother) and that worriers fear their own feelings clashed with other ideas that I was wise and emotionally savvy.

For most of my life I have been a therapist to friends and acquaintances, which led me to see myself in a certain way. But knowing how the whirligigs of emotion turn in other people does not necessarily mean that you understand them in yourself.

Jeanette Winterson writes with emotional savvy, depth and wisdom. Perhaps it is possible to be both scared and wise.



Diary No. 5

New plan: go back to the old plan.

The old plan began with explicit instructions to keep lists of all the crazy and terrifying shit that I worry myself with.

The first thing you need to do is to keep a record of your worries. Write down the most common negative thoughts about the future that are bothering you. Feel free to add to the list. You need to be aware of these worries if you are going to do anything about them.

Right!

The lists should be quite detailed: include any situations that trigger the worry, and always write what emotions and bodily sensations are evoked. After a week or two, you should review your worries and categorise them:

We generally find ourselves worrying about the same thing over and over. For example, Jack worries about money and work, Diane worries about what her boss and her colleagues think of her, and both Sarah and Phil worry about their relationships with people. Keep a tally of your worries for a week. Write them down. And then see if you can categorize them into a few categories. Once you find that your worries are about a few things, you are going to narrow the target to aim at.

Let’s do this.



The wisdom of week six: Worry is a form of emotional avoidance

“Current research shows that you prefer thinking rather than feeling. You are avoiding emotion.”

I read the line again.

It still said the same thing.

It got worse:

“In fact, in our own research in New York we have found that people who score higher on factors related to worry have negative views of their emotions.”

I thought, obviously these are generalisations about people who worry. And, also obviously, this is one generalisation that doesn’t apply to me. Of course I don’t avoid emotions! I am emotive and sensitive. People confide in me and tell me I understand their emotions and how they feel. I don’t have a negative view!

Obvious, obvious, obvious.

As with most things that are obvious, it doesn’t mean they’re true.

The more I thought about it, and the more I reflected on the things I had been worrying about, the more I began to see the truth in it. It is as though by gnawing on a worry, I turn a pain into a series of What Ifs – the wordy thoughts create a temporary barrier between me and the raw, blood and guts emotion.

No – more than that – I often feel stupid about feeling the way I do.

“Week six” happened months ago, when I challenged myself to worry less. It worked, and I marked this goal as done not as a sign of completion, but to acknowledge to myself that I had and can continue making progress. Recently I clicked the “I want to do this again” option to try to move it back onto my main list. It, and week six especially, have been heavy on my mind this week.

I don’t know what the trigger was. Perhaps lack of sleep or a chain of subtle and hazy events, but I ended up more worried than I had been in a long time. I wrote in my journal that the feeling of worrying was worrying in itself. The sensation made me anxious: “I feel insecure and I know it is unattractive and annoying, which makes me more insecure. Worry is a drain on your being. It drains your heart and your courage.” As if the pen had a memory of its own, I started writing about what I learnt months ago about emotional avoidance.

My last entry started with:

I want to accept myself not for who I could be, but for who I am right now.

Rather than accepting how I was feeling, I was worried about it. I thought I was “an insecure mess.” I felt weird and isolated. Throughout November and December, I decided I was going to brush up on my emotional literacy skills. I read about uncomfortable emotions (anger, sorrow, jealousy, fear) and what often causes them to arise. Emotions tell you about your needs. They don’t always make sense because they come from a non-rational part of our mind, the part of our mind dispersed throughout our bodies: the nervous system.

There aren’t “negative” emotions per say. They can be painful, undesirable and disruptive but we have such emotions because we need them. It is how a person interprets an emotion that colours their life. Our culture values happiness and freedom and individuality perhaps above all else. It certainly interprets some emotions as unacceptable, maybe because they seem to go against these core values: we don’t feel free if we’re weighted down by heavy emotions, and loneliness can make us question everything.

When I last saw my boyfriend, I realised that happiness (at least in part) means being able to be yourself. You have to be willing to feel uncomfortable to be yourself, to accept your own vulnerability and risk or allow others to see and accept it too.

If your emotions tell you about your needs, and worrying creates a barrier between you and your emotions, then it follows that worrying creates a barrier between you and your needs. I have created that barrier for many reasons over my life (who ever is reading this – you probably have too in your own way), and these reasons have seemed so fast and strong that they’ve often seemed like rules. How you break rules is you make it so they don’t apply anymore…

To be continued.



Trust

Realising I have read the last article in this series felt like almost walking onto thin air and narrowly avoiding a fall, like Wile E. Coyote chasing Road Runner. You cling to the mountain, stare into white space and realise you just have to close your eyes, put one foot in front of the other and somehow hope that a bridge will unfold underneath your step.

Last night I was exhausted. I broke myself and it poured out as shadow-black forms of worry. I imagine them like a mass of jagged hands, reaching and grasping in all directions.

I’ve made no progress whatsoever. I thought I had but I haven’t!

The thought snapped me back, and I realised that I get like this when I’m scraping the barrel for energy. Everything becomes too fucking much.

I thought of all the things I should do – correction: should have done months ago – but haven’t done because I’ve been worrying about not doing them. So I continue not doing them because I’m worried about them.

There is one major difference that shows I have made progress: I write this and feel compassion for myself, not waves and waves of frustration. (Okay, there’s a definitely a wave and drizzle of frustration but it isn’t a storm at sea.)

I have to tackle this inaction before I can say I have completed this goal. If I’m worrying less but still immobilised, then I still have a way to go. I still have territory to claim from the worry and to prise away from the hands.

It is important I do things that make me uncomfortable if I am going to trust myself enough to worry less.



An entry from my private journal

I want to skim past week five, and instead share an entry from my private, handwritten journal:

Last night I uploaded pictures of myself to Facebook. I’ve been using the site for three years but this is the first time I’ve uploaded pictures of myself (or, the first successful time at least/ There was another time and I quick and intense anxiety and deletion. The pressure at least in part comes from disabling perfectionism that these pictures are all most of my friends will ever see of me.) It was strange and exciting. J has helped my confidence a lot. I was awake up until 8am because of it, had a bad dream about it and woke up to a dozen notifications and wonderful comments. I’ve had a photo phobia for years. I feel better about myself, more integrated somehow. I realised that one of the reasons I hated myself in pictures wasn’t just because I thought I was ugly (but that too) but because I felt I was looking at a stranger. I found myself thinking things like, “It wouldn’t matter if you (meaning me) just vanished from existence. It wouldn’t even matter if you were killed.” And I saw myself, my photograph like it it could be on the news about a missing or murdered girl. I watched the thoughts, absorbed them, felt better. Moved on?

In the early years, becoming ill drastically changed my appearance. The olive tones in my skin vanished and were replaced by grey and sickly liver yellow. I became too ill to wash and my hair became greasy and unbrushed. I looked miserable. I couldn’t sit or stand properly. I was ashamed of myself, of how I looked and how I felt. I remember one afternoon when, perched on the edge of our then avocado bath by the mirror, I hurt my skin with the effort to scrub away the blue and green patches that stained my lips and face. If I could get the colour off, it’d be OK again.

I remember looking in the mirror and thinking, I don’t know you and I hate you.

It got better.

I got better.

But something stayed.

The disconnect in and around me, the isolation, stayed.

I have been thinking a lot lately about wholeness. Julia Cameron wrote that, “Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough.” It breaks you up from the inside out. When this oppressor demands you to be perfect, you can never be whole. Wholeness includes all your flaws, complexities, and parts of you you’d rather hide or pretend weren’t there.

It includes blue skin and shit hair.

Week 5 hung around the idea that “you worry in order to avoid failure.” For me, the anxiety is social – I worry deeply about putting a toe or a hair out of line – and would be devastated if I disappointed someone I care about.

It is no small lesson to learn that, in order to worry less, I need to embrace a more complex and forgiving idea of myself. That it’s OK to make mistakes and be flawed.

Not easy. I am an absolute tyrant to myself.



Back up - week three

Before writing about weeks five and six, I want to make a few notes about week three. I lapsed and lost focus, and have started to keep the worry journal again. This time I’ve decided to expand the definition to include fussing. For example, sometimes I find myself perfectionistly picking over some detail or pawing over how I will accomplish some goal when really I’m just overtired and need to stop.

With my journal in hand and my focus steadied, I’ll proceed with the tools from week three. They are a pretty standard affair – the theme is Challenging Your Worried Thinking – but somehow slide through my fingers when they’re slippery from worrying.

Anxiety is like having black oil on your hands. It gets over everything.

He suggests you ask yourself:

Am I jumping to conclusions? Only focusing on the negative?
What is the evidence for and against my prediction?
Even if this happened, how is it not a catastrophe?
What advice would I give a friend?
How often have I been wrong in the past?

A few others I thought of were:

Has anybody else (or someone I admire) dealt with this problem or these feelings before?
What would a friend say if I told them about this?
How would I think about this if I worried less?

All of these are to be done alone and by yourself. Talking through my worry with (or at least admitting it to) someone else has proven the biggest help so far.

Worrying is isolating, and it probably won’t help to lie in bed asking yourself questions if it only serves to cork your anxiety further. (I am talking to myself now, can you tell?)



Week four

This week my task is to “look at the core of your anxiety.” Your core is what runs through most of your worries. For example, several people could be worried about the same thing (let’s say it’s money) but the core of their worries could be different for each of them. One worries that it makes her a failure, one worries he’s a loser, another worries she can’t provide for other people, a fourth worries he’ll be average.

It’s a thread of anxiety that (in theory) runs through all other worries.

Intuitively it seems like my worries are also connected by a thread, but I don’t know what I’d call it. The fear of being alone. Fear of conflict. Fear of something being wrong with me. Fear of people leaving me. Fear of not being good enough.

Thinking I need to be perfect to be okay.

Or maybe a jumble of these things: I’m not perfect so I can’t be everything to everybody, which means I’m not good enough and actually I’m a freak and everyone will leave me and I will be alone, or ignored, or scorned or taken advantage of. I need to do everything right so I can avoid all of this happening.

I especially fear disappointing people.

It makes me feel better writing it down as it’s so extreme.

I stopped my worry journal a few weeks ago, but I’m going to start again to “look for the core.” What I’ve written seems about right though…

I’ve also realised that it might be useful to broaden my definition of what worrying is so that I can keep track of other things I stress out about. I have actually been worrying less since doing this, but that could have a lot to do with J’s visit. It’s made me feel a lot happier.



Week Two in Review

Last week was amazing.

My boyfriend, who lives across the country, came to stay for four nights. It’s the second time we’ve been able to meet up as he has ME too, and I’m desperate to get back to him.

Needless to say I was completely distracted from this goal, save for one or two thoughts:

The first is that I don’t appreciate how much pressure isolation puts on me, and how relying on my parents winds up my worrying and sends me spinning. I see S (a friend, not boyfriend) maybe once a month, and before I met him I could count on one hand how many times I saw a friend in a year.

When I was four my parents divorced, and I split my time between the two houses. When I became ill at 11 the family’s main strategy to deal with it was to ignore it as much as possible and try to carry on as usual. Visiting my dad became a nightmare, and I frequently felt – and still feel – guilty about my parents, either because of things they said or I assume I’m letting them down. (I feel guilty even writing this now! It is very difficult.)

I struggled to get better and looked to alternative therapists for answers. They touted affirmations, and the philosophy that we create our reality through the choices we make and the perceptions we have. This is true to a point, but it isn’t absolutely true as many (or even most) of them claimed.

After years of that, I needed time to recover from the therapists as much as anything else. It wasn’t so different to how my dad thought, although said in honeyed tones: think yourself better, change your diet, detox your life and put your mind to it.

Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbado says, “You can’t be a sweet cumber in a vinegar barrel,” meaning we absorb the environment we are put in. We’re pickled by it. (You might recognise the name: Zimbado was the creator of the Stanford Prison Experiment, and an expert witness in the Abu Ghraib trials to explain how it is that ordinary people can do what they did. “It’s not the bad apples, it’s the bad barrels that corrupt good people.”)

I realised that a lot of my stress, depression and anxiety isn’t just because of what’s within me; it’s because of what’s around me. I’m sure I knew this on some level before, but rarely had it seemed so obvious until last week.

I need new skills to deal with worrying, but ultimately I need to get out of the vinegar barrel. I need autonomy and a circle of friends.



2/8

Week one in review: I started this challenge not long after listening to hours of neurologists, Buddhists and researchers talk about mindfulness meditation. This seems very much like a continuation of that. Whatever metaphor you want to use – planted seeds, tilled the soil – it has helped. In the past when I’ve tried such stress management projects they seemed like a tree with no roots.

Since joining 43Things I’ve learned some important things about how I (if no one else) responds to goals. I think BIG but do things better in small steps. My earlier mantra of lowering expectations has paid off.

So. The Buddhists, neurologists, psychologists and meditators have all trickled in.

One monk talked about mindfulness like this: imagine it is pitch black. You happen to be in a garden but you can’t see anything until you reach into your pocked and pull out a light. You cast your light over beautiful flowers and ugly dustbins alike. The light doesn’t make the flowers beautiful or the dustbins ugly, and it doesn’t judge them for it either. It simply helps you be aware of them.

The first week is like shining a light onto your worries. I wrote down each worry and what triggered it everyday for six days. There’s a lot of dustbinnage. Some worries came up over and over again, others were different but arose from similar circumstances (when exhausted, for example).

I don’t know how much this challenge is helping because it is novel, and if the novelty value wears off it will also stop helping. I feel good because I feel pro-active, but because I have some scepticism I won’t be crushed if it doesn’t work and I revert. If it doesn’t work it’s because it doesn’t work, not because there’s something wrong with me.

I will give it my all though!

One of the things the blog pointed out was that people who worry a lot tend to be prone to anxiety. I hadn’t occurred to me to separate worrying from anxiety before. It was an interesting thought and somewhat broke the two down into smaller sizes. Writing down my worries has had the effect of making me aware of not just what I’m worried about, but when I am and am not worrying. I’ve realised when I feel anxious I’m not necessarily worrying, which makes me feel less worried over all.

Some of the things I’ve found myself writing about myself (one night I wrote, “I am worthless, I have nothing of value to give”) has given me pause. I hope I’ll come out of this much calmer and more compassionate too.

Week two: accepting uncertainty.

In a very small nutshell, the blog suggests that a lot of worriers worry (maybe most or even all of them) because they have a fear of uncertainty. Accepting uncertainty is key to reducing your worries.

It’s a good way to frame worry, but week two doesn’t give many practical strategies to cope when you’re in the grip of fear. The challenge is laid out a little strangely (week one is really week two, and week one is really week zero) so I’m going back a a step for the verbs and not just ideas.

Schedule time to worry: Keep track of what you’re worrying about and set a time to deal fret about them. Don’t indulge the worry randomly, organise a spot in your day!

Separate productive and non-productive worries: if you can do something about a worry then do something about it. Let it help you move, don’t be immobilised by it. If you can’t do anything about it, use one of the other techniques.

List the benefits of worrying as well as the draw backs. Think about how other people deal with uncertainty.

I’d also add talk to someone.
I’d also also like to add to do relaxation techniques, but I don’t want to overwhelm the goal and fail through too high expectations. Little steps. We’ll see how it goes.



Week One of Eight

A new month, a new focus. Because I came into July with needles clacking, learn to knit seemed like an obvious choice.

Then, on Saturday, I found an article on Psychology Today about worrying. One of the contributors has a regular blog there about anxiety, and an eight week course to reduce worrying.

The first steps (a kind of week zero) involve listing your worries and triggers. This is something I had attempted a few months ago for a few days before forgetting all about it. It modestly helped, but since reading the article I found myself picking up pen and paper again and jotting them down.

Like a kind of negativity journal to balance out the gratitude diary of last month.

I scanned the second step (not wanting to get ahead of myself I have decided to read each week as it comes) and picked up the advice to set a time to worry about it rather than engaging with the worry now. This has definitely helped with some worries; the act of taking a note of it, the intention to go back to it later, but also deciding to tell someone or write about it later.

For example, one of my worries was about chest pains. I was in bed suffering shooting pains that shot from my heart and down my right arm. It lasted for six hours, from one in the morning to almost seven o’clock. What worried me the most wasn’t initially the pain itself, but being alone.

I picked up my phone to text someone about the pain, worried that it would be whining, put the phone down, worried, picked the phone up again… then worried I’m whiny and that cuts me off from people or that worrying about being whiny cuts me off from people, or that if I did die I would have died without breaking my isolation.

I wrote it down and saw the story that was running through my mind. That sort of helped. I told myself I’ll worry about it later. That sort of helped too. What helped the most though was doing these two things together and the addition of promising myself I’ll acknowledge all of this to somebody, or many somebodies by writing about it here.

I’m interested to see what next week brings, and whether or not it really will help me to worry less. I feel positive. It’s a good challenge, and I’m looking forward to getting to know myself better too.



starstuff has gotten 32 cheers on this goal.

 

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