Anticipation Versus Worry

11 November 2011, by A. Cedilla

Remember how sharp and hyper-real the world looks like when you’re anticipating something?

  • Getting up very early on Christmas morning.
  • Haunting the mailbox (or the side-table beside the front door) for your acceptance letter from college.
  • The last few minutes before you’re called in for the final interview.
  • 5 minutes before you meet the person you’ve been corresponding with through Skype and e-mail for the past 6 months.
  • The moment the door opens to your first exhibit, and the first guests arrive.

You’re antsy. You can’t be still. You’re screamingly awake –internally, at least– and your thoughts are going a hundred miles an hour. What’s going to happen next? What do you do if you get what you want? What do you do if you don’t? What do you do? It feels like you’re going to vibrate out of your skin, you’re so dizzy.

What about these situations?

  • You’re behind on your credit cards. Way behind, and every time the phone rings you train yourself to ignore it. The creditors won’t get anything anyway, it would only be a waste of time. Then there’s a knock on the door.
  • It’s the week before finals, and it seems the whole student population is at the library. All the tables are filled, and the snafu with the books you reserved can’t be fixed, the books just aren’t there anymore. Sorry.
  • The numbers have been steadily dropping in the past month, and more customers are opting out of your latest marketing strategy’s sign-up plan.
  • Too much month, not enough money. You have a gap of four days before your next paycheck comes in, and it might as well be two weeks.

Anticipation is waiting for something to arrive or to happen and preparing for it. Worry is waiting for something that may or may not happen, and getting stuck in that loop.

Pushed too far, anticipation can mutate into a hilarious sort of impatience (“Hurry, faster! Santa’s coming.”) while worry morphs into dread (“I’ll end up a cat-lady. On the streets. A cat-lady on the streets!”).

You anticipate things in general, and worry in particular.
Anticipating the future is a game of probabilities — what are the things that are likely to happen if we do this?– and planning cuts all the down probabilities to what are the scenarios most likely to happen. You ponder, then you ask questions. What do we do? We get insurance against acts of God and Nature, we prepare, and if sometimes a niggling question pops up, “But how about the other stuff?” you ask another question, “How likely are they to happen?” And then you act on the best options available.

Worrying is attending to all the factors that could go wrong, or fixating on one or two possibilities and then letting them mutate into a nightmare of labyrinthine proportions…all your mental RAM is occupied and your whole thinking process slows down trying to calculate all those factors and their possible, ever-worsening permutations. The possibilities are overwhelming, and you can’t pause to actually be present to think, and then act.

As an aside, anxiety is generalized worry — you can worry about a particular thing, but when you are suffering from anxiety, you can’t pin your worry down on any one crucial event or factor.

It everything, man, the economy, the business, my cholesterol levels, the greenhouse effect…it’s all going down the drain, hear me?


Worrying can also lead to exhausting and painful control issues. Trying to game it so you’ve got everything covered is a losing proposition — you can’t foresee everything, so you go for the big-ticket items: good health, trusted relationships, a good job, a well-planned approach towards financial security, a set of tactics/strategies to deal when things aren’t going so well…you go for the big-ticket items in small, regular ways so it doesn’t pile up on you

Worrying ties you up, anticipating gets you moving.
A mind tangled in details can also miss the bigger picture, and really, think about it: If you try to cover everything you’ll leave no room for surprises — which makes for a boring life, eh?

It’s sort of like the spoiler question: if you’re okay with being spoiled, then you probably didn’t care all that much about the whole thing anyway. For some of the “small stuff”, that attitude’s okay, but since life itself is made up of a lot of “small stuff”, well, you better pay attention.

Anticipation is going ahead of the game — seeing things that aren’t there, trying to see where they will go: anticipation of a treat, a threat — there are different sides and flavors, but what I want to avoid is the belief, consciously expressed or not, that anticipating something is the same as fixing it. I repeat: anticipating something is not the same as fixing it.

How can you expect the unexpected? Forewarned is forearmed, yes, but for what?

Anticipation has more than a bit of hype in it, if you think about it. THIS is what you think or expect will happen, so THIS is what you focus on and prepare for. On good things like births and promotions, for example, it’s cool, but when it comes to anticipating bad things– sometimes we let our imaginations get away from us. And that? Is called worrying

Anticipating the problem can help us prepare, worrying about it can make it worse. The old saw about hoping for the best and preparing for the worst is a sort of reasoned optimism.

Instead of anticipating pain and discomfort, you loosen up, not flinch even before a blow has landed.

You still know where you want to end up in the end, you still know what to do to stay on course and even if you’re ready to go a different way to accommodate changes, you don’t panic.

You made your move, all you have to do is wait things out and endure.


Further reading:

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