Let me tell you a story. Approximately five weeks ago, I planted my spring garden. Broccoli seedlings along with carrot, radish, pea, and spinach seeds all went into the ground with the highest of hopes. A couple mornings after planting, I was outside looking closely at each raised bed for signs of growth. Never mind that only Jack’s magic beanstalk grew with such incredible haste, that somewhere inside this brain of mine I knew that it was ridiculous to be hoping for miraculously swift growth, and that I forgot to look at the seed packets for germination lengths. Every day for two weeks, I went outside and searched for some hint of greenery among the rich dirt. And every day that passed without a trace of above-ground growth, I imagined abject failure.
I am a creature of wild imaginings. It’s a gift. And a curse. My vivid imagination serves me well as a writer and provides an easily-accessible form of entertainment whenever I’m in need of diversion. But it also provides a deep well of worries and misgivings from which I can (and do) draw regularly, drinking deeply of all the imaginable ills that can befall whatever it is I am thinking of undertaking. Give me a situation, any situation, and in less than five minutes I can think of at least eight ways it can go wrong. Yeah, I’m that good.
In the case of my garden, the unhelpful use of my imagination led me to worry about everything from wasting time, money, and energy in preparing the beds for planting to never living the sustainable, healthy life I ultimately want to live to dying bitter from unfulfilled dreams with chemicals from god-knows-where coursing through my obese, disease-ridden body.
Thoughts of failure and the ultimate consequences of failure pass through my mind at the speed of light. It is ridiculous, I know. But throughout my life, my mind has been trained to see and prepare for whatever could go wrong in even the best situations. I have this false but strong notion that imagining worst-case scenarios keeps bad outcomes at bay. What I do with something as innocuous as a garden, I do at even greater levels with things that are more precious to me. I rob myself of joy in present moments, exchanging it for impotent worries about the future that leave me riddled with anxiety. And what I’m realizing is that fear of failure, when not put in its proper place, can paralyze me into inaction, becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The absolutely inappropriate anxiety I went through before my plants began sprouting opened my eyes to just how out-of-control my ability to find things to worry about had become. It was a wake-up call, the beginning of a series of realizations about the importance of training my mind to think productive, healthy thoughts rather than letting it feast on worries. I no longer want to cultivate dismal thoughts of failure and worry in a garden of fear. I want to grow confidence, faith, optimism, and joy and reap the harvest they bring.