Dear Mabel: My goal has always been to go to grad school but now that it is time to study for the GRE I can’t get myself motivated. Grad school is a huge time and money investment and I am afraid. What if I don’t succeed after graduation? What if I end up right back where I am now? Then what was the point? What if I end up in a dead-end job living with my parents? I am getting really discouraged. How can I get myself motivated?
Signed, Frank from Minnesota
Mabel: Hi Frank, this sounds like a classic case of overthinking. Your brain is constantly evaluating the risk of taking this leap, so of course, it sounds like a bad idea. You are convincing yourself every day based on your fears. The truth is, yes there are risks. And, yes the worst case scenario is you will end up back at square one. But, what happens if you don’t take the chance? I like to look at things systematically. If you don’t take the GRE, if you don’t take the leap and try for grad school, then you have a 100 percent chance of being at square one. At least by taking this leap, you are giving yourself a fighting chance. Turn your thinking around. Instead of focusing on what can go wrong if you do go to grad school, think about what can happen if you don’t. What is the risk of not going?
No change happens without taking a chance on ourselves. You can choose to stay stagnant, right where you are currently, based on fears. Or, you can choose to fight for a change. You can give yourself opportunities, you can open doors for your future, but you have to try. So often we let fears get in the way. Your motivation is inside you, you just have to change your perspective on the situation as a whole. If you fail and you end up back at square one, at least you will know you tried. And, who knows maybe the experience will lead to other open doors. But, first, you have to try.
I catch myself every once in a while telling my children to “not worry” when they are scared. It is almost instinctual. As a parent, of course, I wish my child would never have to worry about a thing, but that is not reality. When we tell our children to “not worry” it is like telling them they should not feel scared. We are telling them feeling scared is a bad thing.
‘It is ok to be scared’
Instead of telling our children “don’t worry” when they are scared or concerned about something, we can replace it with something more reaffirming like “it is ok to be scared.” Because it is OK to be scared. We all get scared sometimes and we want our children to learn how to deal with those feelings, rather than to think they are wrong to feel that way.
It is also important that our children know what to do when they feel worried, or concerned, about something. If it is an external concern, such as a suspicious person or animal then we want our children to recognize safety—whether that be going to mom or dad, a teacher, or moving to a different location. By talking to them about what they should be doing at times when they are struggling with feelings of worry they will build healthy coping skills, and learn how to better take care of themselves in situations where mom or dad aren’t present.
Feelings of worry or fear are part of our inner-being. They are important. It is our brain’s way of telling us to be careful, to tread lightly, to watch out. It is a protective mechanism. It is not something to ignore or shut off.
Sometimes that worry or fear is caused by anxiety over something we might not need to be worried about, but acknowledging those feelings and learning how to calm ourselves down is also a very helpful skill. If we can help our children to learn and utilize these skills at a young age, it will help them to be more successful at managing their feelings as an adult.