Chances are that you worry about things that are beyond your control. And, if you’re like me, you’re looking for ways to focus more on the areas you can change and less on what you cannot change.

According to a U.S. National Institute of Health study (2001 – a big year for worry down south),  the average person spends most of their worry time fretting about things that are either out of their control, won’t even happen, or that simply aren’t worth that much stress and concern. Though perhaps we worry in different proportions up here in Canada, I don’t need to tell you that we still worry more than is productive about things that we can’t change. Chances are, you will find these statistics as illuminating as I did. 

Here are the numbers: 

  • Forty Percent: The amount of worries that never happen. Sheila worries all weekend that her boss will be upset and fire her. On Monday her boss thanks her for catching his mistake and gives her a raise. Not only did Sheila worry needlessly, she also predicted that her boss was less kind and aware than they were. 
  • Thirty Percent: The percentage that has already happened. If you are worried about what you said to your grandfather about your mother’s chihuahua back in 1975, that’s fine, maybe his breath was bad, nevertheless, unless you have a time machine and some doggy-breath mints, learning how to shift away from worrying about an innocent comment back in 1975 would probably be healthful. 

Ok, so that’s 70% of worries that either will not happen or have already happened. Seems like a huge amount of time and energy that could be directed elsewhere doesn’t it? Because we know that we 70% of what we’re worrying about either has already happened or is never going to happen,  we can stop worrying about the stuff which is very unlikely to happen, and we can turn past actions and events into wisdom. 


What about the rest of the pie chart?

 Twenty-Two Percent of our worries are either needless (such as the opinions of people who have nothing to do with us), or are petty, (which brand of yogurt to buy). At twenty-two percent, that’s a lot of worry about things that are inconsequential.

Ok, so that leaves us with the 8% of things we worry about that a) will actually happen, and b) are not trivial.

And, of that eight percent of things you worry about that are actually a problem, you can influence or control oly…

Four Percent

That’s it: Only four percent of what you will worry about today, according to the NIH,  is meaningful and within your power to change.

I don’t need to tell you that the less we worry about the things we cannot change, and the more we focus that attention on the four percent of things we can change, the more wonderful and strong we feel, and the more help we are to our loved ones and communities.

To honour letting go of the 96% so we can focus more productively on that 4% that we can do something about, let me present:

The Statistician’s Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the wisdom to separate the 4% that I can change
From the 96% of things that I cannot change
(Or that I could change, but aren’t worth the effort)
And thank-you for the power to do something about the 4% that I can change.