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By Carl Richards

The evolution of worries

Today, I want to talk to you about your worries.

After all, who doesn’t love worrying?

Thousands of years ago, it was part of what kept humans alive.

Is that a lion in the bushes? Was that a tiger?

Nine times out of ten, there probably was no large-toothed animal about to pounce.

But worrying saved lives often enough that it became ingrained.


Fast forward to the present day.

Chances are, if you are reading this email on your laptop, tablet, or mobile device, you probably don’t have to worry the way our ancestors did.

But I bet that doesn’t stop you from doing it…

Today, instead of being hyper-vigilant about big scary predators that could actually kill us, we obsess over markets, portfolios, job security, the value of our homes, and other sources of possible inconvenience.

There are just two problems with this:

  1. Most things we worry about just don’t happen.
  2. Even if they do happen, worrying doesn’t help.

I picture an early man’s relationship with worry being something like a groove.

You know, as in, "Wow, Lebron is really in a groove right now!"

Each time a sound in the bush was heard, and preventative action was taken, it probably felt really good.

Like hitting another tough shot over the defender.

Sadly, we all know what happens to a groove if not maintained… it turns into a rut.

That’s the best way I can think of to describe our relationship with worry today.

Rather than keeping us alive, our worries are more like a wheel spinning in a ditch.

They tend to be pointless, ineffective and often border on compulsive and neurotic.

Getting out of the worry rut takes practice and determination.

Next time you’re feeling stuck, try asking these simple questions:

1. What is the worst thing that can happen?

If death, dismemberment, or complete financial collapse is ACTUALLY OCCURRING TO YOU RIGHT NOW, resume worrying.

If not, go back to work.

2. When I worried about this in the past, did it actually help?

Worrying about things almost never helps.

If it isn’t helping, then why are you doing it?

3. Is this a "Now" problem or a "Then" problem?

How often have you created a problem of mythical proportions ("My wallet’s gone! Someone stole it! I’m going to be a victim of identity theft!") only to discover that in reality, there wasn’t a problem at all ("Oh, there it is, in the couch cushions…")? Don’t conflate Then with Now.

Think of all the mental energy we can free up for family, creative pursuits, or even earning a little money on the side if we stop worrying incessantly and unnecessarily!

I’m not saying to never worry.

I’m just gently suggesting not to get stuck in a rut.

Try to keep your worries in a healthy groove.

Editors note: This article was originally published a number of years ago and has been republished for the benefit of our many new readers.

About Carl Richards Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner and a columnist for the New York Times, Morningstar magazine and Yahoo Finance. He is author of 2 books, The Behavior Gap & The One-Page Financial Plan. Carl lives with his family in Park City, Utah. You can find his work and sign up for his newsletter (which has an international audience) at
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