Do you have a problem in your life?


Easier said than done, but good to keep in mind!


  1. Funny one, however incorrect.

    The “can you do something about it?” question does not only accept “Yes” or “No” as an answer.
    It also accepts “Maybe”, hence the legitimate worry.

    1. I agree. It’s almost always mistake to conclude “no” to the question “Can you do something about it?” The correct answer is usually either “Yes” or “I haven’t figured out how, yet.” If we just ignore any problem without a known solution, how are we supposed to figure out how to solve anything?

  2. Do you have a problem in your life?


    Is there something you can do about it?


    Are you doing that something?


    Why aren’t you doing it?

    Because I’m a dumbass.

    OK, go ahead and worry, what do I care.

  3. I think the missing step that me/most of us are eternally stuck in is: yes we can do something about the problems we have, but we are too afraid to make that change.

  4. Who created this cool flowchart? I’d love to post it on my blog but I don’t want to do so without being able to credit the creator, and ask his or her permission.
    Becky Wolsk

    1. According to the flow chart, you don’t need to worry about being unable to give credit when posting it. Thank you for cleverly demonstrating the shortcoming of this chart.

    2. It sounds like you’re worrying about whether or not you can post the flowchart on your blog. To resolve this problem, please see the flowchart above.


    3. It’s based on a very simple concept taught by the Dalai Lama.

      “If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”

      It’s a tool to help end suffering. It is not meant to be a solution, but a question you ask yourself to help you put things in perspective. If there is a solution then you know the path you must take. Step one. Taking that path is another step. True a source of worry and suffering for some. But the point is to conquer these things as the come.

  5. It did make me smile but surely a lot of the worry comes from the answer no.

    E.G. do you have a problem yes (my wife has terminal cancer and my children all have ebola), can you do anything about it (no).

    1. Naw, in that case you should really try not to worry about it. The only purpose of worry is a stupid ineffective bludgeon by one part of your poor unconscious to get your fat ass moving. Everything outside of that is not just 90% pointless but 100% pointless.

    2. One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in life is that worry is a pointless, wasted energy expenditure. So many things we spend our time on stressing about that can’t be changed. If you learn to accept the situation, then and only then can you move forward and do something (whether that’s coming up with a new solution, spending the last years with your family enjoying them rather than being a stressed-out mess, or focusing on things you can solve). That message is the crux of Loving What Is, a questionable book from a credentials aspect, but something that ended up resonating with me and helping me through some tough times.

      I the chart above. :)

  6. There are some fairly simple ways to reduce compulsive worrying. Like writing down what you’re worried about. If it’s serious, it might compel you to deal with it and if it’s not, it might alleviate the worry. The reality is rarely as bad as the anxiety.

    Or schedule some regular worrying time. Allot fifteen minutes per day at a scheduled time and agree not to worry outside of that appointment. Not worrying requires considerable mental discipline which you’ll never develop if you don’t start somewhere.

    As an example of both, if you’re incessantly worried about money, give yourself five minutes every night to review your finances. At least you’ll know if your worry is reality-based or not.

    1. I like to use a simple matrix when it comes to worrying:

      Across the top of the matrix is “In my control” and “Not in my control” down the side of the matrix is “Important” and “Not important”

      When you divide up your worries into the categories where they most aptly belong it’s easier to see where to place more of the energy generated by worrying/anxiety (e.g., something that is important and in my control deserves more of my energy than something that is unimportant and not in my control).

      Same basic concept as this flow chart, only allows more for the “maybe” that someone else referenced up above.

      1. “When you divide up your worries into the categories where they most aptly belong it’s easier to see where to place more of the energy generated by worrying/anxiety”

        What if your categories are wrong? What if everything can’t be represented by “in my control” vs “not in my control”? I strongly suspect that there are things potentially in my control but only if I believe they are *in spite* of all evidence to the contrary.

        Part of everyone’s experience is discovering that we can only achieve some things when we overcome our doubts and believe in ourselves. Life really can’t be reduced to a flow chart or decision matrix.

        1. “What if your categories are wrong? What if everything can’t be represented by “in my control” vs “not in my control”? I strongly suspect that there are things potentially in my control but only if I believe they are *in spite* of all evidence to the contrary.”

          You do realize that *you* are the one who determines what goes in the categories right? So, if you suspect something is in your control and you believe that it is, then you put it in that category. Easy enough. It’s simply a way of determining where to put your energy and effort.

    2. I use a variation of that when other people are stressing about something: Make them state, in one sentence, what they’re worried about. Then I repeat the sentence back to them.

      Hearing somebody else simply state the case can really help you realise whether or not it’s worth worrying about.

  7. Do you have a problem? Yes.
    Can you do something about it? Yes.
    Do you know what that is? No.

    Achievement unlocked: this what worry is about! Yes, it turns out most things are actually for something, even if they are often misused. Even anger, grief, worry, and other negative emotions.

  8. You know, this society is full of anger towards legitimate worries.

    Some are large, objective, and demand action where most people, as individuals, can have little effect, but many people, as a movement just might stave off civilization-collapse (nuclear war, global warming, overfishing, antibiotic resistance, etc.)

    Some are small, subjective, and might not affect others, but can still affect those surviving these worries, especially because people downplay these worries, blame the victims, and sometimes target those who speak about their experiences (PTSD, for example).

    Either way, this whole attitude that people shouldn’t worry bleeds into anger at people who raise one kind of worry or express the other kind.

    I hate this flow-chart.

    1. Some PTSD symptoms are actually quite useful on rare occasions, but constant worry about nothing is useless and horrible. And worrying about the fact that you worry is even worse. It should be managed, but not demonized.

      But look at how our society treats anything that doesn’t reek of happy fun time. If your spouse of thirty years drops dead, your friends will start harassing you if you’re not dating a couple months later. Everybody wants everybody else to ‘just get over it’.

      1. Agreed. Chronic pain is *interesting.* I try to be positive when I’m out, then when I double over everyone reacts with indignation, “What’s your problem?” I smile, best as I can anyway, through my pain, and whisper, “Pain. Attack. Back soon.”

        They sneer, dismiss, and peg me a drama queen. If I were a drama queen, I would keen with the pain as instinct dictates, and roll into a caterpillar-ball on the floor. Maybe, ultimately, I should.

        My major worry is that involuntarily I will. Needless to say, I don’t go out much.

    2. If someone is full of anxiety about something that they can do nothing about, that doesn’t mean that they’re contemptible.

      On the other hand, they’d be better off if they didn’t worry. It serves no purpose. I’m sure most such people would agree. If not, I’d say they’re wrong.

      Of course I was rather facetious above, but I think it’s within fairly normal bounds of humor to call oneself a dumbass. It’s a shorthand way of saying that there’s a disconnect. We can’t automatically be everything we think we ought to be.

      If there’s something that’s a problem, do whatever is within your power to fix it.

      Don’t worry about what you can’t possibly fix.

      If there’s a problem, yet you can’t do what you know you ought, laugh at yourself. Maybe you’ll be able to do more about it in the future.

      Anxiety is never optimal. That doesn’t imply that anxiety is shameful.

    3. I can’t speak for Society as a whole, but people who worry about problems don’t anger me; I find it sad for them. What makes me angry is people who always answer ‘no’ when asked if they can do something about their problems and who then go on trying to bring the whole world down to their level of unhappiness. People have a lot more power to change things than they think (at least for most of our day-to-day unresolved problems).

      In my mind there is a subtle difference between pointing out problems and, as you said, raising worry. One is constructive, the other is not.

    4. Marja. I believe you are interpreting “not worrying” as apathy, when it’s intention is calmness. We are all individuals first. Only you, gets you out of bed in the morning.

      If you are the kind of person who can do something about nuclear war, global warming, overfishing, antibiotic resistance, then for the sake of humanity I would ask that you please do something about them. If you are the kind of person who can influence others to do something about those things, then please influence them. Once you have, then you will have done all you can do as an individual. Try not to worry after a successful day of doing these things, so that you can get up the next day and act again.

      This flowchart (and as someone has pointed out, it’s Buddhist origins) is precisely for YOU. Do not hate it. That is worrying too.

  9. I have this chart posted in my cubicle to remind me of it on a daily basis. As a sufferer of chronic anxiety, worry used to take up a lot of my time and energy. Lately I’ve been trying to focus on the fact that worry does NOTHING.

    As a wise person once said to me, anxiety (sub “worry”) is the story your mind tells you about things that almost never happen. It’s a futile endeavor, and it’s not the same as problem solving. Since finding this chart, my husband and I will say to each other “Do you have a problem in your life?” whenever one of us is ruminating over something.

    Sure, it’s simple – but it’s a great reminder.

    1. “Worrying is not the same as problem solving.” Well said. Hopefully I can remember that one as long as I can remember the chart.

  10. Another possible answer: “Yes I can do something about it, but I’m not sure if that thing would make the problem better or worse.”

  11. They should print this and give it to the Syrian refugees. I’m sure it would be a great comfort.

  12. Step 1: Making an image of the problem and its consequences. No problem yet.

    Step 2: Projecting the sense of oneself out of the present and into the image.

    Step 3: Psychophysiological response to the image as if it is actually happening to oneself. Rumination and repetitive attempts to reduce imagination-induced distress follow. These attempts are unsuccessful because there is nothing real to be acted upon, therefore the mind can continuously restore the distressing image.

    It’s possible to refrain from Step 2 by distinguishing between what is present reality and what is imagination, and choosing to stay rooted in the former. Then the image remains simply information to be assessed and acted on (or not). Or in Step 3, soothe out the distress by realizing with confidence it is in response to something not real.

    This is how I observe and work with the worry process in myself, with some success. YMVV of course. I learned about this structure of worry after a traumatic brain injury. It slowed down the automatic sequence enough to see each of the steps separately, and left enough time to allow the choice to take them or not.

  13. I live by this chart and I am a jovial bastard. I am not sure if it was up bringing or some quirk of brain chemistry, but worry really isn’t in my vocabulary. Most problems fall into one of three categories. Problems either have an obvious solution, don’t have an obvious solution, or have something you think might be a solution but are not sure. In the case of no solution or solution, the response is obvious. Solve it if you can, don’t worry if you can’t. If you can’t solve something, ask yourself what is literally the worst case scenario. If the answer isn’t “I die”, you are going to make it buddy.

    For things where you think you have a potential solution but are not sure, just make a decision, closer your eyes, and fire. Worry and procrastination NEVER helps. If you can collect more useful data, by all means go for it, but mulling over the same data that you already had is completely useless. At best, you can try sleeping on it, but anything beyond that is just needless self flagellation.

    I know it is easier said than done. I clearly was gifted either through genetics or upbringing to not worry. That said, I often times find that simply talking people through the chain of worries with most people clams them down. Really probing into the worst that can happen often reveals that the worst simply isn’t that bad.

    I also like to ask people who worry too much to think about a time a couple of years back when they felt as worried as they feel now. I ask them what the outcome of their worries were and if they were justified. 95% of the time, this brings their worries into stark contrast… they shit they worried about 2 years ago doesn’t matter because it wasn’t actually an important event. Chances are, what they are worrying about now is just as meaningless in the grand scheme.

    I’m not implying that there isn’t bad things out there. If you have brain cancer or need to disarm an IED, a little worry is probably healthy. Most people’s worries are not about real things though. It is just the mundane minutia of their lives. The potential negative outcomes they fast are almost always dwarfed by the self inflicted grief they feel worrying about those negative outcomes.

    I guess my argument is this, “chill out, it is going to be okay”.

  14. “But then I’ve found, when I actually have stopped worrying, and I’ve said ‘OK,’ and I’ve sat back and just not worried, everything’s rather started to slide, you know, and gone to pot.

    “Actually, the worrying — that’s the real work, annoyingly,” she says. “It’s not doing the stuff, is it? The actual work is the thinking and the feeling.”


  15. Earlier today I was sent a link about yet another study that shows maternal stress while pregnant causes bio-chemical changes in the developing embryo/fetus which have lifetime consequences.

    “Get over it” or “figure it out” is easy for some to say.

  16. This is taken from the Buddhist anthology of advice “Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life,” by Shantideva. It’s a source of many superb and piquant quotes, and this one has entered wide currency in Buddhist circles.

    Verse ten of chapter six reads:

    If a problem can be solved,
    why worry about it?
    If a problem cannot be solved,
    why worry about it?

  17. I first heard a version of this philosophy from that great Stoic, and Yankees centerfielder, Mickey Rivers. It goes something like this:

    I don’t worry about things I can’t control because if I can’t control them, why worry? And I don’t worry about things I can control because If I can control them, why worry?

    Mick the Quick is wise.

  18. I can do something about any one problem I have, but in the meantime another problem will go unresolved.

    Therefore I worry about the prioritization of problems.

    I envy anyone who has so few problems they can be aware of them all at the same time!

  19. 1. Sometimes its not individual benefit that matters. There is hardly ever an individual benefit to worry about global problems, and there can be substantial individual costs to doing anything about them. There can also be civilization-destroying costs to not worrying about these problems.

    2. Sometimes the problems don’t neatly fit into either category. Sometimes we don’t know how to solve them, but might be able to. Sometimes we might not be able to solve them individually, but might be able to with the right kinds of cooperation.

  20. Can you do something about it? –> Unknown, requires further investigation. –> Ignore it

  21. There’s a mistake in the diagram… if one has a problem in one’s life and cannot do anything about it, surely it’s time to enlist the services of the A-Team?

  22. I was a hardcore addict for most of my adult life. After 15 years of the mindfuck called 12-step “treatment” I looked into cognitive therapy (of which this diagram is a prime example). Within 6 months I had stopped using/drinking, raised my 6 year old son when his mom passed away and I now own my contracting business. Cognitive therapy is one of the most powerful and freeing methods of treating both mental illness and addiction known (IMHO). Unfortunately people are still being railroaded by courts and treatment facilities into the dogma of 12-step theology which, at best, shows a .2% success rate after 5 years. It is intolerable.

    1. I am a middle school teacher, and we use many of the principles of cognitive therapy with our students. Personally, discovering the “15 Styles of Distorted Thinking” has changed my own life, and reminding my students of some of their cognitive distortions has changed theirs, too.

        1. Glad to share it. This is the one that’s most relevant to me, I think:

          Catastrophizing: You expect disaster. You notice or hear about a problem and start “what if’s.” What if that happens to me? What if tragedy strikes? There are no limits to a really fertile catastrophic imagination. An underlying catalyst for this style of thinking is that you do not trust in yourself and your capacity to adapt to change.

          These days, I often find myself repeating “It’s distorted thinking…it’s distorted thinking…” in my head. If I can acknowledge it, I can start to remove a great weight off my shoulders!

    2. The whole thing sounds like the Serenity prayer concept. That’s 12 step stuff wasn’t something I bought into. Anyways I liked what you said

    3. Bad Ashtray said:
      “Cognitive therapy is one of the most powerful and freeing methods of treating both mental illness and addiction known (IMHO).”

      I completely agree.

      DBT Self Help

      DBT is cognitive therapy + mindfullness and there are some very good flash movies on their page.

      But… I do think the trick is living with uncertainty and the above flow chart seems to me to imply one can be certain.

      1. Re: Uncertainty- I take it to mean that it implies that YOU have control how YOU respond to life’s events no matter how daunting and complex they can be. Cog. therapy teaches one how to deal with uncertainty by simplifying how you deal with said events/issues. You learn to ditch useless emotional responses and look at things logically and for what they are.

  23. Man, funny to see how turning the christian serenity prayer into flowchart geekspeek gets everyone spouting “so true, so true”. Flowchart bible anyone?

  24. Where politics enters the equation is in the missed arrow: can someone else do something about it? – then you have to start worrying whether they’re doing it or not.

  25. the “worry tree” grows in the soil of doubt. don’t second guess and you will be just fine.

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