The Worry Exams

University of Life is the one educational establishment that we don’t know we’ve
enrolled in until we’ve been working at some of the various courses for a few
years. And for most of us, even by the time we’ve realised what’s going on, we’ve
already mastered quite a lot of the course material. We’ve already become very
good at doing certain things.

Setting the Scene

The first “School”
we get to study in is “Me”, and in this school we learn first about the
spectrum of comfort and pain. Later we learn about the spectrum of nice and
nasty, and also learn about the spectrum of good and bad. The first spectrum is
purely based on experiential feedback, whereas with nice-and-nasty and good-and-bad,
these are more related to an interpretation of where they also lie on the
spectrum of comfort and pain.
Of course
part of our learning and understanding is that we do get to recognise that nice
and good are not comfort per se, but
are part of separate methods of measuring. Likewise with nasty and bad; these lie
more in the area of unpleasant or dangerous than necessarily being measured in
terms of pain.
An adult
describing a “Bad dog” or “Nasty man” can be interpreted in a wide variety of
ways by a young child, depending upon their understanding of the 3 spectra I’ve
already mentioned. And, unless we engage the child and find out where they are
on this particular learning curve, how will we ever know what their subjective
interpretations are? Their modelling and ‘learning how to learn’ is, pretty
much, left to their own devices – prompted and guided of course by their living
family of origin.

Now there
are many “Schools” and “Faculties” in the University of Life and one particular thing has always been one of my curiosities – at what point in our childhood do we encounter worry? So, I’d like to stay with the “School of Me“, and examine some of the activities that
go on within the Faculty of Worry.  

This is a
very well attended Faculty with huge numbers of students, some who go on to
become true masters of the art! And yet, it is – believe it or not – non-compulsory.
It is an optional faculty, and we can
choose what and how much to learn there, what and how to practice, and adopt the
requisite thinking and behaviour to show the world our level of capability as a

The Faculty of Worry

Now we all, at
some point in our studying at the University of Life, get to spend some time in
the Faculty of Worry. It is an important experience, for how else might we know whether to stay with it, or
whether to discard it as being “not my cup of tea”?
And there are people, like that, who discard their worries; people for whom the concerns of the world, and
the way they process all the meanings of the world and the people they interact
with, are not given much subjective emotional interpretation, or to put it
another way they are not given ‘a second thought’. We tend to describe these
people as ‘sailing untouched through life.’

But here’s
the thing – most of us sign up for years to the Faculty of Worry. Even when young, we might already have
begun to “see” that worry can protect us, in advance, from things that may (or
may not) be painful, nasty or bad. We are being cautious – we are looking out for ourselves. That makes
it all right and valid and a sensible thing to do, doesn’t it!

As we work through
various modules, doing and handing in (i.e showing the world) our coursework, we
are all the while getting feedback to reinforce our learning and understandings.

Finally – at
the end of every year – we usually get to take our Worry Exams.
These are a set
of hypothetical upcoming experiences and scenarios that we have to interpret,
to satisfy the criteria that allow us to move on. Of course, graduating and moving
on to next year is something we would be at pains to ensure – for being ‘stuck’
in a year and having to retake those end of year exams would be a real bind. It
would say so much about us as a student in the University of Life.

Exam days in
the Worry Exams are a bit like most other exams. We know we should have revised
well, and have a good night’s sleep beforehand – but we’re probably lying
awake, burning the midnight oil, just going over things again and again in our
mind. We might be hoping for questions on ‘X’ because we’re particularly good
at ‘X’ and could probably worry about ‘X’ with our eyes shut. On the other hand
we’re worrying about getting questions on ‘Y’, and there’s nothing more
debilitating than worrying about questions on worrying.
Outside the
exam hall there are people standing around looking studious and concerned. Then
there are the ones who stroll around with an air of grounded calmness – you just
know these losers are SO going to fail.

I was sitting
a paper on Anxiety the other day when someone put their hand up and asked if they
could leave because they’d finished. The idiot didn’t know that you must stay
until the end of any paper in the Worry Exams – because there will always be
something left in mind to write about. Why, if I did that I’d be so worried
about having not put down everything I know, or thought I knew, about Anxiety
that I’d spend the rest of the time before the results came out – worried about
the fact I’d not given it my best shot.


So where
does confidence lie, for the best worriers? Are those that get the best grades
in the Worry Exams confident of their ability in this domain? Well I think it
might be akin to the joke about the guy who was in two minds as to whether or
not to go to a Symposium on Schizophrenia – but then again I can’t be sure.
To be honest, in my experience the best worriers are so busy doing what they’re
good at, that they haven’t got time to consider their confidence or the lack of
 If they did, confidence might be seen as
a betrayal of an ability to worry – which might, in turn, give them very deep
cause for concern.


So does luck
have a role to play in the life and times of a serious worrier? Does luck get
in the way of his or her ability to win that annual Certificate that is so much
part of their raison d’etre?
To anyone with a Worry Exam tomorrow I would say just hope and pray you don’t
get a paper full of easy questions, because that would be really unlucky for
you. Easy questions are a challenge because they’d be like setting the bar too
low in a high jump competition. Everyone would pass!


So is it
silly to worry about your Worry Exams? Is being confident about your Worry
Exams actually going to jeopardise your chances of passing through to next year?
Will Bad Luck play a good part in your Worry Exams or vice versa? What does getting a good grade in your Worry Exams
really mean to you – what does it say about you?

Let’s face
it – in theory, worrying is not about not knowing all the questions to ask yourself
about what all the possible answers might be to a set of given criteria,
contexts and scenarios. In the comfort of the mind, worry pays no attention to there
being any gradient of probability – all likelihoods are likely!
So if you are about to take your practical Worry Exams you’d do well to
remember the theory for starters.

At the End of the Day

At this stage it might be a good idea for you to take a deep breath!
In a roundabout
kind of way, you should have arrived at a point round about now, where you’ve
become sensitized in a different way than before about the Faculty of Worry and why anyone – especially you – might have
signed up to their courses in the first place! You can actually change your
mind here in the University of Life. Opt out of this faculty and go for another
instead, perhaps one that is more suited to your outlook, your personality, your
worldview and your considerable skills.

And as final thought I’d like to offer you this
story about Dr Richard Bandler and the client who said to him, “I’m worried about having a heart attack.
“Then why are you behaving in a way
that means you are asking for one?”
was his reply.
The man was agog, even though Dr B is well renowned for such bold responses!
“Look,” he continued. ”Worry increases your blood pressure and pushes up your
heart rate – two factors that bring on heart attacks. What do you want to do? You
can keep right on with your worrying until you get chest pains if you wish – shall I call the ambulance right now?”