By Kristin van Ogtrop
Updated January 26, 2015
Christopher Baker

Imagine a stop sign. That’s what my mother always used to advise. When one of her daughters was struggling with an issue and heading down the path of frustration and hopelessness, she would say, “Imagine a stop sign.” It sounds so simple, it’s almost silly. But it can actually work.

I come from a long, productive line of Super Worriers. Meaning, we are content to leave certain timeworn concerns (plane crashes, natural disasters) to the rest of the world while we focus on the big, truly crippling issues: Did the contractor get my e-mail? Will that chicken be defrosted by late afternoon? Are those candles really dripless if that’s what the packaging says? What is that weird stain on my counter? Does this sweater have too many moth holes to wear in public? Is that sunscreen going to make my face break out? Do I have enough AA batteries? And on and on and on. These are the things that keep my family up at night.

“Oh, no, no, no,” you’re saying. “What you’re talking about, Kristin, is anxiety, not worry.” I’m no shrink, but really, what’s the difference? In my book, anxiety about small details is just worry for the more highly evolved. When people ask me, “Do you worry?” I toss my head and laugh and say, “Not at all.” But I suppose I am worrying constantly.

Until I imagine the stop sign. Then I worry a bit less.

Worrying about little things really is a bad habit. Like smoking or drinking too much or forgetting to replace your kitchen sponge from time to time, worrying is—at least for me—an unproductive, self-destructive behavior. And we all have a self-destructive bad habit (or two or 85) that we could stand to lose.

What better moment than the start of a new year to learn, once and for all, how to kick our bad habits? This is the first time that Real Simple has devoted an entire issue to that subject, and the longer the staff of the magazine worked on the articles that follow, the more that we felt we were getting accomplished.

As you read, you’ll find ways to cook smarter (page 112), exercise more effectively (page 74), get out of bed on time (page 55), and stop dressing like someone caught in another era (page 59). Once you read “Get Over Overthinking” (page 106), you may even learn to stop, well, thinking so much. And then try imagining a stop sign. It’s free, there are no unpleasant side effects, and it just may work.