First let me clear up “Why we worry.” Whether you are worried about the effects of the economy or what your friends will think about your new haircut, you aren’t fretting over the loss of something tangible. You worry about the outcome after the loss, meaning you are afraid of losing control, respect, social status, and comfort. Since there is no way to have complete control over your life, your job, your employees and your family members, worrying is mostly a waste of time and a physical drain on your body.
Therefore, before you can determine what part of worrying can be useful you need to quiet your unproductive worrying. Here are a few tips for putting your worries in perspective:
Brain Tip #1 Determine what would really happen if your worst worries came true. What is the worst that could happen? Could you survive losing your job or your friend? What would you do next? What else is possible that could make this a good experience for you?
Brain Tip #2 Examine your past history with worrying. Have any of your worries come true in the past? If they did, how did you cope with the outcome? Did any of the unexpected experiences lead to even better outcomes? You might find that if you just go with the flow the best result often appears in the end.
Brain Tip #3 Don’t ignore your worries. If you try to ignore your worries, they will keep coming back like an old song stuck on mental instant replay that you can’t turn off. Ignore your worries and they control you, making you will act out of fear instead of hope for the future. Many leaders today are reacting to their worries instead of acting with strength, curiosity and creativity. Better to be mindful of your worries, accept that life and work will continue to be unpredictable and reframe your thoughts using Brain Tips #1 and #2.
Now let’s look at how to use worrying to your advantage. All humans have a natural tendency to worry because it keeps you alert to dangers, prompts you to solve problems and motivates you to prepare to give your best performance. You might not change bad habits unless you worry about the results. Therefore, here are some tips using a moderate amount of worrying to help you be successful.
Brain Tip #4 Set aside a specific time to worry. If you schedule your worrying, you can remind your brain that you will attend to the problem later. Then you can focus on something more productive until your appointment with worry comes up.
Brain Tip #5 Create a plan for dealing with the consequences. During your scheduled worry time, make a to-do list of actions you can take to both decrease the possibility that what you are worrying about will happen and to soften the blow if your worst fears come true. You can also use this time to focus on what is still in your control to calm your protective brain.
Remember, worrying doesn’t mean you are weak or lack confidence. It just means that you feel out of control. I just presented to a group of high-achievers who feel they are being pushed into doing things with not enough resources to succeed. They are still confident people. They are just reacting to the odd and uncomfortable loss of control and certainty that has shown up this year. What will give you a sense of control in the situation you are worrying about? Focus on the strengths you have to deal with the unknown and you may find that your worries disappear.