Worrying. It doesn’t feel good, yet at the same time it can seem as if we’re doing something necessary and even right when we worry. It might even seem as if not worrying means we don’t care or won’t take steps to prevent things going wrong. And we might wonder…without that nagging sense of worry, will we become apathetic blobs, sitting on the couch and watching television instead of taking action to remedy the problems in our lives?
Contrary to what many people believe, worry is not a natural state. It doesn’t help us plan, find ways to mitigate risk, or generally stay out of trouble. Quite the contrary: our brains are hard-wired to become less creative and responsive when we feel fearful or threatened – and what’s worry but an experience of threat, anxiety, and low-level fear?
I’m writing this post as a man from a pest control company is thumping and banging his way around my house, whistling cheerfully as he hunts for termite damage. I could worry about what he’ll find, but that won’t change the results. It won’t miraculously make the termites disappear, nor will it lower the final cost to repair the damage. All worrying will do is make me miserable, unable to write this article and unpleasant to be around.
Learning not to worry is a practice – a practice with four basic steps.
- Acknowledge the possibility that worry is unhelpful and unproductive.
- Conduct a one-week no-worrying experiment. If it turns out you really enjoy worrying after all, and find that you’re more productive when you worry, you can always go back to worrying when the experiment is over.
- For the duration of the experiment:
- Set a specific time once a day for worrying. Perhaps you’ll choose to get all your worrying done first thing in the morning, or maybe you’ll decide to do all your worrying just before you leave the office in the evening. Whatever time you pick, set aside five minutes on your calendar (and yes, make an appointment with yourself for this) in which you will do nothing except write down everything you’re worrying about.
- For the rest of the day, notice when your thoughts turn toward worry.
- Remind yourself that you have that specific time on your calendar, dedicated to worrying. You don’t need to worry now; you can worry during that scheduled time.
- Ask yourself if you can choose joy instead. Perhaps you can think about all the things that are going right in your life.
- At the end of the week, check in with yourself. There are no wrong answers to these questions; all that actually matters is your own experience.
- Were you more productive, less productive, or about the same?
- Were you more able to respond to what was happening, or less, or about the same?
- How did you feel? It’s as simple as that.
And if you choose to continue the experiment, try scheduling your worry time once a week instead of once a day. Perhaps you’ll pick last thing on a Friday afternoon, or first thing on a Monday morning. Whenever it is, though, just remember that you’re only allowed to worry during those scheduled times – even if something unexpected comes up!
About the Author: Grace Judson a consultant, principal of Svaha Concepts (www.svahaconcepts.com), and is the former President of the San Diego Chapter of ASTD.
Recommended Training Resources
Daniel Goleman, psychologist and internationally-acclaimed expert on emotional intelligence, hosts the three-video Emotional Intelligence Series which includes Understanding Emotional Intelligence. This program provides practical steps for managing our own disturbing emotions (including worry) and is an important resource for organizations in today’s highly challenging business environment.
You may also want to consider:
Taking Charge of Change shows how to handle the anxiety we feel when change forces us to let go of the familiar and face the unknown.