Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 30;   July 24, 2002: Working Out on Your Dreadmill

Working Out on Your Dreadmill

by

Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the non-specialists among us have developed considerable skill in anticipating troubles and preparing plans for dealing with them. When these habits of thought leak into our personal lives, we pay a high price.

Slogging through traffic on his way home, Jason remembered that tomorrow was the day. He'd rescheduled his "annual" physical so many times that it was now biannual, and he knew he couldn't delay it any more. "I wonder whether I ought to tell him about the pain," he thought. It came only once in a while, mostly late at night after a big meal, but more and more often now. "Probably nothing," he thought. "Unless it's the big C."

Something to worry aboutHe knew he'd have trouble sleeping that night. "If it's cancer," he thought, "I wonder how long I have?" He remembered his eighth grade homeroom teacher, who missed the three days right before Spring vacation, and never returned. "They know a lot more now," he thought, "but maybe they don't know much about this one. I should get things in order."

The next day, Jason did tell his doctor about the pain. It was serious, but treatable with a prescription. He's fine, now — physically. But Jason continues to suffer from a common pattern of thinking. Jason dreads.

If anticipating problems
is part of your job,
you risk carrying that
pattern of thinking
home with you, and
applying it in
inappropriate ways
He dreads magnificently. After a lifetime of worrying, he can now conjure up threatening, yet plausible, scenarios based on almost no real information, a talent that makes him a valuable member of any risk management team. And he pays a high price for it personally.

  • You fret endlessly about things that you cannot prevent, avoid, or influence.
  • You obsess about being late, even when you know that everyone else will be late, too.
  • You worry about whether you worry too much or enough.
  • When you aren't worrying enough, you downshift to a lower fear.
  • Even when things are going well, you worry: "Something bad is coming, I just know it."

If anticipating problems is part of your job, you risk carrying that pattern of thinking home with you, and applying it in inappropriate ways. Dread turns joyous and fun experiences into painful burdens. Here are some tips for getting off your dreadmill.

  • Acknowledge the value of worry. It helps you anticipate trouble and plan for it.
  • Track the effectiveness of your worrying. Is it worth the effort?
  • Track the time you spend worrying. Become aware of how much a part of your life worrying has become.
  • Track the time you spend fantasizing about wonderful things. If it's a lot less than your worry time, spend more time at it.
  • Hang a picture of Mark Twain on your wall with this quote: "I have been through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened."

As I write these little essays, I sometimes worry about finding an ending that's just right. Sometimes I can't. It's OK. Go to top Top  Next issue: Snapshots of Squirming Subjects  Next Issue

Rick BrennerThe article you've been reading is an archived issue of Point Lookout, my weekly newsletter. I've been publishing it since January, 2001, free to all subscribers, over the Web, and via RSS. You can help keep it free by donating either as an individual or as an organization. You'll receive in return my sincere thanks — and the comfort of knowing that you've helped to propagate insights and perspectives that can help make our workplaces a little more human-friendly. More

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September 11, 2001 attacks in New York CityComing August 23: Look Where You Aren't Looking
Being blindsided by an adverse event could indicate the event's sudden, unexpected development. It can also indicate a failure to anticipate what could have been reasonably anticipated. How can we improve our ability to prepare for adverse events? Available here and by RSS on August 23.
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When we cannot resolve an issue in open debate, we sometimes try to explain the obstinacy of others. The explanations we favor can tell us more about ourselves than they do about others. Available here and by RSS on August 30.

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