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."
He 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 waysHe 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.
- He frets endlessly about things he cannot prevent, avoid, or influence.
- He obsesses about being late, even when he knows that everyone else will be late, too.
- He worries about whether he worries too much or enough.
- When he isn't worrying enough, he downshifts to a lower fear.
- Even when things are going well, he worries: "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."
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More articles on Emotions at Work:
- The Tweaking CC
- When did you last receive an email message with a "tweaking CC"? Probably yesterday. A tweaking
CC is usually a CC to your boss or possibly the entire known universe, designed to create pressure by
exposing embarrassing information.
- Coping with Problems
- How we cope with problems is a choice. When we choose our coping style, we help determine our ability
to address the problems we face. Of eight styles we can identify, only one is universally constructive,
and we rarely use it.
- Social Safety Margins
- As our personal workloads increase, we endure more stress and more time pressure. Inevitably, we have
less time for the social niceties that protect us from accidentally hurting each other's feelings. When
are we most at risk of incidental harm, and what can we do about it?
- Coercion by Presupposition
- Coercion, physical or psychological, has no place in the workplace. Yet we see it and experience it
frequently. We can end the use of presupposition as a tool of coercion, but only if we take personal
responsibility for ending it.
- Managing Hindsight Bias Risk
- Performance appraisal practices and project retrospectives both rely on evaluating performance after
outcomes are known. Unfortunately, a well-known bias — hindsight bias — can limit the effectiveness
of many organizational processes, including both performance appraisal and project retrospectives.
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on August 29: Please Reassure Them
- When things go wildly wrong, someone is usually designated to investigate and assess the probability of further trouble. That role can be risky. Here are three guidelines for protecting yourself if that role falls to you. Available here and by RSS on August 29.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.
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