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 Fallacy of the False Cause
- Although we sometimes make decisions with incomplete information, we do the best we can, given what
we know. Sometimes, we make wrong decisions not because we have incomplete information, but because
we make mistakes in how we reason about the information we do have.
- Are You Taking on the Full Load?
- Taking on the full load is what we do when we feel fully responsible for either the success or the failure
of some organizational activity. Instead of asking for help, we take extreme measures to execute responsibilities
that might not even be ours.
- Hot and Cold Running People
- Do you consider yourself a body linguist? Can you tell what people are thinking just by looking at gestures
and postures? Think again. Body language is much more complex and ambiguous than many would have us believe.
- Are You Micromanaging Yourself?
- Feeling distrusted and undervalued, we often attribute the problem to the behavior of others —
to the micromanager who might be mistreating us. We tend not to examine our own contributions to the
difficulty. Are you micromanaging yourself?
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions
that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive
bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 17: Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern. Available here and by RSS on October 17.
- And on October 24: Conversation Irritants: I
- Conversations at work can be frustrating even when everyone tries to be polite, clear, and unambiguous. But some people actually try to be nasty, unclear, and ambiguous. Here's Part I of a small collection of their techniques. Available here and by RSS on October 24.
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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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