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:
- Unintended Consequences
- Sometimes, when we solve problems, the solutions create new problems that can be worse than the problems
we solve. Why does this happen? How can we limit this effect?
- Sixteen Overload Haiku
- Most of us have some experience of being overloaded and overworked. Many of us have forgotten what it
is not to be overloaded. Here's a contemplation of the state of overload.
- Good Change, Bad Change: I
- Change is all around. Some changes are welcome and some not, but when we distinguish good change from
bad, we often get it wrong. Why?
- Dealing with Deniable Intimidation
- Some people use intimidation so stealthily that only their targets recognize the behavior as abusive
or intimidating. Targets are often so frustrated, angered, and confused that they cannot find suitable
- Getting Value from Involuntary Seminars
- Whatever your organizational role, from time to time you might find yourself attending seminars or presentations
involuntarily. The value you derive from these "opportunities" depends as much on you as on
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 7: Reaching Agreements in Technological Contexts
- Reaching consensus in technological contexts presents special challenges. Problems can arise from interactions between the technological elements of the issue at hand, and the social dynamics of the group addressing that issue. Here are three examples. Available here and by RSS on December 7.
- And on December 14: Straw Man Variants
- The straw man fallacy is a famous rhetorical fallacy. Using it distorts debate and can lead groups to reach faulty conclusions. It's ad readily recognized, but it has some variants that are more difficult to spot. When unnoticed, trouble looms. Available here and by RSS on December 14.
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