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

Working Out on Your Dreadmill

by

Many of us are experts in risk analysis and risk management. Even the nonspecialists 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.

  • 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."

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

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Emotions at Work:

The wreckage of the Silver Bridge across the Ohio RiverHyper-Super-Overwork
The prevalence of overwork has increased with the depth of the global recession, in part because employers are demanding more, and in part because many must now work longer hours to make ends a little closer to meeting. Overwork is dangerous. Here are some suggestions for dealing with it.
A Canada Goose nestingBig Egos and Other Misconceptions
We often describe someone who arrogantly breezes through life with swagger and evident disregard for others as having a "big ego." Maybe so. And maybe not. Let's have a closer look.
Gachi Fernandez and Sergio Cortazzo, professional tango coupleScope Creep, Hot Hands, and the Illusion of Control
Despite our awareness of scope creep's dangerous effects on projects and other efforts, we seem unable to prevent it. Two cognitive biases — the "hot hand fallacy" and "the illusion of control" — might provide explanations.
An artist's conception of a planetary accretion diskWhy Scope Expands: II
The scope of an effort underway tends to expand over time. Why do scopes not contract just as often? One cause might be cognitive biases that make us more receptive to expansion than contraction.
A large audience listening to a speakerGetting 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 the presenter.

See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

The iconic image of cyber code, as popularized in the film The MatrixComing January 26: Cyber Rumors in Organizations
Rumor management practices in organizations haven't kept up with rumor propagation technology. Rumors that propagate by digital means — cyber rumors — have longer lifetimes, spread faster, are more credible, and are better able to reinforce each other. Available here and by RSS on January 26.
Children playing a computer gameAnd on February 2: The Risk of Astonishing Success
When we experience success, we're more likely to develop overconfidence. And when the success is so extreme as to induce astonishment, we become even more vulnerable to overconfidence. It's a real risk of success that must be managed. Available here and by RSS on February 2.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenEQuetChPjwYBDxmgner@ChacxXTxBssoFmfDfMugoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power

Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Bullet Points: Mastery or Madness?

DecisBullet Point Madnession makers in modern organizations commonly demand briefings in the form of bullet points or a series of series of bullet points. But this form of presentation has limited value for complex decisions. We need something more. We actually need to think. Briefers who combine the bullet-point format with a variety of persuasion techniques can mislead decision makers, guiding them into making poor decisions. Read more about this program.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Technical Debt for Policymakers BlogMy blog, Technical Debt for Policymakers, offers resources, insights, and conversations of interest to policymakers who are concerned with managing technical debt within their organizations. Get the millstone of technical debt off the neck of your organization!
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
Reader Comments About My Newsletter
A sampling:
  • Your stuff is brilliant! Thank you!
  • You and Scott Adams both secretly work here, right?
  • I really enjoy my weekly newsletters. I appreciate the quick read.
  • A sort of Dr. Phil for Management!
  • …extremely accurate, inspiring and applicable to day-to-day … invaluable.
  • More
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.
If your teams don't yet consistently achieve state-of-the-art teamwork, check out this catalog. Help is just a few clicks/taps away!