Worry is a killer—over time it harms our health and emotional well-being. It doesn’t solve problems, nor does it make us better, faster, or more effective at anything. Yet studies have shown our capacity to worry evolved in tandem with our intelligence.
That means we’re going to worry.
So what do successful people do to manage their worry? Having assessed and coached many executives over the last decade, I’ve seen some great worry-management habits that are worth sharing. Here they are:
They Recognize That Worry is Optional and Manageable
If you believe worry is something that “happens to” you, and that you have little or no influence over it, then it will be an ongoing problem for your health and well-being. Worry is the product of each of our unique patterns of negative thinking that has become habitual over the years. Look at any baby and realize that chronic worry is not “original equipment.” When you recognize this, you discover that those patterns, like a document or spreadsheet, are subject to editing with some deliberate, sustained conscious efforts by you, as outlined in the suggestions that follow.
When a Worry Crops Up, They Catch it and “Give it the Day Off”
To manage worry, it’s important to catch it in the act and shine the light of your awareness on it. Worries are gremlins lurking in the darkness of our unawareness, freely doing their damage. That is until you flick on the light of your attention, as in “Oh, I’m worrying about presenting at that meeting again.” You can then take a few deep breaths and address the worry directly: “I’m giving my worry about presenting at that meeting the rest of the day off.” This usually does the trick, and repeated over time, can help with the pattern of worrying about presenting, for example.
They “Get” Their Unique Pattern of Worry
We tend to worry about certain types of things and not others. Our worry patterns are as unique as fingerprints—maybe you worry about conflicts, health, making mistakes, presenting, etc. Pay attention to yours and you will see your own patterns; the better you know them, the better you can manage them. The very fact that you worry about A types of things, and not B types of things is further proof that worrying is optional.
They Get Enough Rest
Rest is important in so many ways for health and well-being, including managing worry. Yet we are an under-rested, hyper-connected global society of 24/7. Being less rested amplifies worries. I notice I worry more when I’m tired. Because it’s impossible to avoid days when we lack rest, it’s good to remember that our worries on those days may be higher than normal. I’ve learned to tell myself when I’m tired-worrying that “Oh, I’m worrying because I’m tired, so I’m calling a time out to the worry until I rest.” Get your rest!
They Dismiss Worry’s Potential Positive Value
If you think your worries keep you sharp, motivated, or productive, join the club—that’s a huge reason people hang on to worrying behaviors even though they know better. I’ve heard it from my executive coaching clients. Successful leaders realize that they didn’t get there because of their worry, but despite it, and decide at some point that worry is simply more trouble than it’s worth.
They Develop Their Own Ways to Manage It
For some, mindfulness meditation, exercise, or other zen-like activities work best. For others, keeping track of worries in their journal is the key. Some even limit their worry to a specific block of time each week, and dismiss it at all other times. The point here is that successful people take worry-management seriously, and develop healthy habits in terms of how they manage it—ones that fit their personality and style.
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Take your worry management seriously (but don't worry too much about it!). It’s important that you recognize how much of your time you spend worrying, and the extent to which you let your worries manage you, versus you manage them, and use these suggestions to minimize your worries, which can’t help but improve your health and well-being.