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Don't fight until you are in the ring

Do you spend a lot of energy worrying about all of the possible things that could go wrong with a given situation... only to find that those things almost never happen?

Does it drive you crazy, and keep you from truly enjoying yourself?

If you are like most people, this sort of thing happens all the time. For example, a client of mine, Dana, was recently told by her boss that he wanted to have a meeting with her. How did Dana respond? She got worried. There had been rumors of the company downsizing… was she going to be laid off? Was he going to tell her that she did a terrible job on the client presentation last week, and he was removing her from the project?

Dana's head was racing. She started thinking of how terrible it would be to lose her job. The job market was tough and what if she couldn’t find a new job? How could she afford her rent? Would she have to take a job in a new city that she didn’t want to live in?

Before the day was out, Dana was already mentally preparing to move to Boise, Idaho to take a low-paying job that she didn’t even want!When she finally went to that meeting with her boss, emotionally exhausted and bracing herself, she found that her boss actually wanted to promote her! He offered her a spot on an elite project that was important to the future of the company. Dana felt relieved, and a bit foolish for assuming the worst.

The moral of the story is simple: don’t fight until you are in the ring.

You shouldn’t battle a problem until you are face-to-face with it, like two boxers facing each other in a ring. As any boxer would tell you, no matter how clever you think you are, you usually can’t predict how things are going to play out in the ring. If you start mentally fighting your opponent before you enter the ring:

  • you end up emotionally exhausted.

  • you treat those involved as if they are already your adversaries, which alienates them and actually might eventually cause them to become your adversaries.

  • you can’t be responsive to the actual situation at hand.

The solution, then, is to be present in the moment, responding to what happens instead of what you predict will happen.

Here are a few quick steps that, if practiced, can help you do this:

1. Know what worry feels like

A pit in your stomach, an inability to concentrate on anything else, a sense of doom… what does “worry” feel like to you? Pay attention, and you will have the answer. Pay even more attention, and you will start to notice when those feelings appear. This is crucial. If you can notice when you are in a worry storm, you can then do something about it.

2. Ask yourself “is this the truth… or my overly-active imagination?”

In Dana’s case, she didn’t really know why her boss requested the meeting. Sure, there were rumors of downsizing in the company, but the rest was her imagination. Admitting that you are being a creative daydreamer (or day-nightmare-er!) on a negative imagination bender helps you see the situation more objectively.

3. Imagine a different possible outcome

You now see that your worries come mostly from your imagination… so what is stopping you from imagining something better? Think of one positive outcome that could happen instead. For example, Dana could have imagined that her boss was going to tell her how pleased he was with her work. Which, incidentally, was what actually happened.

4. Practice Step #3

Each time you feel the same old worry come back, stop and imagine a positive outcome. It may seem unnatural at first. Stick with it. As you get better and better, you will find that it’s actually, *gasp*, fun!

Note that I am not saying that you should live in a fantasyland, or not be prepared for a variety of outcomes in life. It’s a good idea to have some extra money saved and a sense of what you would do if your boss fired you today. But it is tremendously wasteful to spend vast amounts of time and energy solving imaginary problems that will never happen. Spend that energy instead solving problems you DO have!

Where in your life are you bracing for something bad to happen? Your upcoming presentation this week? A difficult conversation you need to have with your partner? Your trip home to see your mother?

Write me a note and share, and I will help you figure out how to curb your worrying!


Image courtesy of Peter Gordon

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