Cary*, a patent attorney in New York, was having a bad week. At our coaching session, he told me that one of the firm’s partners – the one who was feeding him most of his assignments – had been visited by the IRS and was being audited. Insecure about his standing at the firm, Cary worried that this would put the partner out of commission, the flow of work would stop and he wouldn’t be able to make his quota of billable hours.
When I asked Cary about the situation at our coaching session a week later, I had to remind him what I was referring to – he had forgotten all about the incident! The potential “catastrophe” that was going to get him fired had turned out to be a non-event (at least for Cary). Another partner at the firm had picked up the slack and was sending him a stream of work.
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How many things that you worried about this past year actually happened? Most likely, not many. A famous 1990 study by researchers at the University of Cincinnati found that a whopping 85% of the things we worry about never happen. (And it’s not because we prevented them by worrying.)
If you’re looking to make better use of your time and energy, cutting down on worry and other negative emotions like regret, guilt and shame is an excellent place to start. These emotions, though normal, are learned behaviors and serve no positive function: They’re energy vampires.
In the same way that our computer slows down when we have 17 programs and three browsers running, undercurrents of worry and regret – Why didn’t I speak up in the meeting! How am I going to get this all done? – deplete our mental energy
So how can you zap these energy-wasters? Here’s a three-step plan:
Play Concentration Raising awareness is the first step. Start to identify the telltale signs that your concentration is derailed: distractedness, queasy stomach, fingernail chewing. Or, it could just be the increasing volume of the yammering voice in your head replaying a scenario over and over in an endless loop.
Worry by Appointment Let’s be real: you’re not going to eliminate worry or regret completely. What you can do, however, is minimize their impact by limiting the amount of time you allow yourself to indulge. Schedule a time -- say, 3:15 in the afternoon, like Cary does -- when you simply sit and give your full attention to the “what-ifs,” “should-haves” and worst-case scenarios. Rather than trying to resist your thoughts (which, as you know, doesn’t work), you’re simply postponing them until appointment time – which allows your mind to relax and become less insistent.
See also: When the Worst Happens
Pull Out Some Paper Now, start bullet-pointing what’s causing your angst. Putting thoughts to paper (or screen) is powerful because it frees up valuable brainpower for processing, not storing, information. Once your worries are in writing, you can look at each item and ask: “Is this something I can control or change?” If not, train yourself to let it go; you no longer have to think about it. If it is within your control, then ask: “What’s one action I can take?”
Wallowing, ruminating, fretting – they’re all energy-sucking activities. The sooner you bring these vampires into the light, the sooner you can move into action.
* a pseudonym
Renita Kalhorn is a performance strategist and founder of Step Up Your Game Now. She provides mental toughness and resilience training to small business owners, entrepreneurs and Navy SEAL candidates.
Photo credit: Ryan McGinnis/Getty Images