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:
- The Slippery Slope That Isn't
- "If we promote you, we'll have to promote all of them, too." This "slippery-slope"
tactic for winning debates works by exploiting our fears. Another in a series about rhetorical tricks
that push our buttons.
- Self-Serving Bias in Organizations
- We all want to believe that we can rely on the good judgment of decision makers when they make decisions
that affect organizational performance. But they're human, and they are therefore subject to a cognitive
bias known as self-serving bias. Here's a look at what can happen.
- On Advice and Responsibility
- Being asked for advice can be an affirming experience, but actually giving advice can sometimes entail
risk. How can this happen, and what choices do we have?
- Quips That Work at Work: II
- Humor, used effectively, can defuse tense situations. Here's Part II of a set of guidelines for using
humor to defuse tension and bring confrontations, meetings, and conversations back to a place where
thinking can resume.
- Patterns of Conflict Escalation: I
- Toxic workplace conflicts often begin as simple disagreements. Many then evolve into intensely toxic
conflict following recognizable patterns.
See also Emotions at Work for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- When manipulators try to manipulate others, they're attempting to unscrupulously influence their targets to decide or act in some way the manipulators prefer. But some targets manage to outwit their manipulators. Available here and by RSS on November 29.
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- Most of what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:
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- Many people 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.
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