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Managing Worry: Productivity Tips for High Achievers Who Worry


Are you a worrier? Do you frequently spend time and energy worrying about your finances, your children, your career, world politics? Worry can be a highly useful, brilliantly engineered cue to action or a useless and destructive energy drain. The challenge is to decide which it is, on a case-by-case basis, and manage yourself accordingly.

Here is a quick and dirty, but highly effective way to manage your worrying habit.

1. Learn to recognize when you are worrying.

This takes practice. You may not recognize yourself worrying until you've been at a particular worry for days or weeks. But whether you catch yourself in the first minute or the first month, the most important step is recognizing the pattern. You can develop your "witness" over time and become more proficient in noticing when you are worrying.

2. Determine if something needs to be done.

Ask yourself, "Is the worry a cue to action?"

  • For example, if you are worried that your toddler will get lead paint poisoning from the lead paint on your windows, there is indeed something that needs to be done. You need to get the lead paint removed from your windows. And keep your child well supervised in the meantime.
  • If you don't know whether or not something needs to be done, find out. You need to get more information - THAT's what needs to happen.

3. If something needs to be done, get it done as soon as possible.

Often just deciding to take the action can loosen worry's grip on you. But it's critical that you follow through -- take that action as soon as it is feasible.

  • Call the state agency that deals with lead paint removal and get the names of contractors who do that kind of work. Get moving with hiring and scheduling a contractor. Call your pediatrician and get advice about how to protect your child during the removal process and follow up on every detail.

4. If nothing needs to be done, release the worry.

  • If the lead paint removal is scheduled, your child is adequately supervised, and you're following all of the pediatrician's instructions, there is nothing more to be done. Your job in this case is to re-focus your attention elsewhere.

For most people, relinquishing the worry is the hardest part. If you generally let worry run unchecked, you know that it's a very greedy energy that will take as much of your attention as you let it. It will reduce your effectiveness and productivity. Some serious boundary-setting with yourself is required here.

Experiment with the following strategy. In your mind, respond to the worry with something like this: "Thank you for sharing. I appreciate your concern (this is important). But there is nothing more to be done right now, so I'm going to stop thinking about this." Then get yourself to focus on something else - find something else compelling and engaging to think about. You might line up some contenders in advance. Just about anything that works for you will do.

Sooner or later, the worry will return. Repeat steps 1 through 4 as needed. This is an iterative process. Hang in!

Here is a short list of some of the worries that my clients have learned to deal with more effectively:

  • Personal finances. My client regularly pictured herself as a bag lady, penniless and homeless, despite her current (and past) circumstances, which were nothing of the sort. The action that was called for was to develop a strong and detailed financial plan with an expert.
  • Global warming. My client, a self-proclaimed "tree-hugger and dirt worshipper" was sick at heart and frequently anxious about global warming. The action called for was to get involved with conservation and political action organizations.
  • Career. For one of my clients who worried she was failing in her current job, the solution was to identify where she needed to improve her performance, and to get training in that arena. Another career-anxious client determined there was no action required. She learned to respond to the angst by listing for herself the ways she was effective in her work; this activity served to change her state of mind.

Do you need help figuring out whether a worry merits action or how to disarm a stubborn worry-habit? Invest in yourself and get the help you need. Coaching can make a difference. Contact me for an initial consultation at no charge.

Copyright, Sharon Teitelbaum, 2005.

Sharon Teitelbaum is a Work-Life and Career Coach who works with high achieving women with young children, people at mid-career, and professionals seeking greater career satisfaction or work-life balance. Her book, Getting Unstuck Without Coming Unglued: Restoring Work-Life Balance, is available at her website, http://www.STcoach.com.

Certified as a Professional Certified Coach (PCC), Sharon works by phone with clients around the world and in-person in Boston.

She delivers keynotes and workshops on work-life balance issues, has been in national publications including The New York Times and Working Mother Magazine, and has appeared on cable and network television. She publishes Strategies for Change, a newsletter offering practical tips for work-life success.

Sharon has been married for 30 years and is the mother of two amazing young women. You can contact her here.


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