Have you ever found yourself trying to get some work done when something is worrying you? Often you get caught in a loop of “worry a little, work a little, worry a little …” This means your work is constantly being interrupted with worry. The work is not getting done very well, and the worry is not getting resolved either. What to do?
The answer is to stop work and… worry. That is, have a productive worrying session. A productive worrying session is when you can either clarify what the real problem is and figure out an acceptable solution to it, or you can make enough progress on identifying the problem that you can park the worry and deal with it at a later time.
How to Worry Productively
#1. Allow yourself at least 15 minutes.
#2. Sit erect but relaxed; close your eyes and let yourself become aware of what you are experiencing right now. Acknowledge your thoughts as just thoughts. Whatever you are saying to yourself is not real; it is just your thoughts as they come to mind. Recognize and acknowledge any unpleasant feelings, accept their presence. Notice any tightness or tension in your body.
#3. Now focus on your breath. Feel your breath as you breathe in; follow your breath as you breathe out. Continue to focus on your breath, all the way in and all the way out. Be present with yourself and your breath.
#4. Expand your awareness to your whole body, your sense of yourself in this present moment, breathe into and release any tension in your body.
#5. Choose one or two of the statements below to repeat to yourself while you work on the problem:
I can handle this.
- I prefer to ………. (more rational than saying “I should/must”)
- I am competent at my job.
- I prefer he/she would ….. (more rational than saying “he/she should/must”)
- This problem is not terrible; it’s just annoying and perhaps disappointing.
- I have dealt with difficult situations in the past and I can deal with this.
#6. Grab a piece of lined paper and print numbers 1 to 10 on the left-hand side, leaving a line between each numbered line. Then using your best handwriting (typing does not work nearly as well) write out the phrase “The real problem is…..” and finish with whatever words come to mind that define the problem for you. Now go to line 2, and write out the phrase “The real problem is ….”, finishing with a different way of defining the problem. Repeat this 8 more times. When you are finished, you’ll have 10 different ways of defining the problem. By handwriting the whole phrase out repeatedly, the pace of your moving hand helps the creative, innovative side of your brain think more deeply while it focuses completely on figuring out what the real problem is for you.
#7. When you have written 10 definitions of the problem (and you will find the definitions can change quite markedly), read over each definition and choose the one that best defines the real problem.
#8. Next answer these 2 questions:
- Do I have enough information to proceed and, if not, where can I get more information?
- What might be the underlying causes of this problem?
#9. You may decide that you have done enough productive worrying to move the problem forward, you can set a time to finish it later, and you can return to work.
#10. If you prefer to keep working on the problem, the next step is to brainstorm all possible solutions. You can do this by yourself, with others, and/or with internet searches.
- Ask “what if” questions.
- Can you break any rules you have given yourself?
- Ask how other people would handle a problem like this.
- Where else can you look for ideas?
#11. Evaluate and select the best 2 alternatives based on your knowledge and experience. This process will gradually introduce criteria based on time, resources, approval, finances/budget, and so on.
#12. Plan for contingencies. Continue your discussion and planning to establish:
- What could go wrong with each alternative?
- How likely is it that this will happen?
- How serious would the outcome be?
Now make it happen. Choose the alternative solution most likely to work best. Plan, implement and monitor the solution chosen.