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When I was younger, I used to think that my worry was super helpful. To me, it felt kind of like future-vision. I could see lots of things that might go wrong, and that perspective could help me prepare for them.
And sometimes it did help me, but other times my worry just spiraled and spiraled without adding any value at all.
What I didn't know then is that there's an important distinction that can help you tell if worry is playing a productive role or just trolling you and ruining your day.
Here's how to tell: is your worry actionable? Like, is there an action you could take, right now, to address this worry? If your worry is actionable, then there's something you can do. You don't have to do anything, of course, but it's available as an option. However, if your worry is not actionable, then there's actually nothing you can do, and it makes sense to dismiss the worry. Likewise, if your worry is actionable, but you decide not to take action, then the worry itself is no longer productive, and you might prefer to dismiss it (more on this in a minute).
Let's look at some examples.
If you're worried that an email you're writing isn't clear, you can ask a trusted colleague to review it. That worry is actionable because there's an actual action you can take to address the worry. Your colleague may have genius insights that can help you revise the email. Or your colleague might just say that it looks good, and then you know that at least one other person besides you understands what you're trying to say. Whatever your colleague says, they're just sharing their thoughts, but sometimes it's very helpful to talk things out with someone else, especially if you're trying to figure out whether your worry is useful or not.
If you're worried that you didn't perform well on a project, you can ask to do a post-mortem or discuss what happened with your manager so that you can learn from the experience. Worrying about your performance is pointless - in fact, it usually causes us to perform worse - but shifting that worry into a desire to improve can be incredibly beneficial. Usually, people have feedback for even the most high-achieving individuals, and creating space for that feedback can help you become even more of a high performer while also creating space for other people to share their opinions. One note here: just because someone shares their feedback with you does not mean you have to upload it to your brain. You still totally get to choose what to do with other people's thoughts about your performance. But when you see their feedback as *their thoughts* rather than a critique of you as a person, you might find that you like their ideas and want to incorporate them. And if not, it's not a big deal to just swipe left on their ideas. (Because when we don't take things personally, it's not as much work to just let them go, even if we don't like them.)
If you're worried that your beloved manager might leave your team, you do still have some actionable options, but really, the decision is out of your hands. You could choose to talk to your boss about your worries, or you could choose to let your boss do her own thing. Either way, this is a case where at some point, it would likely make sense to dismiss your worry.
Once we have come to the point where there's no action to take (or where we are choosing not to take action), worry is no longer useful or productive. It's just your brain spinning around and around without getting anywhere. If you are unfamiliar with getting out of the worry cycle, here's something for you to try. No matter what terrible thing your brain is telling you will happen, decide right now that you'll figure it out.
You send your email and no one understands it? That's ok, you'll figure out what to do next, and then you'll have experience handling an email snafu. You underperformed on that project? That's ok, you're going to figure out what went wrong and how to do better next time. Eventually, you'll be the office's go-to person on transformative growth and development. Your beloved boss did change teams after all? That's ok, you're going to figure out how to step up and be the leader your team needs.
What have you been worrying about? Is it actionable? What action will you take, today, to address it? Or are you ready to just dismiss that worry and send it packing?
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