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Don't worry, be happy

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Thinking about things before you do them is, generally, a smart approach to take. But, as with most things, it's useful to strike an appropriate balance, and it is easily possible to think too much.

For the purposes of this article, I want to separate "thinking too much" into a couple of different categories, because I believe that the appropriate responses to each are rather different as well. My confession is that I do tend to be guilty of the first category, but rarely in the second, but I've recently been working with someone for whom the second category is the primary challenge.

"Off the job" worrying

I'm going to define "off the job" worrying along the lines of acute rather than chronic pain. It's a type of worry that doesn't happen all the time, isn't aways there, but, when it does kick in, it tends to be rather all-consuming.

The greatest danger with this type of worry is that avoidance might become the strategy for avoiding it. Just as someone who suffers acute pain from having a tooth pulled may avoid going to the dentist, someone who has "off the job" worry about their future may avoid making plans.

Solutions to this type of worry are very similar to the solutions that would help with getting someone to the dentist, and might include:

All of these things are far easier to write down than actually do, but writing down a plan of action to deal with the "off the job" worry is a great first step - the process of writing the plan, and seeing it written down, often makes it appear much more manageable.

"On the job" worrying

"On the job" worrying is the chronic pain versus the perhaps more acute pain of "off the job" worrying. It's ongoing; it happens nearly all the time (in particular situations and circumstances); and it distracts you from doing your job and detracts from your performance.

The most significant contributing factor to this type of worry is a lack of confidence: the sufferer is likely to be concerned about what colleagues, customers and/or suppliers think of them; concerned about their knowledge and ability; and concerned about expectations around their performance (their own expectations as well as those of others).

In some cases, this can be relatively easy to cure. If the "on the job" worrying is literally only happening at work (or in one simply defined area), then training, coaching, support and encouragement in that specific area can be of enormous benefit. Knowledge can be given; skills can be trained. Once the gap is identified, it can be filled.

In more tricky cases however, the confidence issue is much, much more broadly based. In these cases, the "on the job" worrying will happen almost regardless of what the individual is doing - in many, many circumstances, part of their brain is being self-critical, self-analytical all the time, leaving very little room to actually get on with what is being done.

In these cases, it is essential to identify, and clearly map out (however small) the areas where confidence exists, and, slowly and steadily, build out from there. This type of worry is far more driven by attitude rather than knowledge or skill gaps, and therefore is both a more challenging, and more rewarding area to work in.


"Don't worry, be happy" is easier said than done, but then isn't that the case with most worthwhile goals? The only way to achieve it is to start...

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