What is the Point of Your Worry?

awareness focus worry Oct 05, 2021

     We had an issue as we closed one of the production departments. The processes used hazardous materials and we had to be very careful to dispose of them properly. There was a treatment system in place that got overloaded, so we had to stop and figure out what to do.

    As I walked into the meeting to figure out our game plan I looked around the room. Michelle was sitting at the table wringing her hands and lamenting the situation. She was responsible for the treatment process while I was responsible for the operations of the department. The error was on my end, the piping did not go where I thought it did, so we ended up with too much material to treat properly.

    We had to come up with a plan for fixing it and safely disposing of all the materials. Bill had previously worked with the treatment process and was the one who figured out what had happened. Michelle was paralyzed worrying about what would happen, how much trouble could she be in, and couldn’t think beyond the error.

    Bill and I brainstormed ideas to deal with the situation, came up with a workable plan and got to work. We were able to make a few changes and then process all the materials and get the department closed without any further issues. Fortunately, the error had created only a minor blip in things so there were no consequences to the incident.

     This was the first time I had seen someone paralyzed by fear in a professional setting. To this day I’m still stunned that someone as smart and capable as Michelle was worrying about repercussions so much that she couldn’t act to help resolve the issue. Believe me, I was worried walking into that meeting as I was the one who dictated the process we were following to close everything. However, worrying wasn’t going to fix it or get everything else done.

     Here are my 3 favorite tips to make sure your worry has a valid point:

  1. Get real. When your brain starts up with all the worst-case scenarios, pause and consider what are the real possibilities. In the situation above, Michelle wasn’t going to get fired, she wasn’t going to be disciplined in any way, nor were there any damages to the company. She got trapped in all the “what-ifs” that weren’t real. Focus on what you know is fact, not what might happen. Keep it real.
  2. Shift your focus. Look at what’s next not what if. When you stop and look at what you can do to move forward you stop the paralyzing effects of worry. Ask yourself, and others, questions about how to resolve any issues, how to move forward, what can we do next, etc. Getting your thinking brain (neo-cortex) involved will shutdown the emotional response generated by worry.
  3. Identify the warning. Often when I find myself worrying about a situation it’s because my brain is warning me about a risk that I haven’t fully recognized. Worry can be a great prompt that there is something to pay attention to before you proceed. Take a hard look at what you may be missing, ask questions to get there, and you will find ways to deal with the risks.

     There will always be situations that worry us. That’s normal, we can’t see what will happen in the future so we will worry. However, worry doesn’t have to stop you from acting. Instead of giving into the fear that feeds worry, use worry to find issues that concern you so you can address them. Once you address the concerns you will be in a better place to move forward successfully.  


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