My title is from Alexis Carrel, the 1912 Nobel Prize winner in Medicine. While his warning was made a century ago, the message remains true: Worrying is not healthy. Sadly, in my work at TAG Cyber as an advisor to cyber security vendors, and as a coach to enterprise security managers, I find that worry is a far-too-common issue. Even in cases where worry is virtually debilitating, many are not willing to admit that a problem exists.
As a lifelong hyper-worrier, I know from personal experience that controlling this habit (and yes, it is a habit) is easier said than done. I’d also submit that people in my line of work, cyber security, can argue that severe cases of worry are justified. Nation states, for instance, can breach enterprise defenses like scissors through police tape, so any rational person being asked to stop the unstoppable perhaps should be worried.
Furthermore, modern business people have much more data to process than previous generations, and this contributes to the worry habit. You might, for instance, be having a nice day only to hear that a child in some remote state has gone missing. Or maybe you are a Boomer with aging parents who require care. Or maybe you have three jobs (compared to one job five years ago), but you earn less salary now than before.
And yet, return your attention to the title of this article: Even when your rational mind suggests that worry is unavoidable, you must learn to fight back. Because if you do not learn to fight the habit of worry – well, I’ll let you fill in the blanks of what might happen. So please read on as I share three of the best ways I’ve seen modern business people who are just like you fight worry. Hopefully, at least one method will resonate:
Keep a Worry Journal. Don’t laugh, I’m serious: Many people (including me) keep a Worry Journal. Here is how it’s done: When you find that you are worried about some issue – whether business, personal, medical, or otherwise – take a moment to jot down a description of this worrisome issue on a piece of paper. Write down exactly what you are worried about, and then set the paper away in a private area of your desk or office.
Now, wait a period of time – say, weeks or months, and go back to the paper. Read what you wrote, and ponder what’s happened since. It’s been my experience, and the experience of many business people I discuss this method with, that the issue usually resolves. Sure, some problems are nagging, but more often than not, you will find that your listed worries almost never (if ever) hit the worst case that you’d been fearing.
Compute the Actual Odds. Humans are terrible at computing risk odds. For example, I know that my stomach fills with many more worry-butterflies when I’m flying through turbulence (which is safe) than when I stroll across Delancey Street while texting on my iPhone (which is incredibly unsafe). So sometimes, it just helps to take a moment to compute the true odds of this thing we are concerned about. The results can be calming.
My experience has been that 99% of the things I’ve wasted time worrying about never came true. These have included every possible business disaster, every possible financial catastrophe, every possible life-threatening disease, and every possible global catastrophe. These are familiar entries in my Worry Journal, and I chuckle when I read many of them now. (When you can chuckle about worries, you’re on the right track.)
Get the Facts and Act Accordingly. This may be the best method of all – and it matches well with the reasonable, fact-based nature of many business people. If you have the facts, then in most cases, this crazy thing that you are worried about, and it is often financial, will have an obvious solution. Sure, the solution might not be fun – such as tightening the budget – but having the facts highlights the best course of action.
When you have the facts, whether in business or personal life, then most of the context switching in your brain, so characteristic of the OMG-what-if nature of worrying, will disappear. If the path forward is obvious, then you can set your focus on doing what you must do – and not waste time with the wild back-and-forth swings of emotion that come with not knowing what in the world you must do, or even why.
Now, I understand that the title of this article might not inspire the calm, thoughtful reasoning required to fight worry. In fact, my pointing to death as a consequence might stem from years of using FUD to increase my security budget (ahem). But the truth is that the result of not learning to fight this habit of worry can be severe. And if this fact itself worries you, then take out that piece of paper and start writing.
Let us know in the comments section if you have other personal techniques that you use to deal with worry in your business or personal life. Remember that someone reading this might resonate with your method – and yes, it is possible that you could be saving their life. Really. So please don’t take this task lightly: Share your best fight-worry experiences with all of us. I look forward to hearing from you.