The Art of Productive Worrying
Worry has a bad rap. It’s seen as this unproductive feeling that we have. When we worry about something, we are unnecessarily exposing ourself to the “what ifs”. But what if I told you that worrying CAN be productive? That learning how to address your worries can actually make you a more resilient person to life’s unfortunate events?
One of the core teachings of the school of philosophy stoicism is negative visualization. Just as the name implies, they encouraged their students to imagine worst case scenarios, to visualize a negative outcome.
The power of the is activity to two-fold.
One, it makes you incredibly grateful for what you have. For instance, when you imagine situations like a close family member dying, you can foster gratitude for the fact that they are still alive. This way of thinking allows you to appreciate what you do have.
Two, negative visualization makes you more resilient to unfortunate situations that do happen. I had noticed some odd behavior of an employee recently, and became concerned that they might be leaving. I didn’t stress out over it, but I did think about what that would look like if they didn’t show up to work. Within a week, I get a phone call from them informing me that they are taking another position. Other people were upset, but since I had already visualized that outcome in life, it allowed me to smile, nod, and move on.
Making Worry Productive
When you are worrying about something, stop and think about what the root of the matter is. If what you are worrying about is a fear of a bad outcome, negative visualization may be the best way to productively handle it.
Play out the scenario of your worry in your head. “If I lose my job and my financial situation becomes very difficult.” After stating what the worry is, then begin to play out what that means. In this case, that probably means applying for new jobs, pulling money out of savings, or maybe even relying on debt to pay the bills, filing for unemployment, etc.
After you walk through the exercise of negative visualization, you should think “wow, that would suck!” However, you might also find yourself grateful for what you do have now, the fact that you have a job. Just as importantly, you’ll also be better emotionally equipped to handle that job loss if it does actually unfold. You know that it would suck, but since you visualized it, the unknown isn’t as scary.
So next time you catch yourself worrying, be sure to make it productive.