2020/2021 – the year worry went viral. So how can we eliminate unproductive worry?

For most of us, the global pandemic means re-evaluating our priorities, adapting to a period of change and working flexibly while experiencing tighter rules and restrictions in other areas of our lives.

Situations like these make us think, act and behave differently. This one gives rise to feelings of vulnerability and fear. Will I get coronavirus? Are my family at risk? Will I lose my job? When is this all going to end?

Worrying is part of being human.

Pandemic aside, it’s natural to feel worried at key moments and significant events – job interviews, crucial tests, important social occasions, births, deaths and marriages.

What’s the difference between productive and unproductive worry?

Productive worry

  • Helps you solve a problem or resolve a situation
  • Is not overwhelmed by emotion
  • Doesn’t last long

Unproductive worry

  • Revisits and plays out previous negative experiences
  • Saps energy and can lead to stress and depression
  • Tends only to accept perfect – and unrealistic – solutions to a problem

Constructive or productive worry helps us think about real threats and how to reduce them. It’s about finding ways to change the things that you can. There is purpose, an outcome, a result and an ending. Activity breeds positivity, taking out the chance of failure or negativity.

Unproductive worry just causes you to mull a problem over without creating a solution.

Apply this to your career, and you can use productive worry to engineer a positive outcome. Preparing thoroughly for an interview, updating your LinkedIn profile, getting sound advice on changing career and trying something new, it’s a way of bringing back some balance and control into your life.

With productive worrying, you can change the consequences by taking action. You care about the outcome and you’re invested emotionally in the result.

‘‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing” – Walt Disney

Focus on what you CAN control and influence. The Dalai Lama summed up this mindset perfectly: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.” Or in other words: “Worry is the interest you pay on a debt you may not owe.” – Keith Caserta

unproductive worry

So what’s the best way to eliminate unproductive worry?

  • Don’t catastrophise

Scientists have found that our tendency to focus more on negative thoughts than positive ones may be an involuntary cognitive process. It is something that is hardwired into our evolution as a sort of protection against the worst. We convince ourselves to delay dealing with the problem which stops us having to confront reality. Yet doing this only postpones the confrontation.

  • Redirect this energy into something more positive, productive and proactive

Do this by physically moving away from what’s on your mind. Channel the energy you feel about the situation into something positive. A gym session, a walk in the woods, yoga. Use your sense of sight, smell, touch, hearing, and taste to force your brain to focus on the here and now. Some people find it useful to schedule a ten min worry break in their day. This way, it limits the amount of energy it saps and doesn’t consume you for the rest of the day.

  • Finally, remind yourself that most of the things you worried about a year ago don’t matter today.

“Worrying gets you nowhere. If you turn up worrying about how you’re going to perform, you’ve already lost’ – Usain Bolt

Let’s take an example that many of us may recognise – interview rejection.

Handling rejection doesn’t come easily. It can eat away at your confidence and negatively affect your future performance. Flip this around, and it looks a little different. Think of it this way:

  • You didn’t fail. Someone else was a better fit on this occasion. You can only do your best. It’s not personal. Practice makes perfect. Ask us about how we can support you with role play, proven tips and techniques and coaching.
  • You are not static. Update your CV to suit each opportunity. Research, prepare and learn from past experience. Hone your skills with extra training or spend a few hours volunteering to keep your offer fresh and exciting.
  • You can only control so much. Investing energy in making yourself the best version you can be will never be wasted: this extends to how you define your priorities in terms of a career.

Let’s end on a positive note.

Research by Dr Robert Leahy tells us that 85% of the things we worry about have a positive or neutral outcome. Of the 15% that have a negative outcome, 80% of people said they handled the situation much better than they thought they would.

As part of our series of weekly Career Refinery webinars, we’ll be covering ways to help you get rid of unproductive worry by understanding and defining your values and priorities. Our specialist team can offer a sounding board to spur you into action, to identify and then pursue your most fulfilling career. For more details, call us on +44(0)20 7100 6656 or get in touch.