A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on decision-making here on the blog, and I was reminded of that recently when I read the following quote about worrying:
“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”
― Erma Bombeck
These words were penned by Erma Bombeck, an American humorist, whose syndicated columns were read twice-weekly in the 1970s by 30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada. Even though Erma’s columns were written primarily from the perspective of a midwestern suburban housewife, this particular adage carries sage advice for leaders.
Leadership is a non-stop journey of dealing with issues, some everyday problems, others full-blown crises. This constant barrage of concerns, complications and quarrels can leave many a leader anxious, uneasy and constantly worried … about what went wrong, what is wrong, and what could go wrong. And even worse is when these very same leaders fool themselves into thinking that worrying is actually doing “something” about the issues at hand. It isn’t.
Stop worrying, do this instead
So instead of worrying, consider this two alternative (and more constructive) strategies.
- Catch and stop yourself when you fall into the “What if …” trap. It can be very easy to think up situations that “might” happen, but in reality are quite unlikely, and it’s a waste of mental and emotional energy. At times like these, it’s worth summoning Ockham’s Razor, a 14th century scientific principle that, roughly translated, states: All other things being equal, the solution with the least number of assumptions is the best. In other words, the simplest outcome with the fewest number of conjectures is the most likely to occur. So concentrate on those options instead of the myriad of improbable possibilities.
- Focus on a systematic approach to problem-solving. One of the most useful approaches I utilize consistently (and successfully) has four simple steps:
- Define the goal – what is my objective or desired outcome?
- Brainstorm at least two, but preferably three options – what can I do to achieve my desired objective?
- Evaluate the options – what are the consequences of each option?
- Make the decision – choose the option that results in the most future choices of action.
What are your strategies to combat worrying? I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to make sure that worrying doesn’t hinder your ability to solve problems and make good decisions. Please share your thoughts below.