Worrying – from wasteful to useful

I was 6 months pregnant when the panic attacks began. Finally, we were having a baby – after almost five years of trying. Shouldn’t I have been on cloud nine? Instead, my head was filled with constant worrying:

  • How will I protect her?
  • How will I provide for her?
  • Will I be a good mother?

Once she arrived in the world, it wasn’t long before new fears surfaced.

  • Will she be emotionally damaged if I go back to work so early?
  • Will she get respiratory illnesses from the damp in the house?
  • Will these (imaginary) respiratory illnesses make her more vulnerable while she’s in care?
  • What if she inhales the kitty litter (seriously).

The fear and worrying became overwhelming at times – coupled with sleep deprivation I felt like a total hot mess.

But at some point I slapped myself about the face a few times and came to my senses, because it was so stupid!

All these years I’ve been working with teams and finding myself reiterating the same message:

  1. Focus on what you can control
  2. Take action on those things
  3. Forget the rest.

Yet here I was indulging myself in any and every worry that I could possibly entertain.


Worrying without action is waste

In the spirit of the Leveraged Mama, we like to put our time and money where we will get maximum returns on it.

When we spend time worrying about things we can’t control, we waste our precious energy.

When we worry about things we can control but we don’t do anything about them, we waste our precious energy.

I took a leaf out of my own book, and started practicing what I preached – it’s a really simple process that can give you back hours of wasted time and energy, and ensure you’re taking action of the stuff that you can change, and not wasting time on the things can’t control.

Using this simple technique, you can learn to easily turn wasted worrying into actions that will be rewarded.

Next time you feel overwhelmed or exhausted by your own worrying, try this.

Name your fears

Take a bunch of sticky notes or scraps of paper, and write down each of your worries or fears.

The Sphere of Control

Then categorise them as follows:

  1. Things I can directly control
  2. Things I can’t directly control but I can influence
  3. Things I can neither control nor influence.

An image showing the sphere of control and influence - worrying about things that are not in your control is wasted time.

Control the controllables

You can now see which things are under your direct control.

These are the things that you have the freedom to act upon without needing anyone else’s permission or participation.

Any time, energy or effort spent here will likely be rewarded quickly.

Some things you may not have direct control over but you can still influence them – a positive outcome depends on the actions or participation of someone or something else.

You can safely invest your energy in these things – but take action! Time spent thinking about these things isn’t as effective as time spent doing something about them.

Taking action on things that are within your direct control will give you the fastest results, so it makes sense that these things get your attention.

Accept the rest

For those things that fall outside of your direct control or influence, if there is truly nothing you can do about them, the only positive action to take may be to accept them.

It’s worth noting that there may be pieces of a particular worry or fear that you can directly control, some pieces that you can influence, and some pieces that you can’t do anything about.

The trick is to do what you can.

But don’t devote time and energy to the things that you have no control over. Your energy is precious and limited, so it makes sense to spend it on the stuff that you can change, right?

You may find that nothing falls outside of your control – this is great!

This just shows that in some way, you have the power to change many things – so you are far from powerless, and this is a good thing to understand when you feel overwhelmed with fear and worry.

Even the biggest concerns may be influenceable by you. For example, you may feel powerless to change the economy, but you can still vote in the general elections, for the party that represents your views the most.

Worrying – from wasteful to useful

So you can see that worrying isn’t bad in itself.

But just as we discussed using our fears to our advantage in the post The shadow that thwarts your dreams – you can also listen and take note of your worries for your benefit.

Worrying is your alert system, but then it’s up to you to make sense of your concerns, and decide what’s worth investing your energy into.

Sharpen the saw

Your time and energy is precious.

When you invest time in retraining yourself to look critically at where you invest your time, you’re sharpening the saw.

This is what Stephen Covey talks about in his classic 7 Habits book – The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change. I read this about 20 years ago and came across it again in our work library a few months ago – it’s still totally relevant.

If you take a technique like I’ve shown you today, and practice it whenever you feel consumed by worries and fears, you’re sharpening your saw by you’re teaching yourself how to effectively manage a negative behaviour.

Negative behaviour: wasting time and energy on worries that you can’t do anything about, or, not doing anything about the things you can change.

Positive behaviour: acknowledging your concerns, looking at them critically to identify where you can take action and where you can’t, then doing what you can to make a positive impact.

How much time could you get back, with this technique in your toolkit?

I’m always happy to hear from you in the comments.


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