How to Stop Worrying: 4 Steps to Conquer Your Fears
What are you worrying about right now? A presentation you have to give, an interview, closing a major deal, throwing your first dinner party, or something even more stressful?
The thing is, worrying takes a toll. Whether it’s because you care, you’ve been too busy to focus, or it’s part of your DNA, worrying is a drain on your energy. And when you worry, it affects the people around you too.
As a master worrier, I’ve tried a lot of strategies – hanging things on the worry tree, scheduling 30 minutes a day to worry, telling someone else about my troubles. And all of them have their place.
But the strategy that’s helped me the most is one I’ve applied just this year to a big project that looked like it was going to crash and burn. Maybe it can help you too.
My Big Worry
I had agreed to host a special high-end event in London on behalf of a friend. This was my friend’s brainchild, and she had entrusted me to run this first-ever version in London.
With just 8 weeks to go, I had filled only a handful of seats. That wouldn’t have been so bad except that in the US this event typically had 30-40 people.
It felt like an impossible mountain to climb. All I could think of was “what was I thinking when I agreed to do something so challenging?”
My friend was really nice about it. She said we could just reschedule and choose a day later in the year. People hadn’t seemed to mind when they had to reschedule that one time in the US.
But for me, this wasn’t an option. My reputation was on the line. I had promised to deliver this event, and 5 people had already paid to attend. It was up to me to deliver a great experience, which wouldn’t happen unless we got the numbers up to at least 15-16.
What was I going to do?
The 4-Step Solution
That’s when my daughter came on the scene, saying, “Mom, you’re wasting so much energy worrying. It’s probably going to turn out fine, especially if you channel all that energy into doing something about the things you’re worried about.”
Here’s the 4-step strategy we came up with.
Step 1 – Make a List of Your Worries:
Take out a sheet of paper. On the left side, make a list of all the things you’re worried about. Here, you want to be complete — list everything that’s bothering you and don’t leave anything out. Make sure you hold onto this list because you’ll need it again in Step 4.
In my case, I turned out to be very good at listing my very darkest, grimmest fears. It actually felt good to write down every “what if” scenario that weighed on my mind. As the saying goes, “sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
Here’s how my list looked:
- Not enough people to make it worthwhile
- People drop out at the last minute
- People don’t show up
- We run out of things to say or do to make it worthwhile for each person
- It feels like too small a group and we’re rattling around in the conference room
- People don’t like it and want their money back
Then the question is what to do about that big long list, which is Step 2.
Step 2 – Take Action on What You Can Control:
Go through each item on the list and look for actions you could take right now to make sure that fear doesn’t come true. Basically, you’re looking for what’s in your control versus what’s not in your control. For the things in your control, figure out what actions you can take. Then take them.
Looking at my list, my fears really came down to two things. First, having enough people attend. Second, making sure whoever attended had a great experience, which in part relied on having enough people to interact with.
Having had enough experience at running events, I knew I could make it a great experience for people… as long as there were enough people in the room. That meant my biggest focus had to be on getting enough “bums in seats” as they say in the UK.
My problem was that I was being a perfectionist about how the invitations should be worded, and therefore procrastinating. As a result, I had sent out only 10 invitations. So my “hit rate” was actually 50%, which is quite good.
What I needed to do was send out lots more invitations. This was the wake up call I needed.
Now that my fear of having an empty room trumped my fear of putting myself out there with imperfect invitations, I had less trouble pressing ‘send’ on those emails. And once I had done my bit, it was easier to follow up with friends who had said they would spread the word but hadn’t yet.
Step 3 – Make It a Daily Focus:
Going forward, wake up every morning and ask yourself, “What can I do today to move the project forward and address the things I’m worried about?” This will prompt you to keep taking actions.
In my case, it was building on the discovery I made in Step 2: that while I couldn’t control who said “yes”, I could control the number of invitations I sent out.
So every day for the next five weeks, I identified more people to invite, sent more invitations, and asked friends to extend invitations as well. I went through my entire LinkedIn contact list, reconnected with former colleagues and leveraged corporate relationships. No stone went unturned.
In the end, we had 25 yesses!
By the way, I kept the “catastrophe list” list from Step 1 handy. That’s what gave me a kick in the backside to keep taking action and to stay focused. And if I identified additional worries, it made it easy to add them to the list and get to work on those too.
Step 4 – Do a Post Game Review:
Once the source of your worry is over, whether that’s an event, a presentation or an interview, it’s time to do what I think of as a “Post Game Review”. Go back to your original list of worries from Step 1. On the right side of the page, write down what actually happened.
The point is to compare the two lists. If you’re a fellow worrier, your “before” list is going to be larger than your “after” list. Here’s what mine looked like:
By doing this comparison of your before and after lists, you’ll get data on how disconnected your worrying is from what actually happens. And that will help you to lighten up on the unproductive worrying next time, and get to action faster.
Why This Strategy Works
The beauty of this strategy is that simply writing down your worries takes them out of your head where they can ping around and seem bigger than they really are.
In my case, worries left unattended in my brain can take on an emotional quality that super-sizes them. So it’s so helpful to get them out where I can do see them in one list.
Then you can more rationally deal with each one, and get others to help you move through the list, whether that’s assessing how real the fear is or a team member helping to take an action.
Some of your concerns will be very real and also very addressable. That’s why they say, “a problem shared is a problem solved”. Whether it’s just getting it out into the light where you can see it properly, or getting others to do something that they can do but you can’t or shouldn’t because others are better placed to do it.
So, when you find yourself worrying about something, make the list and go through it with someone you trust to listen and not judge. Then focus on where you can make an impact and start taking actions.
Finally, let the results take care of themselves. Over time, the weight of the data about your worries versus reality will start to sink in so you can jump quickly into productive mode.
What Will You Do?
Now it’s time to step back and think about how to conquer what you’re worrying about.
What’s your biggest worry right now? And what will you do to shift your energy from negative worry to positive action?
Leave me a comment and let me know.