How To Use Anxiety As A Decision Making Tool

Oct 10, 2018 3 Min Read
Anxiety as a Decision Making Tool

Competence earns new opportunities. New opportunities ignite anxiety.

A little anxiety keeps you on your toes. Unease makes you alert and helps you bring your best to challenges and opportunities. But unanswered anxiety spirals out of control. One fear cascades into another. The list keeps growing until paralysis sets in.

Read More: How Mindfulness Can Overcome Anxiety

I recently spoke to a newly promoted plant manager. He earned his promotion because he’s competent. But he’s also filled with anxiety about his new challenge. Anxiety asks, “What if you aren’t enough?” Frankly, if you don’t feel at least a bit anxious when your world shifts, you need a wake-up call. I still don’t sleep well before giving presentations. It’s been years, and sometimes my stomach hurts before I walk on stage. Maybe you have the gift of anxiety. You think of everything that will go wrong, worry about surprises, and struggle to prepare for an unpredictable future. 

Anxiety whispers, “This really matters,” and searches for clarity and certainty, but in an unpredictable world, you feel like the lights are out. Anxiety can be a decision-making tool!

How to use the fear of regret 

Recently, I spoke to a woman who has a choice between keeping her current job or taking one that might present better opportunities. She knows there are no guarantees. Anxiety thrives when the future is unpredictable. I asked her to imagine that both options will go badly. Whatever choice she makes, it won’t work as expected. Anxiety loves this way of thinking. 

I said, “Assuming both options go badly, which one will you regret not taking?” This question helps people tap into their deeper fear. Without hesitation she named one of the options. “I’ll most regret not taking the new opportunity.” The fear of regret helps you find clarity.

Read Also: Here’s Why Confidence Matters More Than Competence

Create an anxiety list to clarify decisions and plan. 

Don’t fight anxiety 
Invite it for coffee. Dig deep. What are your concerns? Write them down. 
Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else that could go wrong.

Look at your list and ask, “What do I really want?” 
Write down the things you really want beside each item on your anxiety list. 
The question, “What do I really want?” helps you shift from fear to values.

Finally ask, “What do I need to do to get what I really want?” 
Limit yourself to things you can easily accomplish. 
Choose behaviours that match your strengths.

Reposted with permission
This article is also available in Chinese.

Check out the video to learn about being happy, staying motivated and engaged at work!


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Dan Rockwell is a coach and speaker and is freakishly interested in leadership. He is an author of a world-renowned leadership blog, Leadership Freak.

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