Lead More Effectively by Mastering Your Worry Monster

Whether you worry habitually or you think it’s keeping you sharp, becoming worry-free is way better!

Worry is a killer—over time it harms our health and emotional well-being. It doesn’t solve problems; nor does it make us better, faster, or more effective. Yet studies have shown that our capacity to worry has grown in tandem with our intelligence and the complexity of our lives. In short, that means we’re going to worry.

So what do effective leaders do to manage worry and be at relative peace?

They Recognize That Their Worry is Within Their Scope to Manage.

If you believe that worry “happens to” you and that you have little or no influence over it, you could be facing an ongoing problem. Worry only exists in your own mind: it’s the product of your beliefs, assumptions, and “story” about reality at any given time. And it’s become habitual over the years. Observe any baby and their carefree nature, and you’ll realize that chronic worry is not part of our “original equipment.”

When you recognize this, you’ll discover that you can edit those patterns, like a document or spreadsheet, with deliberate, sustained conscious efforts.


Stop Thinking it’s Helping—it’s Not

My worried clients tell me, “My worrying keeps me sharp,” and “If I don’t worry about it, no one will…”. If you think your worries keep you sharp, motivated, or productive, join the club-that’s a huge reason people hang on to worrying behaviors. And you’re wrong: the most productive, effective leaders realize that they didn’t get to where they are because of their worry, but despite it. They then decide that worry is simply more painful than it’s worth.

Start Your Worry Detector Each Morning, and When a Worry Crops Up, Catch it and “Give it the Day Off”

To manage worry, it’s important to catch it in the act and shine the light of awareness on it. For example, say before a big presentation, you find yourself thinking, “Oh, I’m worrying about presenting at that meeting.” You can then take a few deep breaths and address the worry directly: “I’m giving my worry the rest of the day off.” This usually does the trick, and repeated over time, it can help with your general pattern of worrying about topics like presenting, for instance.

Get to Know Your Own Pattern of Worrying and Doubt It

Our worry patterns are as unique as fingerprints—we tend to worry about certain types of things and not about others. Maybe you worry about your health, conflicts, or making mistakes. Pay attention and you’ll see your own patterns. The better you know them, the better you can manage them. The very fact that you worry about selective things is further proof that worrying is optional. Once you detect your pattern, keep an eye out for them, and manage them by giving them the day off.

Get Enough Rest—And If Unrested, Doubt Your Worries Even More

We all know that rest is important for health and well-being. Yet we live in a restless, hyper-connected 24/7 device-laden mode. Being less rested also amplifies worries—you may notice that you worry more when you’re tired. Because it’s impossible to avoid days when we lack rest, it’s good to remember that our worries are higher than normal during those times. When I’m not well-rested, I’ve learned to tell myself, “Oh, I’m worrying because I’m tired, so I’m calling a timeout to the worry until I rest.” Get your rest!

Develop Your Own Ways to Manage Your Worry

For some people, mindfulness meditation, exercise, or other zen-like activities help them the most in managing worry. For others, keeping track of worries in their journal is the key. Some even limit their worry to a specific block of time each week, and dismiss it at all other times. The point here is that peaceful people take worry-management seriously. Develop healthy anti-worry habits that fit your personality and style (but don’t worry too much about it!)

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Effective leaders are calm and reassuring to their teams and organizations—and you simply can’t be that way until you manage your own worries. Try it: it’s healthy, life-sustaining, and good leadership to master your worry monster!


David Peck is a Partner and US Lead for Executive Coaching at Heidrick Consulting. He’s been published extensively and is the author of Beyond Effective. Twitter: @coachdavidpeck

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