Why you can’t worry your way to success: What to do instead

I love Sonya Lyubomirsky and Chris Tkach’s article on Dysphoric Rumination.  It explains perfectly, in academic speak, why you can’t worry your way to success and what to do instead.  I trust I’ve done them justice in this layperson’s summary.

The worry cycle goes something like this:
You have a Problem – you are not getting a result you want.
You worry that can’t solve it.
You feel bad / stuck / depressed.
You think and worry more, which doesn’t solve the problem.  Instead it sensitises your mind to pay attention to negatives, so you remember negative instances when similar things haven’t gone well and you think negatively about what won’t work if you tried to take action.
You don’t take action, because your energy is low from all the pessimistic thinking and because you assume a low likelihood of success, so it doesn’t seem worth the effort.
The problem remains or escalates.
You feel worse.
You conclude that the problem is overwhelming and unsolvable and that you are not good enough or not skilled enough to solve the problem.
You take no action, so you can’t disprove your assumptions.
You feel helpless and hopeless and give up.

Fortunately, there are ways to intervene:
You have a Problem – you are not getting a result you want.
You worry that can’t solve it.
You feel bad / down / depressed.
You physically distract yourself by doing something enjoyable to shift your mood. When you are in a better mood, you are more likely to think of possible solutions.
You get out of your head and phone (or email) a friend who asks you ‘possibility questions’: “What if there was one small thing that you could do to get things moving in the direction you want? I wonder what that is?
You get out of your head and take a small, safe action – as an experiment – to challenge your negative assumptions and learn what works.
You reward yourself for any action you take and note your learning and insights about what might work, rather than evaluating that “nothing works”.
You break the cycle of worry and depression through action and learning and reflection, rather than reflection, reflection, reflection.  

What you can do – today:
1. If you’ve been worrying, send this blog link to a ‘friend’ as soon as you’ve finished reading. Then reward yourself for taking a positive action.
2. Phone your friend and ask them to help you. You may ask for permission to whinge for 5 minutes before they ask ‘possibility questions’.
3. Take action – ideally do something tiny today.
4. Reward yourself for taking action, no matter what the outcome.

If you haven’t got an accessible friend:
Email me and I will be your question buddy. Send an email to sharon at apassion dot com dot au  – with the phrase “Oh woe is me” in the header and one sentence to summarise your problem. I will exchange emails with you to ask the possibility question and find one tiny action you can take to get moving.

If you have a friend or work colleague who is worrying or stuck with a problem, send this article, then phone them and ask permission to help them, or let them know they can email me.

Let’s create a culture of possibility and action rather than worry and stuckness.

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. Regina

    I love your work!! Yes let’s help change others to possibilities… and you are offering to help us all! That’s so cool.

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