Putting Worry to Work for You

3 min read

Frequently, successful athletes, executives, or other professionals get sucked into the cycle of anticipatory anxiety. Anticipatory anxiety is best described as worry about something that has not yet happened and trying to prepare for an unpredictable future.

When stuck in a cycle of anxiety, It is often helpful to conceptualize worry into productive or unproductive categories. Unproductive worry is simply anxiety without productive action that can be taken to alleviate that worry. Meanwhile, productive worry is anxiety with actionable steps that can help alleviate the anxiety. For example, if someone is anticipating performing poorly on an upcoming presentation, they can reframe it into a productive worry by goal-setting to better prepare. This results in actionable steps to achieve that goal, thereby decreasing the time spent spiraling in anticipation of the presentation.

Converting anxiety into actionable steps
On the other hand, unproductive anxiety may look like this: “I worry I’m going to get fired during the upcoming scheduled meeting with my boss.” As the meeting gets closer, the anxiety continues to grow. In this scenario, a large part of this worry is out of one’s control and nothing actionable can be done to alleviate it. It is important to find strategies to help you put your worry to work by converting anxiety into productive, actionable steps with measurable outcomes. If your anxious thoughts are unproductive, with no actionable steps you can take, the best way to counteract this spiral is to examine the evidence that you have available to determine if there is any truth to your worry rather than get trapped by the anticipation.

In sports, athletes often experience anxiety which, if left unproductive, can contribute to a deterioration of their self-confidence. The negative impact of that anxiety can be seen if anticipatory anxiety consists of thoughts such as, “I’m going to miss all my shots in the next game.” Or, “I should just pass the ball instead of shoot.” These are examples of unproductive worries without actionable goal-setting. How can you put these worries to work for you? Setting specific and measurable goals can help convert these thoughts into actionable steps. For instance: This may include working with the shooting coach for one hour per day or practicing 20 free throw shots each day after practice leading up to the next game.

In summary, first, try to identify and categorize your worry into unproductive versus productive. Do not let the anxious thoughts overwhelm you and cause endless cycles of rumination. When you begin to identify a worry about the future, put that worry to work for you by turning it into actionable steps to reach your goals.

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