Clear Thinking & Healthy Anxiety

October 21, 2013 § 4 Comments

Clear ThinkerThe Rabbis of the Talmud debated what were the best qualities towards which a person should strive.  Five of the answers offered were, unselfishness, goodwill,  kindness, helpfulness, and friendliness.  Rabbi Shimon digressed with a different view of what we should aspire to as a best quality: “the ability to see the not-yet-born.”

Shimon believed in the importance of thinking ahead, with a healthy consideration of all things that could go wrong.  Like the Boy Scout motto – “Be prepared.”

Consider driving a car: While driving through a residential neighborhood you look ahead and see a group of kids playing ball on the sidewalk.  You register this and  think about a possible missed catch and a child running after a ball into the street.  In milliseconds, the defensive driver will:

  • Take the foot off the gas pedal, and place it over the brake,
  • Check the rear view mirror to see if a car is behind (in case of a quick stop),
  • Look for room to swerve, and
  • Be ready to honk the horn.

999 out of 1,000 times, the ball stays off the road and a child is safe, but when that one time happens, the defensive driver is prepared and ready to avoid an accident.  This is wisdom.

A healthy dose of anxiety is normal, helpful, makes us good people (Rabbi Shimon), keeps us wise, on our game, and performing well.  Often experienced as a mild wave, belief in a future threat (anxiety) propels us to anticipate the child in the street, or practice and prepare before a presentation.  But sometimes, our overactive mind leads us to catastrophizing by creating beliefs about upcoming situations that are not necessarily true:

  • “This is not going to go well”
  • “There’s just no way I can take on any more”
  • “They’re going to think I’m boring”
  • “This isn’t perfect & they’ll see me as a failure”
  • “My boss will never go for it”
  • “I’ll never be able to learn this new system”

These  beliefs of “not-yet-born” events may not necessarily be true. In fact, they most often are not.  We jump to these conclusions and associate them with our survival.  Besides wreaking biologic havoc on ourselves, cognitive distortions, such as catastrophizing, makes it difficult for others to follow us.

Emotions are neurogically contagious.  If your boss has the flu, where do you want him?  Same place you want him if he’s a worrier:  Not near you.

A clear thinking leader challenges and regulates their own thinking by reality checking their beliefs. If you can catch and readjust yourself in the moment, great.  If not, do a post-hoc analysis and pressure test the beliefs that were blowing you over. If your pitch wasn’t perfect – do they really see you as a failure now?  The key is that the more you think about how you think, the more you will be able to regulate your emotions when they begin to lead you awry.

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