Have you ever wondered why the weight of your problems seems to be crushing? Have you ever laid awake at night not being able to get “what if?” thoughts out of your head? This is what worry can feel like, an all-encompassing dark cloud. It disallows you from thinking logically and coming up with reasonable solutions to your issues.
But worrying is entirely normal, especially in today’s society. Today you may feel like no matter how hard you try, you can never be quite perfect. Thankfully, by following the proper steps, you can turn all your worry into a tool to become a better problem solver.
Why Do People Worry?
Worrying is usually seen as an issue, a negative trait. Although it can spin out of control, worrying is only as positive or negative as you allow it to be.
Anxiety researchers describe the process of worrying as a sequence of repetitive thoughts, mental images, and emotions that have uncertain outcomes.
Throughout history, worry has been defined both in adverse and favorable terms. As of late, the tendency has shifted towards positive connotations. It tends to be associated less and less with anxiety and more with a trigger of motivation. For example, psychologists studying climate have described worry as an emotional state that leads to behavioral responses to reduce a threat. One study found that worry about climate change was the primary catalyst for building support for climate policies.
While concern about climate might be uncorrelated with your daily life, the underlying worry mechanisms remain the same. That fact is true whether we’re talking about wildfires or your life problems. In addition, worry links to academic performance and more attempts to quit smoking; the positive effects of concern are pretty straightforward.
Worry focuses on the future, not allowing you to be a good problem solver in the present.
Most psychologists recommend creating a “worry list” and a “worry period.”
Take 20 to 30 minutes a day to think about what your concerns are. Write them down and go over the list. Finally, consider ways to deal with your problems. Dr. Colleen Carney, Associate Professor at Ryerson University, has even created a “constructive worry worksheet” with clear instructions on how to turn your concerns into positives.
You can keep worry to a moderate level and use it as a tool. But how exactly can you use this tool to become a better problem solver?
What Are The Attributes Of Good Problem Solvers?
Problem solvers, especially effective ones, are not just your average person dealing with the problems they face. Problem solvers develop a skill and a mechanism when it comes to approaching a problem and coming up with a solution.
To effectively problem-solve, research suggests you must be able to analyze situations and use critical thinking. Integral to the process is identifying and defining issues and opportunities, generating different courses of action, evaluating the risks, and selecting the most viable option based on this analysis.
Probably the most critical aspect of problem-solving is the ability to be self-critical and never settle on the first solution you stumble upon. This is where the concept of worry comes in handy. So, what are the main ways in which you can use worry to your advantage?
3 Ways Worrying Makes Us Better Problem Solvers
When you release your worries, it becomes less challenging to solve problems.
1. Worrying Is The Best Way To Pinpoint What Your Issues Are
Sometimes people aren’t even consciously aware of all the problems they face. You tend to focus on what you believe is the most pressing issue that you can lose sight of all other things that could be improved upon. Of course, significant issues like “how can I advance in my career” are the things that you logically gravitate towards solving, but if you listen to what your subconscious tells us, we might find that there could be even more pressing.
As mentioned before, worry is a sequence of repetitive thoughts. Logically, we want to believe that our most significant issues are the ones society tells us we should care about most, like job, family, money, appearance; but sometimes that is just not the case. Sometimes, the image we cannot get out of our head is an image about how we should have helped someone in need when we had the chance or how we should have tried that hobby we have always yearned to try. That is to say. Our biggest problems are the ones we feel most passionately about, not the ones we falsely believe we should care about the most.
Furthermore, it can be the best warning sign we have. Suddenly feeling worried about a specific household appliance, for example, can be a way for your brain to warn you that something is wrong that you might not have noticed consciously, studies suggest.
Putting Worry to Work As You Solve Problems
By worrying and following a plan like the constructive worry worksheet, you will effectively identify the issues in need of solving, thus being able to start forming a coherent plan of action in regards to that issue. Whereas, if you would never have pinpointed the problems, you wouldn’t have a starting point. In fact, you’d be stuck still trying to solve issues that are of less importance to you.
So, next time you worry about your car breaking down, take it to a shop! Simply because you care about that problem so much, taking steps towards solving it will make you happier. Not only that, but you will never neglect to do check-ups on your car if you listen to your worry.
When faced with many issues, humans tend to start feeling like they have no incentive even to try juggling all of their responsibilities.
“What good does it do fixing this small problem when I feel buried underneath a dozen other issues I cannot handle?”
Focusing on what worries you can fuel your desire to start acting again, research states.
Worry triggers the need to shield yourself from uncertain outcomes. Thus, it incentivizes you and showing you the reasons why you should take proper action and adopt a problem-oriented mentality. If you wouldn’t be concerned about certain things in life, chances are you would not care about the potential adverse outcomes they could have. Therefore, you wouldn’t have the proper incentive to be proactive, even if dealing with problems is often tricky.
Here’s an everyday example you’ll recognize.
Why sacrifice precious time in the day to clean your coffee-maker is and fail on you tomorrow? And this hypothetical situation doesn’t even have long-lasting consequences on your life. But if you wouldn’t worry about losing your job, chances are you would lose motivation and start underperforming.
Worry doesn’t let you slack off. By never leaving your thoughts, the repetitive images you have when worrying will turn you into a better problem solver by constantly reminding you why you make an effort to solve your issues instead of pushing them under the rug.
3. Worrying Prepares You For The Worst Possible Outcome
It doesn’t sound pleasant. Why would you prepare for the worst? Indeed, you should be more positive and think that the worst could never happen!
Of course, a positive attitude sounds all nice and dandy. But the truth is that a good problem solver cannot afford not to think about all the possible outcomes. And yes, that means even the worst ones are likely. Remember, integral to the process of problem-solving is the ability to analyze all possible results, never settle on the first course of action and always be self-critical.
Worrying makes you think about a particular problem enough that you allow yourself to go through all possible scenarios in your head. Worry itself doesn’t have to be a negative experience when analyzing the worst possible outcomes. Indeed, concern often accompanies other negative feelings, maybe fear, maybe disappointment, perhaps different feelings. And yes, this can seem like a burden, but it has long-term benefits.
Remember how worry connects to better academic performance?
This outcome is because the people who worry the most are already mentally prepared for even the worst possible outcome. Research shows that if you fear before an adverse event, you’re less likely to respond to that even with an overwhelming burst of negative emotion. So, while worry may make you feel certain negative emotions, it prepares you for the worst. Furthermore, it allows you to spread that negative emotion in sustainable ways instead of experiencing a blindsiding of negative emotion all at once.
It also enables you to plan for every possible outcome.
The fact that you can shield yourself from feeling many negative emotions at once allows you to remain logical and collected. Thus, you stay in a better state of mind. You will be able to come up with a solution to the issue you’re facing. If you wouldn’t have been prepared for the worst, the chances are that being hit with the worst would have just made you mentally collapse. Of course, that would render you unable to quickly and efficiently solve your problems.
Say you’re worried about that meeting you have with the boss on Monday. Stressing over this meeting means that in your mind you either already considered a backup plan or are at least mentally prepared to move on and find something better. And if the boss wants to offer you a promotion, all that fear will make the accomplishment taste that much sweeter.
It’s perfectly normal not to know how to manage your worry. Don’t remain in a place in which you replay the same thoughts over and over again. But, if you ever feel like your problems are overwhelming, you might want to try worrying a little bit. Worrying helps you focus and pick only the most pressing issues out of the bunch. So it keeps you motivated and mentally prepares you to face the worst. This emotion enables you to plan for any scenario.
Next time you feel a little concerned about that project from work, remember that worry can help you tackle that project in no time!