When Worry Overwhelms

Last week, I blogged about how to Build Your Confidence, a necessary trait for leaders. Once of the biggest barriers to building confidence is catastrophizing. We all fall prey to that negative mindset and the fear that goes with it.

Many years ago, I read Dune by Frank Herbert. One line stayed with me through the years, “Fear is the little death.” It will always come to you, but in that book, Herbert said to let it wash through you. There are two pieces of wisdom to be gleaned from that. First, if you let it, fear is paralyzing. It will stop you dead in your tracks. Second, accept that it’s fear and, rather than succumb, nod at it as you allow to pass through. Not easy, but very helpful.

In How to Stop Catastrophizing–Managing Our Minds, Greg Vanourek defines catastrophizing as being when “we assume the worst and blow things out of proportion.” Most of us do this in and out of work. The pain in our chest is a heart attack. Or the car making a strange sound means it needs an expensive repair. In our professional life, it sounds like: “If I try to give a workshop for teachers, they will ignore me.” How can you deal with these moments of paralyzing fear? Vanourek offers 12 ways to combat catastrophizing.

Acknowledge that bad things happen to all of us – We know this to be true. We can point to examples and those who have managed through the bad things. It’s life. When we acknowledge it, the grip of fear lessons and it’s easier to take action.

Recognize when we’re engaging in catastrophizing—When you are aware you are doing it, you are more likely to notice you are stretching the situation out of proportion to reality.

Place our experiences into perspective—Perspective can make us calmer. Ask – on a scale of 1-10, how big a problem is this? Or—do I really not know how to do this or is there an aspect that is new to me?

Consider a range of possible outcomes – What is the worst that can happen? (And how likely is that?) What are some other possibilities? What are the best outcomes? Focusing on those can get you moving.

Reframe thoughts from negative to positive ones—Chances are there are at least as many positive possibilities. What will you gain from taking the risk? What could you learn from a new program?

Recall situations in which we’ve coped with and overcome negative events—You have been successful before. There is no reason to assume you can’t handle this one. Stumbles are part of the road to success and you’ve gotten through them in the past.

Lean on trusted relationships—Use your PLNs, and others who have been through similar situations. Remembering that you’re not alone and have the wisdom of others to support you can be very helpful.

Focus more on helping and serving others—Think of how this relates to your Mission and Vision. What can you achieve by doing this? The bigger picture can move us out of fear.

Think about the things we can control — It is a waste of effort to spend time on what you can’t control. Use your energy to work on what you can control.

Command ourselves to stop catastrophizing—As strange as this sounds, it works. Noticing when we’ve blown something out of proportion allows us to shift to the next step.

Use positive affirmations — Positive self-talk can change your outlook. Give yourself some good advice and encouragement. “You can do it.” “You have done it before.” “One step at a time.” “Keep going.” Use your favorites.

Engage in regular self-care practices—This comes often as an important leadership practice.  It’s nothing new—except we keep ignoring it. When you are exhausted, it is very easy to slip into catastrophizing. You already feel bad. Don’t treat yourself badly, too.

Vanourek closes with a passage commonly called the Serenity Prayer. It’s worthwhile to remember: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Catastrophizing drains your confidence. Learn to recognize when the fear comes, and you overreact. Your students and teachers need you to be the great librarian you are.


Calming Your Inner Turmoil

Over the next weeks, the school year will begin again. Much as we love our jobs, it’s not easy to step back into work as responsibilities and tasks, old and new, fill our to-do lists. Time management skills notwithstanding, it’s a challenge to slow down and focus on what needs to come first. What is the priority? What is urgent? 

The old slogan, “haste makes waste,” is a reminder that if we go too fast, we will skip things and miss what really needs to be done. But knowing this and doing something about it is difficult when people are coming to you, sending emails, and demanding your immediate help.

In Inner Peace — Be Cool, Calm, and Collected, Frank Sonnenberg offers fifteen guideposts to calm your swirling brain. To help you find a little focus and calm try any one or more of these:

Accept Responsibility – In our frustration, we sometimes blame others for what is going wrong. Sonnenberg reminds us to recognize our part in making the choices we did.

Find Your Purpose–Look to your Mission and core values. Post them where you can see them. Review them as you start your workday and connect to the positive feelings they bring to you.

Live with Honor You are a leader. Integrity is an integral component of that leadership. People need to count on you. You keep your word and don’t compromise the core values you hold.

Be Reasonable–This is with yourself. Perfection is an illusion. Excellence is the goal–but know when good is enough. Not every task requires the same level of effort. Save your time and energy for what really matters.

Develop Trusting Relationships–Our relationships support us, and we need to support them. Reaching out and helping brings people to us. Our integrity keeps them. We build advocates and extra hands when needed.

Make Everyone a Winner–Putting others in the spotlight and giving meaningful compliments makes people feel good. The practice makes us feel good as well. Definitely a win-win habit.

Be Thankful – Gratitude for what you have rather than longing for what you don’t gives you a better outlook on life. This translates into how you present yourself to others. They are then more likely to respond positively to you.

Strive for Balance – Sonnenberg reminds us the journey is as important as the goal. Those you meet along the way, the time you give them, are as important as meeting the deadline you set. Make the time for family and friends. And make the time for yourself.

Learn to Say “No” – Set boundaries for yourself. You can’t do everything. The fuller your plate, the less likely that important stuff gets all the attention it needs. In dealing with teachers, try “what if we….” By offering an alternative that requires less of your time, you will do a better job and stay calmer.

Live in the Moment–Whenever you can, don’t worry about past mistakes or potential future failure. You can’t change the past (although you can learn from it). You don’t know what the future will bring, so worrying about it is a waste of energy.

Unclutter Your World–This is an extension of living in the moment. We have so many conversations with ourselves during the day. Too many of them are negative. Be kind to yourself. You deserve it.

Control What You Can–You can’t control others’ behavior or what life throws at you. You can control how you respond and act. And the choices you make are what define who you are.

Be True to Yourself–This includes living with honor. It also means seeing who you truly are and celebrating you. You earned it. Be proud of what you achieve and how you achieved it.

Build Good Karma– Doing good is no guarantee of good karma, but, as Sonnenberg says, “seeing others’ happiness is, by itself, a worthy reward.”

Hold Your Head Up High–Be proud of yourself. You are a good person. When you start by believing in yourself, others will follow.

Don’t try to do everything on this list! You’ve got enough to do. Choose the ones that speak to you, keep them in mind and to help you stay calm as the new year gets underway.

Managing Frustration

You know the feeling. The internet is down just as you are setting up for a lesson. You had the item in your hand, put it down some place, and now you can’t find it. The secretary called to say the principal can’t make the meeting you had scheduled to discuss a project after you spend days preparing.

You just want to scream.

Worse, as frustration and anger fill your mind it becomes almost impossible to figure out what to do next. Now, with so much waiting to get done, you are frozen in your tracks. Your self-talk is turned up to a litany of negative phrases. This is too hard. Why am I even trying? No one cares. It goes on.

So here you are again. The new challenge is to get past the emotional turmoil as quickly as possible and tackle the tasks at hand. John Mattone in How Leaders Can Control Their Frustrations with Team Members, offers sound advice to the business world. Much of what he says applies to us as well. It all goes back to managing our emotional response to whatever has triggered the frustration.

First Mattone discusses the importance between Reacting vs. Responding – When you react, you let other people or situations take control. A leader needs to keep that from happening. is instinctive. Responding is proactive and puts you back in control. Look at the obstacle that has caused the frustration. Is it a permanent situation or is it temporary? If it is permanent, work on alternate means of achieving your ultimate goal. If it is merely a postponement, consider how you might make good use of the unexpected time.

In order to respond rather than react, it’s important to be aware of:

  • Emotional Control –When emotions are ruling you, your cognitive thinking isn’t functioning. It’s not about ignoring or denying your frustration or the connected emotions, it is, as Mattone says, being aware of the emotions and not letting them rule you which is “proof that a leader has mastered self-awareness and is emotionally intelligent.” When frustration rises, pause. The age-old advice for anger is to count to ten. A pause is vital. Take a deep breath. Acknowledge the emotion. That will reduce it immediately. Then, once you’re thinking clearer, begin the process of how you are going to handle the situation.
  • Understanding Emotions – Emotions are an important part of our lives, giving us feedback as to what is working and what is not. When positive emotions are present, your self-talk is encouraging and you acknowledges your ability to make things work. You are also more supportive and positive with the people around you. The sooner you understand your emotions, the sooner you can respond (not react) and work effectively with those around you.
  • Preparing for High Stress Situations – They are going to happen, and they’re rarely (unfortunately) predictable. Accepting and anticipating the inevitability of these situations will help you to respond rather than react. Accepting means when one occurs you say to yourself, “here it is again.”  Not in high emotion, but with understanding. Anticipating means you have identified potential obstacle that may interfere with your plans and/or work flow so that when it happens, you’re as ready as possible.

The better you are at dealing with the frustrations inherent on your job and in your life, the more people will see you as the calm in a storm. It allows others to see you as a leader. And hopefully will lead to fewer frustrations in the future.