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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.
“Don’t worry about it.”
Now there’s an expression that can be dramatically easier to say than to do. A uniquely human trait, long-term worrying not only rarely accomplishes anything, but it also causes mental anguish and physical harm.
Robert Sapolsky, a professor of neurology at Stanford University who specializes in the effects of stress on humans and primates, says worrying is a leading cause of stress.
Thinking about bad things that could happen isn’t always harmful. In fact, it’s what we purposely do as safety and health professionals – try to predict what harm might occur so we can prevent it. That’s not the “what if” worrying I’m talking about.
The harmful worrying happens when you fret about the economy or other events over which you have no control. It can become a habit that’s hard to break. But you can do something about it. For many years the following tactics have helped me cut down dramatically on my worrying. I’m sure they’ll do the same for you.
1. Put a spotlight on your worry
Don’t hide from the details of what’s bothering you. When my daughter Amber was approaching the age when she was old enough to drive, I began to worry. So I wrote down what I was worried about. That included listing unpleasant things such as her car breaking down and leaving her stranded.
When I wrote down the details (and later discussed them with Amber), it helped. When you start worrying about something serious, if you put a spotlight on it, the worry loses some of its power.
At work, if you’re worried about some change that might happen, write it down. Make a list of what you’re worried about, and then review the list. Add to it if something new comes up. You’ll be surprised how much it makes you feel in control, even relieved. Hiding from it will not make it go away. Of course, constantly dwelling on your worry won’t work either. Once you write down the details of what you’re worrying about, you can move on to the next tactic.
2. Do something about it (if you can)
Take the list of what you’re worrying about, and make a second list of what you can do about each item.
I sat down with Amber and discussed what she should do not only to prevent a mishap on the road, but how to react if something does happen. I regularly had a mechanic friend thoroughly check her car, and I bought her an awesome emergency kit for her birthday! Bottom line: I took action.
Even if the only action you can take is to learn more details about the worry (from reliable sources, not the sensationalized news) – that is still better than merely ruminating over it. Researchers and scientists have discovered that a lack of feeling in control creates much of the stress we feel from worrying. Taking action will give you some sense of control.
3. Keep track of your worry outcomes
Here’s the third tactic that helps: I’ll bet most of your past worries never happened. Or if they did, you were still able to handle the situation. Keep that in mind.
I used to worry about missing flights or getting sick and not making it to a talk. Not anymore. In the past 25 years I have yet to miss a talk due to travel or health. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen, but because of the three tactics I’ve discussed, I don’t worry about it!
Richard Hawk helps companies around the world create more vibrant safety cultures by showing them how to make safety fun. As a professional speaker, author and musician, he also inspires employees to focus better and enlightens safety leaders about ways to increase their influence. To learn more about Richard, visit www.makesafetyfun.com.