The other morning, I confessed to my husband that I really, really didn't want to make a drive I would face later on. It would be rush hour on one of the busiest freeways in the Twin Cities, it would be dark and rainy and I'd have to somehow keep my two children from play-killing each other in the back seat. Not a totally huge deal, of course, but not a situation that would make me dance rainbows and smiley faces, either. And I despise driving in general for some reason, anyway.

Then my 9-year-old daughter, who'd been eavesdropping as she munched a pancake, piped up.

"You won't get better if you don't try, Mom. Basically what you're telling me is, you're freaking out because you think of all the worries. But if you just focus on what you need to, you'll be fine."

She elaborated, too. Worried about how many cars there are? Just focus on the ones in front of you and go straight. Worried about merging? Just take one entrance at a time. Anxious because of no sun? Think about what you can still see because of your headlights.

And she was so, so right.

Making mountains out of molehills

Worry and anxiety, unfortunately, is a lot in our own heads. We don't want to feel bad or experience loss, so we default to risk mitigation mode. We look at everything trying to identify what could go wrong to protect ourselves--life becomes an endless chain of what-ifs, especially at work where expectations are astronomically high.

  • What if I don't figure out this program?
  • What if the boss doesn't like this idea?
  • What if John or Jane isn't here to help with the project today?
  • What if I have to stay late?
  • What if I trip on the way to the podium?
  • What if my calculations for this proposal are off?

Some degree of self-protection is reasonable. But if you're lost in the what-ifs, you're not truly focusing on the process or solution. You perceive the situation as much more difficult than it is, because you see a million and one threats you have to prepare for, rather than the single series of steps you need to take in the moment.

Think about it. When Indiana Jones was escaping the ancient cave in Raiders of the Lost Ark, he had to deal with rocks falling from overhead, a barrage of arrows, a betrayal, a gaping hole in his path, a closing door, a monstrous boulder, spiderwebs, armed natives working with his rival and, lastly, a snake in his plane he really didn't like. A lot went wrong. But did he have to deal with all of that at once? Nope. He tackled one problem at a time.

So why worry about that meeting at 2:00 p.m. if it's only 9:30 in the morning? You're not even there yet. It's not what's in front of you.

Clearly, we can't always avoid our "I-have-to-drive-in-rush-hour-in-the-dark" or Raiders moments. But we can choose what we look at when we're in them. Ask yourself "What do I need to do right now?". Just that. The rest is peanuts.