When it comes to anxiety disorders, the anxiety often gets blamed as the source of the problem, but really it’s our reaction to anxiety that’s unhealthy. Anxiety is normal. But attempts to cope with, check on, or control uncertainty lead to compulsive behaviors with negative impacts on our health.
This is as true in business as it is in our personal lives. When people encounter uncertainty (and the resulting anxiety) at work, they experience a need to be certain, and if there are great systems in place, they’ll resolve that uncertainty by doing something they’ve done before, which is likely something that’s safe, unhealthy, not innovative, and likely to only push off important decisions until later. Great business teams resolve this with visual communication techniques that eliminate unnecessary uncertainties, and by sticking to articulated values. As Jim Collins points out in several of his books about what makes companies beat the competition, his research shows that consistently implementing values is one of the key factors. It doesn’t even matter what the values are, only that they’re consistently articulated and implemented.
When I work with companies to plan strategies or manage projects, I specialize in what’s known as human-centered design. I use a series of tools that visualize the customer and identify the customer’s values and needs. Then, throughout the project, the team always makes its decisions based on the customer’s values. The answer to every uncertainty is to let the customer guide your actions. It’s an amazingly effective method to spur innovation and guide collaboration to reach the team’s goals.
In your own life, when you encounter uncertainty and anxiety, I’d suggest you fall back on the values of your customer: YOU.
Figure out what your values are and implement them consistently, and fearlessly. For many of us, and I know it was definitely the case for me in the past, I didn’t have any values. I didn’t want to be disliked so I did whatever anybody else wanted me to do. I was afraid of so many things that I let my fears of those thing potentially happening guide all of my actions. My life was a long series of reactions to paranoid fears of possibilities.
SO WHAT CAN YOU DO?
1. Start simple. Pick one value. Write it down. For instance, it might be: “I value being honest”.
2. Implement that value. When you encounter an uncertainty related to that value, let the value guide you. So, for example, if you were wondering about whether you should honestly tell somebody something, you would refer back to your value, which indicates you should be honest. Your brain will think up all sorts of terrible things that could happen if you implement that value. Just agree with them, shrug, and do it anyway. Your brain’s paranoid fears don’t have to run your life.
3. After a week of implementing that first value, add a second one. Begin to implement both of them consistently. Design your values. Build them, test them, rebuild them again. You don’t have to get them “right”. The tough task here isn’t getting the “right” values, it’s consistently implementing them.
This can be a big reorientation in your life, just as it is for organizations when they quit reacting to fear and instead act according to values. We get hooked on fear because it mistakenly feels safe to constantly be managing anxiety. When you reorient yourself around values, much of what makes you anxious and depressed on a daily basis, just fades away.