We are so often told that worrying doesn’t help with anything, that nothing good can come out of worrying and that you can do many things to change the current situation or take a few steps towards you goal, but worrying is not one of them. Generally, or at least in many cases, conventional wisdom and common sense prevail, even if “common” and “conventional” are not attributes that sound too impressive. So, it was seemingly good advice to take a deep breath and don’t worry about things, until now. According to Boston College psychologist Maya Tamir, worrying has been proved to improve performance, at least for some people. Let’s have a better look at this new approach and see how you can use these findings to your advantage in your profession.
The Benefits or Worrying
Speaking at a very simplistic and primitive-era level, good emotions or positive feelings are generally a sign that things are going good (not much risk and satisfying reward), while negative emotions (like worrying) are a sign that things aren’t going so good and this indicator actually serves as the drive or motivation for the individual to get out of the situation that is causing the worrying. Naturally, we tend to avoid the negative feeling and seek the positive, which also includes altering our current goals to that effect. That means that if the goal is too stressful, we give it up altogether to avoid feeling bad or too anxious about it.
When it comes to modern times and being truly aware of one’s goals though, things get a little more complicated. The mechanism remains the same, but this tendency to avoid the negative feeling may have an undesirable outcome job-wise. The low-risk and low-stress seeking mechanisms might push you to settle for a job you’re not really happy with, or might prevent you from daring a big change. Worrying seems to have its benefits after all, in spite of what conventional wisdom taught us.
The findings of Tamir’s research indicate that neurotic people (the ones with an innate tendency to over-analyze and worry) seem to benefit the most from worrying, since this gives them an increased performance boost on some tasks that most other subjects rated as being too difficult. What’s even more interesting, these neurotic subjects performed better and achieved this boost when asked to recall an experience in which they felt worried, compared to how they performed after recalling a happy experience. The results also pointed out that the subjects weren’t aware that these emotions were affecting their performance and results, which makes the effect even stronger and more interesting (because it rules out the possibility of trying harder on purpose). Therefore, mild-to-medium amounts of worrying might make you better at your job, if you’re the right personality fit for it, and you probably know yourself well-enough to decide it.
Best Not to Overdo It, Though
Still, the limits of the study clearly pointed that these benefits apply “to some people”. That means that there are simply some that are sensitive enough for the worry to take control over them, to generate way too much anxiety and act more like a will-paralyzer rather than a will power booster. Not to mention that extreme levels of worrying can also damage your health, both mental and physical. If you feel that you’re already experiencing enough worrying or anxiety as it is (try not to confuse them with high levels of stress, though), or if you would describe yourself as a sensitive or fragile person, you’d best be reserved about this. We don’t want to encourage you to give in to an emotion that will not only be unproductive, but also potentially harmful.