Merge's Blog

Worrying won’t help you solve problems or make decisions

A couple of years ago, I wrote a short series on decision-making here on the blog, and I was reminded of that recently when I read the following quote about worrying:

rockingchair“Worry is like a rocking chair: it gives you something to do but never gets you anywhere”

― Erma Bombeck

These words were penned by Erma Bombeck, an American humorist, whose syndicated columns were read twice-weekly in the 1970s by 30 million readers of 900 newspapers in the U.S. and Canada.  Even though Erma’s columns were written primarily from the perspective of a midwestern suburban housewife, this particular adage carries sage advice for leaders.

Leadership is a non-stop journey of dealing with issues, some everyday problems, others full-blown crises. This constant barrage of concerns, complications and quarrels can leave many a leader anxious, uneasy and constantly worried … about what went wrong, what is wrong, and what could go wrong.  And even worse is when these very same leaders fool themselves into thinking that worrying is actually doing “something” about the issues at hand.  It isn’t.

Stop worrying, do this instead

So instead of worrying, consider this two alternative (and more constructive) strategies.

  1. Catch and stop yourself when you fall into the “What if …” trap. It can be very easy to think up situations that “might” happen, but in reality are quite unlikely, and it’s a waste of mental and emotional energy.  At times like these, it’s worth summoning Ockham’s Razor, a 14th century scientific principle that, roughly translated, states:  All other things being equal, the solution with the least number of assumptions is the best.  In other words, the simplest outcome with the fewest number of conjectures is the most likely to occur.  So concentrate on those options instead of the myriad of improbable possibilities.
  2. Focus on a systematic approach to problem-solving. One of the most useful approaches I utilize consistently (and successfully) has four simple steps:
    1. Define the goal – what is my objective or desired outcome?
    2. Brainstorm at least two, but preferably three options – what can I do to achieve my desired objective?
    3. Evaluate the options – what are the consequences of each option?
    4. Make the decision – choose the option that results in the most future choices of action.

What are your strategies to combat worrying?  I’d love to hear about what you’re doing to make sure that worrying doesn’t hinder your ability to solve problems and make good decisions.  Please share your thoughts below.


  • Merge, this is probably one of the most common issues that leaders have to deal with on a continuous basis. Decision making can be uncomfortable; it means that others will judge you by those decisions. When decisions are based on a set of values that are well known and transparent, decision making becomes much easier. Those decisions also are then anticipated by others. Leaders have values that predict how they will behave and make decisions.

    • Jim, you are so right about decision-making becoming easier when you have clarity on your values. When you know what matters, it allows you to easily eliminate many scenarios and options, thus also decreasing “worry time”. Thanks, as always, for your great insights.

  • This article caught me at the right time , on my commute to work – worrying.
    I agree with your article and the approach you mentioned on problem solving.
    I believe that the best way to stop myself from worrying is to “take action”. I mean I just have to do something and that is “to communicate” . I have to share the matter with my staff and get feedback from them. Most of the time, I hear that that is not even something to worry about. Or they can get me a feed back to say, yes, we need to do something about that.
    So Communication is also a great tool.


    • Agreed completely, Rose! When you communicate with others, you now have access to a collective wisdom, which means that not only can you worry less (because it is shared), but you also might get a solution that is far superior and/or you may not have previously considered. Thanks for sharing!


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