In order to maintain its power, common anxiety (sometimes called worrying) needs your help. Constant reminders, moments of conflict and concrete examples all pitch in to keep our worry on the warpath, amplifying it and further frazzling us.
The feeling of experiencing failure in advance happens to many of us. But with active encouragement we can make it much worse.
Without our help, it’ll likely fade away. But if we work at it, we can keep it going for hours.
Not only do each of us experience worry, the feeling of imminent failure, but we often escalate it with our words and actions.
“Don’t you know that this is the biggest meeting of my career? How could you have forgotten to pick up the dry cleaning!”
“The inspector is coming, and if we fail, they shut down this franchise. I want you redo this entire section, and work overtime doing it. In fact, call in Jim and Bob from their day off, right now.”
What’s happening here? We’re connecting the feeling of worry (it’s not really the biggest meeting of the year, it just feels that way, and the inspector has never failed us before, it just feels that way) with the real world. That gives us the ability to turn that worry into a concrete component of the actions that we’re taking. By doing so, we further reinforce the tactile and imminent nature of our feeling.
The thing that just happened is real, our action is real, therefore the anxiety must be real as well.
It takes this continuous narrative to keep the worry roaring along.
What happens if instead we say,
“Yikes. This big meeting that’s coming up has me stressed, and I was hoping my lucky jacket would be here from the cleaners. But it’s not, so I’ll need a minute to find an alternative. Either way, the meeting is going to go fine, it always does.”
“The inspector is coming and our perfect record is something we’re proud of. Would you spend a few minutes going over these three spots so we can know that we did our very best?”
You could make the choice to actually work to amplify your fear of the negative outcome instead of working on the real problem. But you can’t do both at the same time. Either you’re amplifying your worry or you’re working on a solution to the problem.
The alternative, a path worth seeking out, is to create a positive cycle, where each action we take creates a bit more confidence and calm, not less.
We can choose words and tones that are softer, that don’t raise our blood pressure (or the ire of the person who’s working to support us) and that more directly get us to where we’d actually like to go.
And it’s free.
The Situation Room might be a profitable TV show, but you don’t have to live there.
RIP Bruno Ganz
1941 - 2019
1. Unwarranted Emotion
2. Unwarranted Relationship
3. Delayed realization (ENTER/EXIT)
4. Odd postures—figurative postures + escaped metaphors
6. Weird Venues
7. Extended, tangential monologues
8. Distorted time frame
9. Unwarranted recognition of place
10. Private enclaves
11. Unwarranted familiarity with situation (or person or place)
12. Characters from foreign contexts
13. Characters continuing under different surfaces
14. Distorted Logistics
15. Transmuting Narrator
16. Partial invisibility (And odd witnessing)
17. Backward projection of Intentions
18. Bleeding with Memory
19. BACKWARD projection of Judgment
20. Restricted Witnessing
21. Tunnel Memory
22. The Dim Torch Narrative Mode
23. Crowds—Unwarranted Uniformity
24. Robert Altman [illegible]
25. (“More than I expected”) Unwarranted Expectation
26. MIXED PERSONALITY
I don’t know what these are, but I would like to know.
...only 4 percent of impact investing dollars are spent on education, according to the latest survey by the Global Impact Investing Network (GIIN) — and even less on education in the global south. Just as with financial services and energy, there is tremendous need for new solutions to education.More here
There is no logic that can be superimposed on the city; people make it, and it is to them, not buildings, that we must fit our plans.
| Jane Jacobs (1958)
Today, we might modify to read not buildings, not cars.
In order to solve a problem, you need to sell it first. To get it on the radar, and to have people devote time, resources and behavior change to address it.
Human beings in our culture are wired to pay attention to problems that are:
Visible–right in front of our eyes, not microscopic or far away.
Non-chronic–rationalization is our specialty, and the reason we learn to rationalize is so that we don’t go insane when faced with long-term, persistent issues. We bargain them down the priority list.
Symptomatic–this is a version of ‘visible’. If the problem has symptoms, and the symptoms are painful and getting worse, you have our attention. Symptoms that are stable or getting better feel much less urgent.
Painful–some problems have symptoms that aren’t so bad. And so we ignore them.
In our control–because helplessness is a feeling most people seek to avoid. The more certain the potential solution, the more likely it is people will acknowledge that there’s a problem.
Keep us from feeling stupid–because we don’t like feeling stupid, so we’d rather ignore the problem.
Status-driven–this one might be surprising. It turns out we like to focus our attention on things that will move us up the social hierarchy.
Expensive–problems that cost us money right now are ideal for this culture, because expensive = urgent.
Solvable–see that earlier riff about rationalization and chronic problems. If a problem doesn’t seem solvable, we’re a lot less likely to stake our attention on it.
This explains why cigarette smoking among the youth took so long to (partly) extinguish. It was a high-status activity, with no real symptoms for decades. It’s not painful and the visible side effects (thanks to billions of dollars in culture-bending spending by the tobacco companies) were seen as positive by many who participated. While the anti-smoking cause was definitely helped by the weight of evidence and persistent efforts by the medical community, it was higher taxes and enforced smoking areas that turned the tide. They made the problem expensive and a little shameful. People who didn’t want to look stupid or feel poor didn’t smoke.
Other problems that have a similar set of problems: Selling pre-need funerals. Addressing climate change. Balancing the budget. Bringing your kids to be vaccinated. Getting out of personal debt. Learning science and math. River blindness somewhere else…
If you’re working to sell a problem to your public, it’s tempting indeed to point out how shockingly irrational all of the instincts above are in practice. More effective, though, is to remarket your problem with a story that resonates.
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We know what it sounds like when you’re great at AM radio, classical music or even reality TV. We can imagine the tone and content you’ll need to be really good at being on Broadway.
Jack Dorsey has made it clear that Elon Musk has mastered Twitter. He wrote, “I like how [he] uses Twitter. He’s focused on solving existential problems and sharing his thinking openly. I respect that a lot, and all the ups and downs that come with it.”
Before you decide to master a medium, it’s worth considering the ups and downs that come with it. It’s not free. It costs. Is it worth it?
Does being good at this medium help you achieve your objectives beyond simply being good at the medium?
Yes, you might attract a crowd on the Bachelor or at the local fight club. You could probably be a world-class javelin catcher as well. But to what end?
If you’re going to put so much effort into a form of media, it’s worth deciding if it helps you or only the people who run the platform.
If you don’t want to go to Toledo, don’t get on the bus to Toledo.
Sophia Loren, Eleonora Brown and Jean Paul Belmondo in Two Women (1960), co-written and directed by Vittorio deSica. This is Vittorio’s second entry on the New York Times list of the 1,000 Best Films (not on the TSPDT list), after Marriage Italian Style, also with Sophia.