“I’m so tired of being tired. Sure as night will follow day, Most things I worry about Never happen anyway.” Tom Petty Crawling Back To You Lyrics, Wildflowers (1994)
So last week was a hard week for me. Or at least I made it so. A couple of issues surfaced the resolution of which could have had some significant impacts.
Of course, I put on a lawyer’s hat and envisioned all the worst resolutions and impacts that could occur. I’m especially good at finding the worst of these in the middle of the night. You know. The gut-wrenching stress over outcomes that keeps you up till all hours.
In the midst of this, I attended the Clio Virtual Conference. Clio always has the best conferences, and this one was no exception. But one presentation, on reflection, hit home. On Wednesday, the Keynote was given by Adrienne Huffington. Huffington founded the Huffington Post, which she later sold. She is now CEO of Thrive Global and the author of multiple books on behavior and the physical manifestations of what we think and feel. I’ve heard her talk about the value of sleep before. Enlightening and no doubt true, but who has time to sleep that much?
In this Keynote though, she talked about stress and worry. She quoted the philosopher Michel de Montaigne, who famously said: “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” There are a number of similar quotes out there that we have all heard. I’m a Tom Petty fan (or was before he unfortunately and prematurely passed away). I like his version from the song Crawling Back To You, which is quoted above.
And there is some proof that what Huffington was talking about is true. According to a study cited a few years ago in the Huffington Post, some 85% of the things we worry about never happen.
And yes, it’s all well and good to have these platitudes. But they don’t help much in the middle of the night when every possible bad thing seems not only possible but likely.
And as Huffington pointed out in her Keynote, lawyers may be worse at this than others. We are trained to spot bad outcomes. To think about and prepare for the worst. And who do many of us report to as clients? Other lawyers, similarly trained. So we find everything alarming and gear up for the bad outcomes, all of them. Of course, that has the benefit of allowing us to spend more billable time on these outcomes and their chances.
And even worse, this tendency to look for the worst and then stress over those outcomes can also bleed into our personal lives. It’s no wonder, as a profession, we have skyrocketing rates of substance abuse and depression. Like the Tom Petty lyric, we are so tired of being tired from literally worrying ourselves to death.
Of course, both my issues resolved themselves without any of the bad things I envisioned actually happening. In the meantime, I was not as present as I could have been for a week of fantastic fall weather and for loved ones on a holiday weekend. Not to mention the loss of creativity and energy all that worrying brought.
Which got me thinking. What can we do to combat this predisposition and ward off the evil monster lurking over us, always ready to pounce? I came up with three things.
Allow issues that arise to run their course
First, allow issues that arise to run their course. Sometimes they will resolve given a little time. In my case, had I just waited a bit and not stressed so much, the issues would have been resolved, with me losing one moment of fretting. And, relatedly, sometimes time will guide you to an answer that stress and worry will keep you from seeing.
Just because something could happen doesn’t mean it will. Ask yourself how likely is it that the imagined outcome will occur.
Second, adopt a businessperson/entrepreneur mentality. I was fortunate enough to represent these kinds of people on occasion over the years. One lesson I learned from them (when unfettered by lawyer handwringing) was while there was a need to understand what could happen, it was more important to view how likely those possible bad outcomes really were. To a businessperson and entrepreneur, there’s little value worrying about things that are only remotely likely to happen is remote. Otherwise, no company would get built, and little business would get done. So, take a deep breath. Just because something could happen doesn’t mean it will. Ask yourself how likely is it that the imagined outcome will occur.
And finally, don’t stress over things you can’t control. Focus instead on what you can control. You can’t control what your witness will say on the witness stand. You can control how well you prepare your witness. You can’t control what verdict a jury will return. You can control and focus on presenting the facts and arguments the very best you can. One of my clients gave me some good advice years ago when a jury verdict came back badly. I fretted over calling her and telling her, but when I did, she said, “that’s what happens when you try cases.” Do the best you can. Don’t worry about the result once you do.
I know. All good advice. But in the middle of the night, all the quotes and advice in the world often don’t help. In those hours, take a deep breath and get control the best you can.
Calm down. Before won’t calm down becomes can’t calm.
As author John Dabrowski put it, “It starts with the decision not to believe the misfortune that your worried thoughts see in your future.”
Or as a good friend often tells me: Calm down. Before won’t calm down becomes can’t calm.