Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Not Worried? Maybe You Should Be

As our firm’s CWO (Chief Worry Officer), I tend to obsess about worst-case scenarios. Will our computer network go down during crunch time? Will we miss our flights? Will a big client merge and drop us? Will our rent go way up when the building renovations are completed? Is Client B having trouble paying its bills? Will a key person leave us to accept a new job?

It might sound like paranoia to some of you, but I’d rather “hope for the best, plan for the worst,” to borrow a maxim from British novelist Lee Child. Based on the number of you scaling back, hunkering down or putting projects on hold before the dark cloud of Presidential election uncertainty is lifted, I’m guessing we’re not alone. A new white paper released by Liberty Mutual Insurance found that two out of five Americans are worried about something every day. Sometimes worrying can help solve your problems — and sometimes it just leads to more worry, researchers concluded.

Or, as former heavyweight boxing champ, Mike Tyson famously said, “Everybody has a plan until they get a punch in the mouth!” If you’re not worried about keeping pace with technology, robo-advisors, new fiduciary rules and relevance with the millennial generation, etc. then maybe you should get fitted for a mouth guard and some 12-oz. gloves. Hopefully, you won’t need ‘em, but why not have them on hand.

“People have a love-hate relationship with worry,” said Michelle Newman, a professor of psychology and psychiatry at Pennsylvania State University, in a recent New York Times interview. “They think at some level that it helps them,” Newman added.

The belief that worrying helps to prevent bad things from happening is more common than you might think. Researchers say this thought process is bolstered by the fact that we tend to worry about rare events, like plane crashes, and are reassured when they don’t happen--but we worry less about common events, like car accidents.

OK. So, is worrying futile? “Some worry is actually good for you,” argued Simon A. Rego, a cognitive behavioral psychologist also interviewed in the aforementioned Times article. Rego, who specializes in anxiety disorders and who has analyzed decades of research on worrying said it’s what we call “productive or instructive worry,” which can help us take steps toward solving a problem.
That kind of proactive approach to worrying is a lot more empowering than simply buying insurance with a “better safe than sorry” attitude.

I help coach one of the best 13-and-under baseball teams in southern New England. We’re not big. We don’t have any future Major Leaguers on this team. But, we’ve got 13 kids who can play a variety of positions, keep their egos in check, their parents in the stands and work together when the pressure is most intense. We’ve won about 120 out of 145 games together and numerous local, state and regional titles. Sunday, we were riding a 17 game win-streak. Our ace pitcher was on the mound, throwing a no-hitter with a 3-run lead in the last inning. Were we packing up the bags ready to go home? Nope! We’ve got two relievers warming up in the bullpen just our stud on the mound got into trouble. I can assure you, our other three coaches make me seem like a laid back hippy by comparison. Turns out we didn’t need the relievers, but if not for a diving catch by the center fielder and a great backup by the shortstop, it could have easily been bases loaded with the cleanup hitter at the plate.

As a former boxer and wrestler, I’d rather have my guard up all the time than take a haymaker to the chin from seemingly out of nowhere. That’s not negativity or pessimism—that’s good old fashioned pragmatism and one of the most important ingredients for business survival.

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Have a Happy New year. Enjoy the MLB playoffs and remember the 3rd week of October is National Estate Planning Awareness Week, courtesy of our good friend Val Sabuco, Executive Director of The Financial Awareness Association.


TAGS:  Productive worry, Lee Child, Michelle Newman, Simon Rego, Mike Tyson

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