Anxiety = Uncertainty X Powerlessness

Anxiety is the most prevalent emotion in most organizations in the United States today. 

Anxiety is the most prevalent emotion in most organizations in the United States today.  


Anxiety has two component parts.  It’s what you don't know and what you can't control. So anxiety equals uncertainty times powerlessness. 

So the way you could work this equation is the following.  Think of something that makes you anxious and then create four columns.  The first column is what I do know about this thing that's making me anxious.  The second column is what I don't know.  The third column is what is what I can influence.  And the fourth column is what I can't influence.  

Once you’ve spent 15-20 minutes making a list, you may be surprised to find that 75-80 percent of us, when we make our lists, find that we have more things under columns one and three, the assets on this anxiety balance sheet, than we do in two and four, those that are the liabilities.  And once you realize that, that makes you feel like, "Oh, I’ve got some things I do know and that I can control."  

But more importantly, you can look at column two and say "What is that in column two, what I don't know, how could I actually learn that?"  Maybe you think you're going to lose your job, so maybe you could ask your boss. Maybe you think your spouse is cheating, so maybe you could ask them.  The truth is we don't want to do that, because it’s like "I don't want to learn that!"

But there's a fascinating study that was done 20 years ago that showed that when people had the choice between getting an electric shock that's twice as painful as one they might get in the next 24 hours but it will happen without them knowing, sort of randomly, if you had to choose the twice as painful shock now versus half as painful in the next 24 hours but you don't know when it’s coming, most of us would choose the twice as painful shock now.  So it’s a lesson to us, as leaders, that quite often it’s best to actually deliver the bad news rather than to let people stew in their anxiety juices.

In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.

Image courtesy of Shutterstock. 

Related Articles

How does alcohol affect your brain?

Explore how alcohol affects your brain, from the first sip at the bar to life-long drinking habits.

(Photo by Angie Garrett/Wikimedia Commons)
Mind & Brain
  • Alcohol is the world's most popular drug and has been a part of human culture for at least 9,000 years.
  • Alcohol's effects on the brain range from temporarily limiting mental activity to sustained brain damage, depending on levels consumed and frequency of use.
  • Understanding how alcohol affects your brain can help you determine what drinking habits are best for you.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists sequence the genome of this threatened species

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx a team of DNA sequencers has figured that out.

Surprising Science
  • A team at UMass Amherst recently sequenced the genome of the Canadian lynx.
  • It's part of a project intending to sequence the genome of every vertebrate in the world.
  • Conservationists interested in the Canadian lynx have a new tool to work with.

If you want to know what makes a Canadian lynx a Canadian lynx, I can now—as of this month—point you directly to the DNA of a Canadian lynx, and say, "That's what makes a lynx a lynx." The genome was sequenced by a team at UMass Amherst, and it's one of 15 animals whose genomes have been sequenced by the Vertebrate Genomes Project, whose stated goal is to sequence the genome of all 66,000 vertebrate species in the world.

Sequencing the genome of a particular species of an animal is important in terms of preserving genetic diversity. Future generations don't necessarily have to worry about our memory of the Canadian Lynx warping the way hearsay warped perception a long time ago.

elephant by Guillaume le Clerc

Artwork: Guillaume le Clerc / Wikimedia Commons

13th-century fantastical depiction of an elephant.

It is easy to see how one can look at 66,000 genomic sequences stored away as being the analogous equivalent of the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. It is a potential tool for future conservationists.

But what are the practicalities of sequencing the genome of a lynx beyond engaging with broad bioethical questions? As the animal's habitat shrinks and Earth warms, the Canadian lynx is demonstrating less genetic diversity. Cross-breeding with bobcats in some portions of the lynx's habitat also represents a challenge to the lynx's genetic makeup. The two themselves are also linked: warming climates could drive Canadian lynxes to cross-breed with bobcats.

John Organ, chief of the U.S. Geological Survey's Cooperative Fish and Wildlife units, said to MassLive that the results of the sequencing "can help us look at land conservation strategies to help maintain lynx on the landscape."

What does DNA have to do with land conservation strategies? Consider the fact that the food found in a landscape, the toxins found in a landscape, or the exposure to drugs can have an impact on genetic activity. That potential change can be transmitted down the generative line. If you know exactly how a lynx's DNA is impacted by something, then the environment they occupy can be fine-tuned to meet the needs of the lynx and any other creature that happens to inhabit that particular portion of the earth.

Given that the Trump administration is considering withdrawing protection for the Canadian lynx, a move that caught scientists by surprise, it is worth having as much information on hand as possible for those who have an interest in preserving the health of this creature—all the way down to the building blocks of a lynx's life.

Why cauliflower is perfect for the keto diet

The exploding popularity of the keto diet puts a less used veggie into the spotlight.

Purple cauliflower. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Surprising Science
  • The cauliflower is a vegetable of choice if you're on the keto diet.
  • The plant is low in carbs and can replace potatoes, rice and pasta.
  • It can be eaten both raw and cooked for different benefits.
Keep reading Show less