Being Present and Worrying Less

“Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.” – Billy Graham

Recently my assistant gave me a desk calendar for my birthday. Knowing I love finding material for my monthly leadership blog, she gave me a calendar that has an inspirational quote for each day. Yes, I know its mid-way through the year, but I’m enjoying flipping through the quotes and finding wonderful nuggets of motivation.

When I stumbled across the quote above, it struck me profoundly. It’s one of those messages that seems simple on its surface, but much deeper when you let it sink in. For me, it speaks to two issues I have been struggling with in my life – being present and worrying less.

Being present is a big one for me. In my work life I have developed the skills of a multitasker. Well, maybe the words “developed” and “skills” are a stretch, but I will certainly confess to being one. The problem is we think that multitasking is a good thing, when in fact it isn’t. I recently read a study that was published that compared men and women to see who the better multitaskers were. Turns out, both are equal, but also equally poor at it. In fact, we are 2 times more likely to make a mistake when we multitask than when we don’t.

It’s not only about the increased risk of mistakes it introduces but also the lack of respect it reflects for the person or task subject to it. Sitting in a meeting with colleagues and checking email means you aren’t giving the group (or speaker) the courtesy of your full attention. Same applies to phone calls – we are all guilty of doing other work while on these. “Could you repeat the question?” – I’ve resorted to that a time or two attempting to cover for not listening when someone calls me out.

The same applies in my personal life. My wife and daughter are constantly asking me to put down my smartphone and join the conversation. “I’m working” is usually my reply, but for what? Work can’t wait until we finish eating? Or better yet, there are the times I try to melt into the couch to watch something on TV, never really paying attention but denying my family the time they want with me.

Behind the lack of presence is a more challenging task – worrying less. In fact, I would suggest that the very reason I struggle with paying attention is that I’m constantly worrying about the job or task at hand. Meeting deadlines, balancing priorities, or exceeding expectations – whatever the circumstances, I let worry creep into my life and control my actions.

Truth is I’m not alone. For me, it’s an inconvenient element of my drive for success. But for others, its far more challenging. In fact, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, nearly 40 million in this country alone suffer from some form of severe anxiety. I know for those who struggle with anxiety it can be both mentally and physically debilitating. So, I want to be careful to distinguish between anxiety’s clinical form and its more generalized form which we all experience from time to time.

It seems even for those who don’t struggle at a clinical level, that the anxiety we are experiencing as a society feels more intense than ever before. In fact, recent studies from the American Psychiatric Association have proven this to be true. And behind this increase? It’s likely the result of our collective progress as a society, and the acceleration and visibility of life’s demands brought on by the proliferation of technological advances. In other words, the very things meant to make life easier may well be making us more anxious.

Which is why I found this quote so simple and yet so profound. And I’m not suggesting that a quote can solve all the anxiety we struggle to overcome every day. But maybe, every once in a while, it can remind us to take a deep breath, step back, be present, and live in the moment.

In other words…“Take one day at a time. Today, after all, is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday.”

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