How to use Anxiety as a Decision-Making Tool

A little anxiety keeps you on your toes. Unease makes you alert and helps you bring your best to challenges and opportunities.

Unanswered anxiety spirals out of control. One fear cascades into another. The list keeps growing until paralysis sets in.


Competence earns new opportunities. New opportunities ignite anxiety.

I recently spoke to a newly promoted plant manager. He earned his promotion because he’s competent. But he’s also filled with anxiety about his new challenge.

Anxiety asks, “What if you aren’t enough?”

Frankly, if you don’t feel at least a bit anxious when your world shifts, you need a wake-up call.

I still don’t sleep well before giving presentations. It’s been years and sometimes my stomach hurts before I walk on stage.

Maybe you have the gift of anxiety. You think of everything that will go wrong, worry about surprises, and struggle to prepare for an unpredictable future.

Anxiety whispers, “This really matters,” and searches for clarity and certainty, but in an unpredictable world, you feel like the lights are out.

Anxiety can be a decision-making tool.

How to use the fear of regret:

I recently spoke with a women who has a choice between keeping her current job or taking one that might present better opportunities. She knows there are no guarantees.

Anxiety thrives when the future is unpredictable.

I asked her to imagine that both options will go badly. Whatever choice she makes, it won’t work as expected. Anxiety loves this way of thinking.

I said, “Assuming both options go badly, which one will you regret not taking?” This question helps people tap into their deeper fear.

Without hesitation she named one of the options. “I’ll most regret not taking the new opportunity.”

The fear of regret helps you find clarity.

Use an anxiety list to make a plan:

Create an anxiety list to clarity decisions and make a plan.

#1. Don’t fight anxiety. Invite it for coffee. Dig deep. What are your concerns. Write them down. Keep writing until you can’t think of anything else that could go wrong.

#2. Look at your list and ask, “What do I really want?”

Write down the things you really want beside each item on your anxiety list. The question, “What do I really want?” helps you shift from fear to values.

#3. Finally ask, “What do I need to do to get what I really want?” Limit yourself to things you can easily accomplish. Choose behaviors that match your strengths.

The newly promoted plant manager is a great planner. He’s afraid of being put on the spot. I encouraged him to plan what he will do when he feels put on the spot, before he’s actually on the spot.

How might leaders get the most from anxiety?

*I relax my 300 word limit on weekends.