Have you ever found yourself repeatedly going over a problem in your head?  Have you ever found that in so doing you have done little to actually address the problem?

This, I would suggest, is worry. 

Worry is ruminating about an issue that is plaguing us without actually making substantive progress in addressing the issue. The dictionary supports this with definitions such as:

  • “To touch or disturb something repeatedly."
  • “To subject to persistent or nagging attention or effort."
  • "To afflict with mental distress or agitation: make anxious."

This is in contrast to concern. 

Concern, I would offer, is solution oriented. Concern focuses on resolving the problem, addressing the issue. It isn’t going over the same points over and over without adding value to the thought. It is coming up with options, setting priorities, drawing conclusions.

Whether you agree or disagree with the precise usage of these words, the point is simply this: If we find ourselves spending more than just a few moments worrying about something, hashing over a problem, then rehashing it, we are wasting our valuable time to no avail.

Just as the steps we take in dealing with grief have been identified, we also tend to follow a sequence of steps in dealing with a problem. While we won’t dissect those steps here, clearly one of the early steps is to worry about the problem.  Up to a point, this can be not only acceptable, but also healthy. It can be a ventilation phase. Beyond that point, however, it is a waste of time. It can be counterproductive, emotionally damaging and is more of a procrastination pitfall than anything else.

Learning to rapidly transition from the worry phase into the concern phase will decrease your stress and increase your productivity.

Not only is this concept valuable to us individually, but it can also be helpful in a group setting where multiple people are confronted with a problem that they must mutually tackle. While we can often get bogged down with worry by ourselves, it can become epidemic in a group.

As someone who knows the difference between worry and concern, you can facilitate transitioning to a more constructive conversation about solutions.

When considering the differences between worry and concern, consider these distinctions:

  • Worry distracts us. Concern focuses us.
  • Worry disables planning. Concern helps us plan.
  • Worry blurs our vision. Concern clarifies our purpose.
  • Worry tends to give up. Concern perseveres.
  • Worry exaggerates. Concern pinpoints problems.
  • Worry focuses on self. Concern cares for others.

One of the most difficult things to do is to control what we think or how we think. Yet it is one of the most important behaviors we can master. Control your thoughts by ridding yourself of worry and focusing yourself on concern.

Dave Bartholomew is retired after a career as a business adviser to leaders around the world. He and his wife Nancy also owned Simply Living Farm, a retailer of goods for a sustainable life. Prior to that he was CEO of several manufacturing companies in the outdoor recreation industry. He has authored three books, written numerous regular columns and taught at many universities. He can be reached at dave@ascentadvising.com.