Skip to main content

Appreciation in the Face of Anticipation

Today’s Tuesday Reading is by Liam Tierney, MOR Associates Program Administrator.  Liam may be reached at [email protected].

Have you ever felt the universe trying to tell you something? A recurring grain of wisdom, one life lesson packaged in various ways. I suspect everyone, eventually, has felt this besetting and edifying coincidence; a glitch in the matrix. In recent months, I have been trying to embrace my persistent coincidence and let it change how I shape my life. It might be best worded as “Appreciation in the face of Anticipation.”

To anticipate means to “give advance thought to” something, to expect or regard it as probable. In leadership, anticipation might best be worded as predicting the path to the desired future state based on current context and past experiences. Regardless of how we explain it, anticipation is a critical skill in maintaining agile, effective leadership. It encompasses several subskills and tools – predicting and evaluating outcomes, forecasting requests and perspectives, factoring in variables, and remaining vigilant of workplace communication and culture. Overall, anticipation keeps us moving forward. It enables us to apply what we’ve learned from one project to the next. 

But there’s a trap hidden within this skill. Over-anticipation, anxiety, and burnout.

If you’re like me, you begin anticipating what’s next before you’re done with what you’ve already started. You end your day with a mental receipt of what will come and how each to-do could go. Good, bad, or somewhere in between? How long will it take, and how will it feel? Big project or small, the questions flood in. This tunnel vision forward thinking can keep us focused on our desired future state. In moderation. However, without pause, the never-ending tree diagram of possibilities begets “over-anticipation” and becomes exhausting. 

In addition to past experiences and current contexts, anticipation hinges on imagination and confidence to shape predictions and outcomes. Reciprocally, it can affect these inputs and often leans towards self-doubt. If you struggle with confidence or simply feel off your game, your anticipatory thinking may trend negatively. As you think about the task ahead, anticipation can draw on your insecurities, pull in the challenges of the context, generate a wave of less-than-desirable possible future states and the actions leading to them, and may become a self-fulling prophecy. 

Worse still, this sort of anticipation is a slippery slope. This negative thought loop subsequently becomes an experience for anticipatory thinking to draw on. “I felt this way before, so…” As MOR Coach Laura Patterson asserted in Got Confidence?, actions and thoughts of confidence are a cycle. This might all sound familiar, and it should. Charles Duhigg calls it the habit loop. In “Unwinding Anxiety,” psychologist Judson Brewer identifies this “trigger-behavior-result” as the formation of anxiety. Over time, this negative feedback loop can affect our perception of our value. 

It sounds familiar to me, and I’ll admit I recently experienced over-anticipation to the point of anxiety. I lost sight of the act and the joy of my coming task before I had even started. 

So how in the world do we avoid this slippery slope?

For me, pausing to appreciate where I am makes a difference. Part of the definition of appreciation is the “recognition and enjoyment of the good qualities of someone or something.” It is an acknowledgment and embrace of the current context and its component parts, including you. It interrupts the train of questions, allows you to breathe, and refocuses anticipation on growth and enjoyment rather than failure. It is gratitude plus anticipation, practiced in the present rather than the future. 

There are six considerations I use to practice appreciation and refocus my thinking. 

  1. Highlight the parts of your current task that excite you. Who are you working with? How will it move you forward? Why do you enjoy what you do? (Current Context)
  2. Acknowledge and embrace your innate value at being selected for something, or the excitement at participating. What do you have to contribute? (Confidence and Value)
  3. This experience is a stretch opportunity. You are wiser and more capable now than in past experiences, good or bad. The same will be true after this one.  (Acts of Confidence, Growth Mindset)
  4. Strive to make the input of experience broad. What have you done, even the seemingly unrelated, that can help you in this effort? Emphasize past experiences that have gone well for you as evidence you can succeed. (Past Experience, Confidence)
  5. No matter the outcome, you are moving toward your / the shared desired future state (Desired Future State)
  6. This is a chance to make memories, lead change, and forge new connections. Push your imagination to envision what you can gain, not lose. (Imagination)

To make them doubly effective, I reiterate these considerations after my work as a part of reflection. Appreciation is both predictive and reflective. 

This appreciation can alter the trajectory of our anticipatory thinking. It interrupts our imagination and sets us up for success. We are often more productive and more likely to ask for help or input. We work eagerly but calmly towards a pinnacle moment. Ultimately, that tree diagram of anticipation begins to trend positively. It reshapes our thinking to anticipate steadily and excitedly. We yearn for growth and admire our support network. We affirm our value. That positive emotion is so critical. We express pride and joy. How often do we use those words with our projects and our choices? 

Practicing appreciation is not only valuable in our professional lives but also in our personal ones. Truthfully, this is where I am applying this lesson the most. As anticipation begins to foretell what could happen, I experience all the familiar racing questions, and anxiety sets in. Wrapped up in what might happen, good or bad, I can ignore what I am actually experiencing. Pausing to appreciate helps to turn off my worrying. It allows me to remember the love I feel from my support network, develop pride in my growth, and balance spontaneity with planning. 

If you’re like me, I anticipate so intensely that I lose sight of joy. That might sound hyperbolic, yet little acts of appreciation build up and change how we approach our endeavors. I urge you, both for your work life, your sense of self-worth, and your health, to make appreciation a part of your process. Rewrite anticipation to incorporate appreciation. I am not suggesting we be complacent with where we are or falsely inflate our egos. Not at all. Anticipation can keep us moving forward. Yet appreciation provides us stability and satisfaction as we move forward. 

Maybe this appreciation is best summed up in words from those different corners where I heard this lesson calling. 

So long as you chase it, you will achieve the life you want.
But you won’t get it all at once. And don’t get lost along the way.
For tomorrow will still come
Yet its sky, the color of its light, the length of its sunset is unknown.
So rather than tremble at what you will have tomorrow, if you will have it,
Take in today. As you climb that mountain, look up, look down, and look out
Take it all in and let it stretch from ear to ear.

My endless thanks to Marcia Dority Baker, Maria Corso, Laura Patterson, Sara Prostko, Alex Garens, and my family for reminding me to pause. 

Last week, we asked which you have seen most often undermine psychological safety in teams:

  • 24% said unequal treatment of team members
  • 18% said lack of tolerance for mistakes
  • 18% said knowledge not shared
  • 15% said inability to ask questions
  • 14% said inability to be vulnerable
  • 11% said discouraging risk-taking and experimentation

While there was a lot of variability across our responses, it is noteworthy that almost one in four of us have seen unequal treatment of team members impact psychological safety. As we think about dynamics in our teams, what is something we can do the next time we see a team member treated unequally?