Anxiety and Its Antidotes … For Business and Life


“Dum spiro spero.” – Motto of St. Andrew’s Golf Club


When a person is confronted with some significant event or experience that is believed to be both important and uncertain they may feel anxious.  This anxiety-generating situation may be one that is filled with possibility and opportunity, or danger and threat.  Either way, anxiety almost always develops when there is significant opportunity – or danger.

When both opportunity and danger are present at the very same time, the anxiety can become intense.  That’s what makes television shows, such as “Deal or No Deal,” “American Idol,” or any other such “survival” type of uncertain situation where one can either win or lose so exciting.

Not only is there anxiety for those directly involved, but also for their friends and supporters, and the audiences as well.  For those not directly involved, anxiety tends to increase relative to the degree of identity, or interest, with those directly involved – which is why so many television shows now have audiences participate in voting as they then become directly involved with the anxious situation.

According to “Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary,” anxiety is:

“a painful or apprehensive uneasiness of mind usually over an impending or anticipated ill; an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physiological signs (as sweating, tension and increased pulse), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.

Vexatious Vexations

Anxiety is vexatious because it develops and grows in the human faculty of the subconscious and heavily effects and agitates various emotions.  Since the  subconscious and emotions are non-reasoning, or non-intellectual human faculties, logic or reasoning are inadequate means to manage or assuage anxieties.  Experience, self-discipline, self-control and other means of coping are necessary aids in successfully dealing with the torments of anxiety that can be debilitating and even paralyzing to human thought and action.

A Powerful Antidote

St. Andrew's Golf Course

St. Andrew’s Golf Club

Perhaps the most powerful of all antidotes to anxiety is a positive and optimistic attitude.  Maybe that’s why The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews chose as its motto the Latin phrase “Dum Spiro Spero.”  This phrase, said to have been first stated by Cicero but more universally attributed to St. Andrew, one of the twelve Apostles, translates to the very positive and optimistic phrase:

“While I breathe, I hope.”

The world of sports and athletic competition is widely followed precisely because of the uncertainty involved and the anxiety produced. However, anxiety generates not only interest and emotional experiences for fans or supporters, but can also influence outcomes or results for participants who may have self-doubts about their capacity to cope with the challenges.

Anxiety in Golf

For athletes, anxiety can be debilitating. So confidence in one’s self and the ability to cope with extreme challenge is necessary and admired. These traits make athletes winners. They know how to win and take every opportunity to do so.

Anxiety is a part of every athletic competition.  But,it is perhaps most readily seen in championship golf, especially so for the major championships.  In such situations, the desire to achieve and the pressure to perform are at their peak.  Moreover, the more real the opportunity is to win, the greater the risk of the emotional distress that anxiety inevitably causes.

The 2005 U.S. Women’s Open championship provides an excellent example of this phenomenon.  That year, three American women were at the very top of the leader board after the third round.  Two of the women were teenage amateurs: Morgan Pressel had just turned 17 and Michelle Wie was 15-years-old.  Paula Creamer, the third woman had then recently turned professional, but was still only 18-years-old.

Each had talent, potential and a desire to win, but the anxiety caused by being in a position to win such an important tournament proved to be too much for them. Each shot their worst round of the tournament on its final day.

Pressel, who had been only one over par for her total score during all of the first three rounds, scored four over par on the final day; Creamer ballooned to eight over par 79 on that last round; and Wie skyrocketed to 11 over par 82, the second highest score of the day.

It was not a lack of talent that inflated their scores, though. More than likely, they were victims of anxiety.

Anxiety struck again in 2007 at the Kraft Nabisco Ladies’ Championship. One-by-one the golfers who had been leading the tournament in its early days shot well over par as the tournament progressed. Morgan Pressel, however, was one of the first golfers to complete the course. She wasn’t an early contender to win, as her score before the final round wasn’t that competitive. But, relieved of the anxious pressure to win, she played well and ended up winning as the other leading golfers scored poorly on the last few holes.

It might not be unfair to suggest that the other golfers lost the tournament more than Pressel won it because she finished earlier than most of the major contenders she didn’t face all of the anxiety that they had. Therefore, she was better able to play at her normal high-quality level of performance.

What Does All This Mean?

What does all of this professional golf analysis and possible speculation have to do with business?  It is most certainly not meant to criticize any of the athletes who suffered anguish from unsuccessfully coping with anxiety.  Rather, it is meant to show that while skills, talents and desires are important to gaining success, the personal control of the psychological and emotional factors that anxiety produces is also of immense importance.  This is similarly so for those who seek to achieve in virtually every field of endeavor, and affects people of all ages, from the very young to the very old, and the novices to the experienced.

It Is So … Even Though It Hasn’t Happened Yet

The self-confidence that enables a person, or an organization, to perform each necessary execution as though they have already achieved success, even before that stage is reached, is vital.  To feel, or believe, that one is not yet worthy, or able, to achieve success impedes many. Such attitudes cause persons, and organizations, to do, or fail to do, some things that may cause them to lose important competitive opportunities, rather than force the competitor to win.


One must concentrate on developing the skills necessary to compete at the highest levels, if one is to be able to excel in competitive environments.  These capabilities are not enough.  Courage, confidence, self-assurance, self-control and the ability to stay “cool” under pressure are also necessary if one is to be able to manage anxiety.

Maximize the Positive – Minimize the Negative

External support is also important, though one should never mention the risks and dangers present or the possibilities of failure. The idea is to emphasize the positives and to minimize all negative suggestions.  Teammates, coaches, managers, spouses, parents, partners, teachers, aides and assistants, caddies and others who are closely engaged or involved with another can be supportive colleagues in facilitating successful accomplishments.[3]

The word “colleague” is derived from a French word that means “to arrive together.”  Associates and colleagues who participate in a success are quite often “unsung heroes” who help another mightily.  That’s why some teams, and organizations, are so powerful.  They collectively “arrive together” in a success as they help create an environment of encouragement and support that fosters both personal and group achievement.

All the team members should realize this.  Each plays a part in whatever personal or team success is accomplished. This part includes both good execution of each one’s own duties and responsibilities as well as the need to morally and emotionally support and encourage the others involved.  Each can also be a part, or a cause, of a failure.

Nothing relevant to success must be left undone, or done inadequately by anyone involved.

It’s Contagious

While personal anxiety may be largely self-induced, it is also contagious.  One’s fears, doubts and apprehensions can be transmitted, because they come from the subconscious.  Since the human subconscious receives information at rates as much as 500,000 times faster than the reasoning conscious intellect can function, fear, uncertainty and doubt can spread much faster and become more pervasive than reasoned logic can respond.  That’s why bad news seems to so often run rampant through a community, while the uplifting good news and positive facts seem to usually travel at a much slower pace.

Create a Positive, Encouraging Environment

Positive personal orientation, along with a supportive, encouraging environment, is necessary to counter anxiety before it has more thoroughly contaminated oneself, and others.  Debilitated, discouraged, disheartened persons, and organizations become quickly disoriented and disabled.  However, anxieties serve a useful means to aid and alert human intuitiveness and instincts to risks and dangers.

Human character and strength must be developed to be able to usefully and positively manage anxieties, rather than allow anxieties to prevail, debilitate and paralyze persons and organizations and by doing so enable anxiety to defeat, in advance, many otherwise constructive and helpful opportunities, which can lead to success.

About the Author

Thomas M. Nies is the founder and CEO of Cincom Systems, Inc. The longest actively serving CEO in the computer industry, Nies was recognized by President Ronald Reagan in 1984 as "the epitome of the entrepreneurial spirit of American business." In 1992, British Prime Minister Edward Heath honored Nies for Cincom's role in bringing the software industry to England. In 1995, he was profiled by the Smithsonian Institute as one of the "pioneers of the software industry," alongside other industry giants such as Bill Gates (Microsoft) and Larry Ellison (Oracle). In 2004, Ernst & Young inducted Nies into its Entrepreneur of the Year Hall of Fame. In 2005, along with the CEO of Adobe, Nies won the International Stevie Award for Best Executive in the International Business Awards—"the business world's own Oscars," according to the New York Post. In 2005, Nies also received the University of Cincinnati Lifetime Achievement award and in 2006, was named as one of the Top Ten IT Visionaries by START-IT magazine. In 2008, Tom and Cincom were featured in a Harvard Business School Study. Email Tom Nies:

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