Sometimes when my husband isn’t home at the expected time I assume he’s dead on the side of the highway being eaten by wolves.
So far, this hasn’t happened (but that doesn’t mean it won’t).
Hi, my name is Nicole and I am a Catastrophist.
Catastrophisizing is but one of many cognitive distortions we all fall prey to from time to time, sometimes on a daily basis.
Psychologytoday.com defines catastrophizing perfectly into two parts so I’m quoting them:
Part 1: Predicting a negative outcome.
Part 2: Jumping to the conclusion that if the negative outcome did in fact happen, it would be a catastrophe.
It’s interesting that anyone thinks like this because it so obviously doesn’t serve us, either in leadership or in our personal lives. Yet we do, because we want so badly for the good to happen, that we put equal amount of energy into fearing the worst might happen too.
Catastrophizing is — excuse the redundancy — catastrophic for leaders. As a leader you need to be a beacon of resilience. And unfortunately…
One of the most important traits for a leader is resilience. Inherent in leading, building teams and building a business are setbacks. Actually “setbacks” has a negative connotation to it; really what we should call them are “events that happen that move us towards the events we’d rather happen.”
It’s part of the game. It’s actually part of life in general and resilience is crucial for your personal life too, but when it comes to leadership, resilience or the lack thereof can make or break you.
You therefore want to build an arsenal of tools that support the tendency of resilience. You want sleep, exercise, a good diet, recuperation time, and a growth mindset to focus on challenges as opportunities.
The irony about anticipating stress is that it creates stress, so you immediately bring into your life the very thing you’re trying to avoid when you worry that it will come into your life.
Assumptions and expectations that cause anxiety arise from our past experiences, what we witness from other people’s experiences, and what we see in society from film/TV/books/magazines/etc.
You might have been fired in a past job and assume you will be fired in your new job. You might have seen someone else get fired and assume you will also be fired. You might have seen someone in a movie get fired for something similar to what’s transpiring in your own life and you assume you will be fired too.
These are all fictions and fiction never fully reflects reality.
Furthermore, the future is a landscape that doesn’t exist. Worrying about the future is the same thing as worrying about anything that doesn’t exist. Would you worry that you’re never going to get to visit the country of Alparnia? Probably not, because it’s a country that doesn’t exist.
Keep your mind focused on what exists, which is the moment you are living. It is the only timeline you can control. This will help build a resilient attitude, which will in turn:
Obviously none of these are benefits, but I wanted to label them as such to shine a light on our flawed thinking.
There’s an illusion of strength with your anxiety, that it is giving you control over the eventual outcome. Somewhere in the back of your mind you think “If I worry over it I can effect the outcome I want by thinking of everything I need to do to make sure what I don’t want doesn’t happen.” This is neurotic behavior that only attracts what you don’t want, because you’re only focusing on what you don’t want.
What you do want is nowhere in the equation.
Would you go about making a cake by focusing on all the ingredients that you wouldn’t want to be in it? You’d never make a birthday cake with broccoli, cumin, beef, sesame oil, and a microphone. At least not for someone you love.
Worrying about what you don’t want to happen is putting all of the aforementioned ingredients into a bowl, stirring them together, and putting it in the oven, all the while saying, “I hope I don’t make this cake.” And the only thing you’re doing is making it.
Why some of us are prone to anticipatory anxiety and excessive worry comes down to our core beliefs, which I wrote about here.
Let go of the delusion that your worry is controlling the external world and creating desirable circumstances. Worry is not control.
The solutions, as the saying goes, “are in your head.” You may not permanently solve your catastrophizing, but you can learn to deal with it more effectively.
I’d love to hear your own experiences, thoughts, ideas & tricks. Please share!
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Nicole Lipkin, Psy.D., MBA is an organizational psychologist and the CEO of Equilibria Leadership Consulting. She is the author of “What Keeps Leaders Up At Night” and the co-author of “Y in the Workplace: Managing the ‘Me First’ Generation.”
Originally published at medium.com