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Why Crystal Balling Is Bad For You

And the five steps that can help you stop it today

Arya Bagheri / EyeEm/ Getty Images
Arya Bagheri / EyeEm/ Getty Images

You wake up the morning of that important meeting, and your belly tightens into a knot. Although the day is new, you are instantly anxious and cannot take deep breath.

You fill up a mug with extra dark coffee, skip breakfast, and run out the door. You arrive at your meeting exhausted, with a racing heart and a panic attack brewing from the effects of your anxious thoughts and the coffee you injected yourself with.

Sound familiar?

We all experience these moments of extreme fear at some point in our lives. For some of us, they are a daily occurrence. These fear episodes can be triggered by events like an important work meeting, an exam, an awkward social situation, a disagreement with a family member or colleague, a confrontation with a significant other… etc.

From an early age, we’re told that failure has disastrous consequences — that we must ace that exam, that interview, that presentation or report. Our whole future could depend on performing perfectly and saying the right things! And so we develop a paralyzing fear of failure.

But the truth is different. In fact, there is no “perfect” performance, and people who see the value of learning from mistakes are more likely to succeed than those who are terrified of making them. More than that, people who believe that they will do well and eliminate all thoughts of failure are more likely to succeed.

In the U.S. alone, nearly 40 million people experience an anxiety disorder in any given year (https://adaa.org/). This is without counting the everyday anxiety that so many of us feel about our performance. About whether we will succeed. About whether it is a good idea for us to try.

It is even common for people to miss out on important opportunities, refusing to apply to schools or jobs, or make investment decisions, because they are so anxious that they will not perform well.

So why do we get so hung up on our daily performance, to the point of inducing panic?

It’s because we’re subconsciously predicting the future. We are “crystal balling.”

Crystal balling is the action of holding an imaginary crystal ball and trying to look into the future, even though the future does not yet exist. Because we cannot be assured of success in this future that has yet to be determined, we imagine the worst!

We actively predict that we will suck at that important meeting, we will fail that exam, our significant other will leave us when we have that important conversation, or we will lose at that football game. We are sure that we will not get the job after the interview, we will have no money after paying that bill, and the world will end soon! All these thoughts haunt us, and create a sense of panic.

Needless to say, this crystal balling leads to severe anxiety. Because, let’s face it — these are very scary outcomes! Who would want to be jobless, relationship-less, poor, and on top of it all, lose a football game?

If we want to defeat our anxiety, we must stop crystal balling — and instead start believing in ourselves.

Remember that the future is never guaranteed. You cannot see the future, you cannot feel it or know what it holds. The only things you can predict are your own actions today- your own continuing efforts. Your choice to keep going – or not. 

To stop your subconscious from predicting a disastrous future, try these methods:

  • Stop trying to predict the future. Stop crystal balling. Focus on what you can control: your actions.

  • Try predicting, or imagining, positive outcomes. At least once a day, imagine your dream outcome coming true.

  • Don’t worry about how likely these outcomes seem — just envision them. You may begin to stumble upon surprising new ways to make them possible, that you would never have seen if you continued to predict the worst!

  • Be grateful and celebrate each milestone. 

  • Repeat for every situation, every day!

We may not know whether we will succeed in an endeavor. But we do know that dreaming of positive outcomes sure does feel great today and that is all that matters. 

So let’s put our crystal balls aside, stay positive, and focus on the present and on what really works: creating our future, not predicting it!

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