How often do you rate something as awful, terrible, or horrible? Awfulising (also often referred to as ‘catastrophic thinking’) is the term used to describe the common tendency to exaggerate the negative consequences of our life situations – believing that something is awful or catastrophic, even though in most cases it is only undesirable or unpleasant. Largely inconsequential events such as being kept waiting, having to spend time with someone we don’t like, looking silly in front of others or forgetting an appointment can feel like a catastrophe when we perceive it that way. We imply to ourselves that something is the worst that could ever happen, or it’s the end of the world.
Typical self-talk may involve:
This is terrible.
It would be awful if...
This is the worst thing that could ever happen.
Old habits die hard and often we will only see two alternatives - our problems are either serious, or there is nothing wrong at all (black and white thinking).
There is a better way and that is to learn to think in moderate terms. That means avoiding extremes (either positive or negative) which are out of proportion to what is going on and that hurt unnecessarily. Do not minimise your difficulties though. Avoid so-called ‘positive thinking’ (that’s more for people who need to be motivated to do something). What we are talking about here is realistic thinking - seeing things as they really are.
In real life, very little is ever 100% bad - or 100% good. The trouble with awfulising is that it often implies something is as bad as it could be. But how often is that the case? You might think that a flat tyre was the worst thing that could have happened on your way to an interview – but it could have been two flat tyres and only one spare. You can undercut awfulising by viewing what is going on in relation to other - possibly worse - events.
You are not denying reality by telling yourself that 'it could be worse.' Rather, see things that are unpleasant, uncomfortable and inconvenient as just that and no more - not as the end of the world. Then you will avoid adding unnecessary emotional pain to the real problems you do have. In other words, keep things in perspective.
Some typical catastrophising thoughts are below. Alongside each is a more realistic alternative.
We get upset when things do not go the way we believe they should because we assume that the consequences will be catastrophic. Our self-talk can make us feel bad: ‘I am stupid!’, ‘I messed that up, ‘I hate doing this job!’, ‘How boring!’, ‘What if they don’t like me?’ Self-talk that is negative or self-defeating can be recognised because it usually precedes or accompanies upsetting emotions. Tuning in to our thoughts is important, as it enables us to identify the cognitions that make us feel bad, and that are therefore worth challenging. Our thoughts are like an inner voice, reflecting our perceptions of what is happening in our world. When we learn to be more flexible in our thinking, we stop awfulising as well.
How can you change from awfulising to realistic thinking:
Learn to catch yourself doing it. When you use words such as 'awful', 'terrible', 'disastrous'; or have feelings like anxiety and hopelessness challenge these exaggerated thoughts. Reduce extremes and get things back into perspective.
When worrying about forthcoming ‘disasters’, ask yourself: 'What is the worst that is really likely to happen?'
In other words, get those mountains back to the molehills they really are.
“Excellence is never an accident. It is always the result of high intention, sincere effort, and intelligent execution; it represents the wise choice of many alternatives - choice, not chance, determines your destiny.” ~Aristotle
Many organisations are slowly starting to realise that if you want engagement, and you want people to be creative and innovative, autonomy is more important than financial reward.
When the profit motive is paramount and it becomes unhinged from the purpose motive bad things can happen. When profit comes first the workforce becomes disillusioned and things start to go wrong. Start treating people like people and recognise that if you want engagement self-direction is better. It will lead to a happier workforce and more creative (and profitable) output.
This lively RSA Animate, adapted from Dan Pink's talk at the RSA, illustrates the hidden truths behind what really motivates us at home and in the workplace.
Watch this brilliant video. Creativity is so important in education and in helping children lead fulfilling lives. Creativity is often unexpected and exciting. It involves seeing things in new ways and breaking rules. Creativity may result in something radically different. As Sir Ken Robinson says in the video: "If you are not prepared to be wrong, you will never create anything original."
“Move out of your comfort zone. You can only grow if you are willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable when you try something new.” ~ Brian Tracy.
I recently became very frustrated trying to teach some people some very simple IT. It has been frustrating because they had closed minds. They thought that it would be too difficult for them to learn so they didn’t even try.
One of the biggest reasons why people get stuck in reading and discussing things instead of taking action to change their lives for the better is simply that for a while it feels uncomfortable.
But to make real changes in your life you have to step outside your comfort zone.
When you get stuck in your comfort zone then you are closed up. You create barriers that stop you learning and achieving new things. If you want to begin producing different results in your life, you’ll need to step outside your comfort zone and do something different.
The emotions you experience are often a result of what you focus your mind on. Change what you focus on about something and you can change your emotions about that thing. Years ago when I trained in martial arts my instructor would always say to me “there’s no such word as can’t”. He said that as soon as you say you can’t do something then you won’t be able to do it.
For years, the 4-minute mile was considered not merely unreachable but, according to physiologists of the time, dangerous to the health of any athlete who attempted to reach it.
When Roger Bannister crossed the finish line with a time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds, he broke through a psychological barrier as well.
John Landy, considered one of the great milers of that era, had never gotten closer than within 1.5 seconds of the 4-minute barrier before. Within 46 days of Bannister’s breakthrough, Landy surpassed the record with a 3:57.9 in Finland. Bannister and Landy raced later in the year in the “Mile of the Century” at Vancouver, a runoff to decide who was the fastest at running the mile. Bannister won in 3:58.8 to Landy’s 3:59.6, the first time two men in one race had broken 4 minutes.
By the end of 1957, 16 runners had logged sub-4-minute miles.
What holds us back in our zone of comfort is often a fear or that facing that fear head on might be overwhelming. You need to work at stretching your comfort zone and slowly making it less uncomfortable and frightening.
Realise that it can be fun to get out of your comfort zone despite what your mind and feelings might be telling you before you get started. Think back to the previous times when you have broken out of your comfort zone. Focus on the positive memories, when you got out there, when you took a chance. And you will probably remember that it wasn’t so bad, it was actually fun and exciting and something new to you.
A lot of times we automatically play back negative experiences or negative interpretations of events in our minds before we are about to do something. We forget about the positive memories and our previous, positive achievements. Let the good memories flow through your mind instead.
It can be uncomfortable to step out of your comfort zone. But the discomfort will be temporary so just do it even though you may not fully feel like it.
If you accept that there is going to be some discomfort it tends to become smaller or less significant. If you on the other hand focus on how hard it is, think about it a lot and create all sorts of drama around it then you feed it with more energy and it becomes so uncomfortable that you can become paralysed from taking action.
- Only once in your life...
- What your garden says about you...
- Lateral Thinking
- Stop trying so hard... (work smarter not harder?)
- Let them eat dirt!
- Relax. Don't do it...
- Memory Strategy May Help Depressed People Remember the Good Times
- People with 'balanced time perspective' are more likely to call themselves content
- Still learning...
- Being in awe can expand time and enhance well-being
- Play it Forward
- The importance of Lifelong Learning...