Staring disaster in the face:
How to stop catastrophic thinking (Part 3)
When I was small my imagination would run riot. By day it was fun and excitement, laughing and shouting and running around burning off all that youthful energy. Night-time was different. Creaking floorboards heralded monsters and angry shadow-faces glared at me through the curtains. Once the lights were out, I’d be peeping cautiously from under the sheets, waiting for ‘them’ to get me.
If I summoned up enough courage to call for parental rescue, as soon as someone turned the light back on all my fears would vanish. Eventually I realised it wasn’t my Mum or Dad that scared the monsters away, it was the light. All I had to do was switch on my bedside light & I’d see what was really there.
My room. Nothing more.
Except once when it was a mouse, skittering across the floor & disappearing through a gap in the skirting board. I named him Jerry, of course.
Even as grown ups, we like to turn on the light when things are scary. Like TV programs or films that make us jump or scream. Or noises in the night that conjure up intruders and turn out to be nothing once the light’s on but just to make sure you stomp heavily round the house so whoever’s there has time to leave before you find them.
Light has a talent for stopping an imagined catastrophe in its tracks.
You see, with catastrophic thinking your imagination skilfully produces its very own horror movie right there in your mind. And the scarier it is, the more you won’t watch or listen, telling yourself it’ll never happen and please stop thinking about it right now!
But that’s the problem, right there.
The disaster scenario playing out in your head is almost always a very-unlikely-but-still-actually-possible outcome. So telling yourself it’ll never happen’s a lie and your mind just turns up the volume.
So how do you handle it?
Shine a mental spotlight on it.
This way, rather than letting the special effects team in your head run riot, you end up seeing exactly what your mind’s trying to warn you about. (Unlikely though it probably is, your mind thinks the bad thing could happen & is trying to get you prepared, just in case…)
It’s often something like this:
‘If I mess up this presentation, they’ll know I’m not up to it and then I’ll lose my job and I won’t be able to pay the mortgage/rent, so I’ll lose my house & my family won’t have a home…”
“I just know I’ll say something stupid and they’ll laugh and think I’m crazy and it’ll be so embarrassing I’ll never be able to show my face again…it’ll be better for everyone if I just don’t go…”
But whilst these scenarios are possible, they’re actually pretty unlikely. Your mind’s trying to help by letting you know it’s important to do well. It’s just doing it by showing you how bad it could get if it goes wrong!
So how do I stop catastrophic thinking, then?
Actively stare the scary beasty full in the face. Put it under a spotlight & work out exactly out what the worst case scenario really is.
Then make a plan.
“If this [bad thing] really happened, I’d do [Plan A].”
This way, if your mind does shout at you that everything could come tumbling down at any moment, just tell yourself this:
“Thanks for letting me know that the [bad thing] might happen. It’s really unlikely but if it does, I’ll just use [Plan A]. So now that’s covered, let’s concentrate on doing well.”
[I mean it, really do say it to yourself, or even out loud if no-one’s listening!]
By actively engaging with the part of your mind that’s trying to warn you, it knows it’s got your attention AND that you’ve listened. It’s surprising how quickly it calms down once you do.
If you’d like to have a chat about how I can help free you from catastrophic thinking, drop me a line here.
I’d be happy to send you my newsletter too, if you like. It’s out every couple of weeks with something special just for you. If you’re up for it, just click here to join in.