When disaster strikes, it is easy to feel like the world has ended. However, having a healthy sense of perspective can help you manage your emotions and your energy so that you are able to re-enter society with confidence.
The “art of manliness resilience” is a skill that helps you to be able to deal with difficult situations. It is important for people to learn how to avoid catastrophizing and instead focus on the present.
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When we first started this series, I spoke about how I got interested in resilience while in law school. Every semester, I struggled to wait for my final results and would spend the time doing what my wife referred to as “logging out”: lying on the sofa, miserable.
My slumber was brought on by thoughts that went something like this:
“I’m going to flunk Partnership Law,” says the student. And if I fail that class, my GPA will suffer, and my scholarship will be revoked. Then I’ll have to borrow a lot of money to pay for school. And since I won’t be in the top ten any more, I won’t be able to secure a job at a large legal firm. I’m not going to be able to find work anyplace. I won’t be able to maintain my family then, and I’ll be in debt.”
In short, I convinced myself that one bad grade would send me straight to the flophouse. Catastrophizing is a term used by psychologists to describe what I was doing.
This is the second-to-last installment in the resilience series, and although it isn’t very deep or sophisticated, it can teach you a fast and dirty way to avoid your thoughts from devolving into a train disaster.
Thinking in Catastrophic Terms
Catastrophizing is picturing and concentrating on the worst-case scenario for a situation. It’s simply overreacting and allowing your mind to wander to terrifying and improbable alternatives. It’s the type of thing that occurs when you’re laying up at three a.m., terrified of the future and what will happen to you.
Catastrophic thinking is a chain reaction. One “what if” leads to another, and before you know it, you’re on the street, homeless.
There are two types of catastrophizing. It may be triggered by a real-life event, such as taking law school exams. It might also be the result of looking into the future and picturing one’s life taking a disastrous turn.
What Is It About Catastrophic Thinking That Is So Appealing?
Catastrophizing may lead to some fairly crazy outcomes. If you’ve ever done it in front of other people, they’ve undoubtedly urged you to calm down. Kate was always trying to persuade me that logging out was irrational. However, the disaster chain seems real to you, and it’s difficult to break free. Why?
While the whole jump from point A to point B is irrational, each individual link in the chain does not appear to be that unlikely. Your mind jumps from one semi-logical connection to the next, and by the time you get to the finish, everything appears to make sense.
To demonstrate how this works, I created the following scientific diagram:
The Catastrophe Chain Is Being Short-Circuited
Catastrophizing causes a logical breakdown because it assumes that each link in the chain will inexorably lead to the next. As a result, you must take a step back and consider what may potentially occur.
To do so, write down each step in your chain of catastrophic ideas and question if these occurrences may really happen.
Assume Brian is in charge of a crucial sales presentation for his organization. It’s a big deal that’s on the line. Brian, on the other hand, forgets his USB stick, which contained his PowerPoint presentation. He stutters through an off-the-cuff speech, evidently leaving his prospective customers disappointed and unimpressed. Brian’s thoughts is racing down Catastrophe Lane as he sits at his desk after the presentation.
“Due to my dreadful presentation, the firm will not be awarded the contract.” As a result, my employer is going to dismiss me. I’ll never be able to find another job that pays as well as this one. We won’t be able to pay our mortgage, and we’ll be evicted from our home. My wife is going to leave me if we lose the home.”
Brian must break the chain of catastrophic ideas by writing down each link in the chain and giving a number from 1 to 10 to each link that signifies the probability of that scenario happening. A score of ten indicates that it is almost certain to occur; a score of one indicates that it is very unlikely. Simultaneously, he considers some of the reasons why the event will not take place.
- Because of my poor presentation, the firm will not be awarded the contract. -8
- Reasons it won’t happen: Despite the fact that it was a terrible presentation, I still managed to get across a few essential points about why they should select us. There’s a possibility the customers got through the sloppy presentation and saw the advantages of awarding us the contract.
- My supervisor intends to dismiss me. -6
- Reasons why it won’t happen: The company’s success hinged on landing that contract, but it’s hardly the end of the world. I made a tremendous blunder, but in the five years I’ve been with the firm, I’ve been the top salesperson and brought in more contracts than anybody else. I’ve been named employee of the year on two occasions. It would be quite difficult for them to succeed in replacing me.
- I’ll never be able to find another job that pays as well as this one. -3
- Reasons why it won’t happen: Sure, the economy is bad and it’s difficult to get work, but claiming that I’ll never obtain a better job is ridiculous. Things will revert to normalcy at some point. I’m aware that I may have to work in less attractive positions for a time, but I’m prepared to do so. I’ve got a great résumé and can outwork any man out there. I’ll keep pushing until I find a job that is even better than the one I now have.
- We won’t be able to pay our mortgage, and we’ll be evicted from our home. -3
- Reasons why it won’t happen: We can still make the house payments on Jane’s earnings alone. We’ll have to cut our spending to a bare minimum, but we’ve done it before and can do it again.
- My wife is going to leave me if we lose the home. –1
- Reasons why it won’t happen: Jane and I have a fantastic connection. We’ve gone through a lot worse than losing our home. She’s already demonstrated that she’ll stand with me no matter what.
Brian could perhaps see how rapidly the logic of the chain unraveled as it went along by compiling this list and looking at the true chance of these things occurring. Simply writing down your ideas and coming up with reasons why things won’t happen that way helps clear your mind, calm you down, and enhance your confidence.
Make a list of proactive actions to do.
When we don’t feel in control of what’s going to happen to us, we’re prone to catastrophizing. Another important step in overcoming catastrophic ideas is to make a list of things you can do to prevent your worst-case scenarios from becoming reality. When you have a strategy in place, any type of plan, you’ll feel much more peaceful and assured.
As a result, Brian would produce a list that looked like this:
- Call the customer, apologize for the poor presentation, and ask if I could take their team out to lunch to discuss a couple topics that weren’t touched in the presentation.
- Do not wait for the boss to approach me. Apologize profusely to him, remind him of your previous achievements, and promise to work tirelessly to make up. Tell him I’ll go right to work bringing in new business.
- Update my résumé and make sure it’s in tip-top form in case I’m fired.
After you’ve created your list, go to work on the following stages. Taking action will help you feel more in charge and less like a log.
Part I – An Introduction to Building Your Resilience Avoiding Learned Helplessness and Changing Your Explanatory Style: Part II of Building Your Resiliency Part III – Taking Control of Your Life – Increasing Your Resilience Part IV of Building Your Resilience – There’s an Iceberg Ahead! Part V: Recognizing and Using Your Signature Strengths – Increasing Your Resilience Building Your Resilience: Part VI – Stop Catastrophizing Building Your Resilience: Part VII – Help Your Children Build Their Resilience
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I stop catastrophizing?
A: There are various ways to try and stop catastrophizing, such as cognitive behavioral therapy.
Why cant I stop catastrophizing?
A: Because it helps you manage your stress and worry.
What is catastrophizing cognitive distortion?
A: This is a cognitive distortion that occurs when someone over-exaggerates the likelihood of bad outcomes.
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