I think that we can all agree with the idea that sometimes the worst possibility seems to be the most likely one.
For example, getting accepted to certain universities or acquiring certain jobs can be seen as unlikely.
Some of these places have an acceptance rate of less than 1%, so failure is very much an option.
In cases such as this, fearing the worst (failure) is perfectly reasonable.
The problem starts at the point where you always expect failure, to the point that you give up on tasks without actually giving them your all
As it turns out, this problem is very common to varying degrees.
At best, a person might be a pessimist while believing themselves to be realistic.
At its absolute worst, it becomes a cognitive distortion, an unrealistic thinking pattern that we subconsciously develop.
This phenomenon is called catastrophizing.
The idea behind it is that it turns smaller problems into much bigger ones.
You essentially create most of your problems by anticipating them and reading into any given situation way too much.
It has to stop.
“Why do I always assume the worst?”
This is probably a question that you have asked yourself at least once.
If not, then someone else probably asked you a variation of this very question at least once.
As it turns out, negative thinking is an inherent quality of humans.
Multiple studies have demonstrated that humans react stronger to negative stimuli than positive stimuli.
Furthermore, it has been demonstrated that humans are loss aversive.
That is to say, on average, losses hurt more than gains feel good.
In fact, Daniel Kahneman, one of the people who developed this idea, won a Nobel Prize for it.
Catastrophizing, on the other hand, takes this pattern of behavior and pushes it to the absolute extreme.
There are several possible explanations as to why is that
- Genetics – Certain people are more likely to develop this type of behavior simply due to their genetics
- Learning the Habit – Negative thinking may be an inherent quality of humans but many of us develop habits that only make this kind of thinking worse
- Difficult past experiences – Difficult, possibly even traumatic, past experiences can drastically change your perception of reality practically overnight
- Anxiety disorders – Negative thinking and excessive worrying are closely associated with different disorders such as anxiety and certain personality disorders
Here is how to stop assuming the worst
Those of us who always make the worst out of a situation have a hard time changing their mindset.
It is an instinct, a pattern of thinking, a habit.
For all intents and purposes, it is a part of your nature, it’s who you are.
Clearly, this is not something that you can change on a whim.
The good news is that it is possible to make your judgment of any given situation more realistic.
This can be accomplished through a variety of methods, here are some of the most useful ones.
1) Challenge your own thoughts
When catastrophizing becomes second nature to you, it is very easy to just go and make the worst out of any given situation.
- Your partner told you that they don’t like your new shirt? Well, they are probably planning to break up with you!
- Your boss made a comment about something that you did at work? Better start reviewing your resume because you are definitely getting fired!
- Failed an exam? You are a failure and life is pretty much over for you!
These are some extreme, although not uncommon, examples.
The point here is that pattern stays the same regardless: You get into a certain situation and you immediately fold, convincing yourself that the worst possible scenario is going to happen.
This process is automatic and unthinking, but what if it didn’t have to be?
The best way to fight your own thoughts is to be conscious of them.
Whenever you start having a bad thought you need to recognize it for what it is and tell yourself to stop.
Once you succeed in doing that, start asking yourself questions to challenge it.
- Why do I think that this is going to happen?
- What can I do to prevent it from happening?
- How realistic is that scenario?
- Is this situation really all that important?
To reuse a previous example, if your partner told you that they don’t like your new shirt, you can challenge yourself by acknowledging the fact that this issue is a very minor one.
Don’t let your thoughts control you.
Once you started challenging them you have already won half the battle.
2) Rest properly
To put it simply, not getting enough rest is bad for you.
This is a well-known fact, and you would not be able to find many who would argue against the importance of sleep.
Most healthy adults need 7 to 9 hours of sleep, but what happens if we don’t get enough sleep?
At first, nothing much – most people can afford to lose some sleep from time to time.
The problems start when we don’t get enough sleep over an extended period of time.
Sleep debt has many symptoms, some of which include:
- Lack of focus\motivation
- Learning difficulties
- Depressed mood
In this particular case, the most noteworthy symptom is anxiety.
As it turns out, sleep debt can cause feelings of anxiety which may contribute to your catastrophizations.
Aside from getting enough quality sleep, overworking and overstressing yourself is also bad.
Rest doesn’t necessarily have to come in the form of sleep.
I would highly recommend setting up some free time in your schedule for a few hours of rest at least once a week.
In some cases, this may require some planning ahead, but the results are well worth it.
Anxiety and stress don’t do you any good, and proper rest can be the difference between a positive person and a negative one.
3) Congratulate yourself on every success
As I have said before, humans are prone to having a certain negativity bias.
We tend to react to negative situations more strongly than positive ones.
For example, if I took 5 tests and scored 95% of 4 of them and 65% on the fifth, I would probably focus on my one poor grade over my four great ones.
This fact doesn’t only apply to tests, but with anything and everything that we do in life.
We become more critical and less appreciative without ever meaning to.
So why don’t we try to fight against it? We should.
A great method to accomplish that is to recognize every success, however minor, that you experience in your life for what it is.
- Did you get to work on time? Good for you!
- Did you finish all of your work for the day on time? Amazing!
- You got a discount coupon for groceries? Great!
- Your partner told you that they love you? Way to go!
The idea is that, for most of us, our positive experiences far outweigh our negative ones in terms of sheer volume.
It’s just that we choose to ignore said positive experiences for a variety of reasons.
The best way to build up a resistance to extreme negative thinking is to acknowledge every single one of these successes.
Try writing them down, or alternatively, have a to-do list and do your best to stick to it.
One of the best ways to build confidence in tough times is to learn to trust yourself to pull through.
So the next time you find yourself in a tight spot, pull out your list and read it.
You have already demonstrated your ability to succeed, and you have proof to show for it, so why start worrying now?
4) Overcome your anxiety
Believe me, I know what it is like when your brain starts going wild with crazy ideas and ruins your entire day.
At that point you become your own worst enemy, creating most of the problems that you have to deal with daily and not being able to do anything about it.
The source of all of these problems is your own anxiety.
When it comes to this point it might even be considered a disorder, but it’s not healthy for you regardless.
Once you overcome your anxiety you will be able to put your life back on track.
No more made up problems, no more obsessive worry.
All of the methods that I have walked you through up to this point were designed to help you accomplish just that.
That being said, to overcome your anxiety as a whole you just might need a little bit of extra help.
I would highly recommend checking out the Panic Away Program, arguably the best collection of tips, tricks, and methods for overcoming anxiety that I have ever seen.
The process of overcoming your anxiety will not be a short one, but thanks to this program, it can be started right now.
Aside from that, if you have any further questions that you would like to ask me personally then feel free to get in touch either by Email or the comment section below.
I would love to hear from you!