When your day isn’t going particularly well, what kind of thoughts start coming up for you? Too often, our thoughts can make our day seem much more difficult than it needs to be! There are many ways that this can happen, but I’d like to focus on just one.
A common thing many of us do — at least some of the time — is catastrophizing. If something fairly insignificant goes wrong, our imagination can grab hold of it, and stretch it until it becomes much larger, more profoundly upsetting, and wind up almost unrecognizable from where it started. Catastrophizing is when we make a mountain out of a molehill!
An example of something fairly small going wrong, might be if you had a hard time getting out of the house one morning, and then you got stuck in traffic on your way to an early meeting at work. Your nerves might already be a bit frayed from whatever caused you to have problems leaving home in the first place. It’s then that your imagination could kick everything into overdrive.
The best course of action would be to calm yourself by taking nice, slow, deep breaths, and then to turn your thoughts to something pleasant until the traffic starts flowing again. Unfortunately, what often happens is that you would find yourself sitting there drumming your fingers on the steering wheel, and muttering under your breath. Your eyes would constantly be turning toward the clock, thinking about how late you’re going to be.
You might start to imagine yourself getting there way after everyone else. You think about walking into that meeting room, and having everyone’s attention turn toward you. You suddenly remember how much your boss values promptness, and you begin to think that he might even ask you to stay after everyone else leaves. You’re pretty sure that he’ll reprimand you, and might even write you up for your tardiness. Pretty soon your thoughts turn to all the other “what if’s.” You might even get as far as to imagining yourself being fired.
Wow! Look where your imagination could lead you! You could go from being momentarily stuck in traffic, all the way to being fired, in a matter of seconds. It’s catastrophizing in action. And it isn’t a pretty picture.
Our imaginations can for sure lead us astray! It’s important that we don’t give them free rein to take us where we don’t want to go. We need to do our best to stay grounded in reality. Things aren’t always perfect, but they’re usually a lot better than our imagination paints them. Be on guard that you don’t catastrophize!
Until next time,
* Photo by Mary Lou Aukee