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Are You Catastrophizing?

Are you Catastrophizing? I didn’t know that word until recently, but I have met clients with this behavior. People who catastrophize imagine a lot of problems, even the most unlikely. For some, this condition places significant limitations on their lives.

The first step in fighting this is to become aware of the mechanism. When you are in a safe place and have time to think, consider which things you have recently decided not to do. Reflect on the reason you said no. If you find that you had a good reason, fine. You are rationally careful. If you no longer think saying no was necessary, then imagine a similar situation in the future. Imagine saying yes. That prepares you and lessens the risk of catastrophizing.

Set your Mind’s GPS

Did you ever set your GPS wrong? I have, but quickly noticed something wrong with the directions I was given. But if you set your mind’s GPS wrong, it can take you a while to notice.

If you are unhappy about the path of your life, you need to re-program your mind’s GPS. A simple way to do that is by saying affirmations. An affirmation is a compelling sentence that describes how you feel after reaching your goal. One of mine has been “I am so happy and grateful that I now feel relaxed and confident as I speak in front of an audience.” I talk more about affirmations in chapter 7 of my book “Life after Bullying.”

Design an affirmation and say it to yourself every day. You will find that it directs your mind to seek a way to reach the goal your affirmation describes.

Reprogram Your Brain

Are you using your brain right? The human brain has two thinking systems: A fast system and a slow system. The slow system is for carefully considering situations, and it uses a lot of energy. The fast system provides quick answers in routine situations and uses much less energy.

Our brains have evolved over thousands of years to automatically select which system to use. In every situation, the fast system gets the first try. In 98% of all cases, the fast system comes up with what it thinks is a good answer, and doesn’t even ask the slow system.

Fortunately, you can use the slow system to re-program the fast system. To change your behavior, think about a situation in advance and tell yourself what you want to happen. Your fast system might automatically say yes when your boss asks you to do one more thing today. Tell yourself that next time, you will say that you will do the task tomorrow. Simply stating your goal tells your fast thinking system that the automatic response is no longer the right answer.

Train your Independence

Have you outsourced your thinking to your devices? Surveys show that spatial awareness and the ability to read a map are declining as everybody uses navigation apps to go anywhere. Now Apple has come up with a little tracking device you can put on your keys and other things you might lose. When you can’t find your keys, the corresponding app will tell you where they are. If you get one of these tracking things, you can be sure that your ability to remember where you put your keys is similarly going to decline.

If you are not practicing your spatial awareness or your memory, it will decline. Even if you don’t think about it, your mind knows that you are no longer able to run your life without your devices. That fosters a feeling of helplessness. Try going a few days without your gadgets. You will find that it is harder than you thought. And you will experience a sense of accomplishment and freedom.

Train Your Brain

Are you getting smarter or dumber? If you’re not challenging your brain, it loses power just like muscles you don’t use. The physiology is completely different, but research shows that we can add more brain cells by using our brains just like we can add more muscle mass by using our muscles.

Because it takes so much energy to run a human brain, the body is always looking for shortcuts. Routines and habits mean that you don’t have to think – you just do as you normally do. It is your job to keep your brain fit by giving it new challenges. You don’t have to learn a new language or to play the piano, but you should always have something new to keep your brain fresh and interested. What new skill or challenge will you give your brain to work on this weekend?