Do you sometimes make things bigger than they really are? When you face a challenge, can you see it in proper perspective? Or do you have a tendency to make things bigger than they really are?
The great social activist Chicken Little was quoted as saying “The sky is falling” when he had merely been struck in the head by a falling acorn.
Blowing things out of proportion can be a problem if you are the one in charge. Yes, that would be a challenge if you do it on a regular basis. Leaders must keep things in proper perspective.
One of my clients introduced me to a new term “catastrophizing”. This means making a situation far greater than it really is. The way we entered this discussion was talking about limiting thoughts. I had asked the client to give me some examples of limiting thoughts they suffer. While a few of the answers were the usual, this one surprised me.
As an executive, you are confronted with problems almost daily. Things happen; often not as planned. You have to field questions, hear the news, and make decisions.
What if everything you were given was turned into something far more tragic? What if something someone on your team failed to do was declared a disaster when it is really just a setback or a simple honest mistake?
Think about the energy both emotional and physical you would spend dealing with such catastrophes.
Through my client’s own vulnerability, I was able to add a great word to my coaching. If you act like Chicken Little you will get yourself worked into a panic. You will be running around in a frenzy, stirring up others to join your panic party. Doing this is catastrophizing. Even if you leave others out of it, your own waste of energy and emotional effort can cause conflict and confuse the situation.
[shareable cite=”Mark Twain”]There has been much tragedy in my life; at least half of it actually happened.[/shareable]
Why do people do this?
I don’t practice psychology, so I cannot even venture a technical argument as to why some are prone to act this way. However, I can share an observation from years of leadership experience on the job.
People who catastrophize often do so for several reasons.
- A Sense of Dread – They are convinced life has been mean to them. The proverbial cup is half empty all the time. Therefore, any new event that arises must be bad. They are blinded to any possibility of a favorable outcome.
Lack of Trust – People who lose trust in mankind look at problems as people problems, all the time. Their way of thinking says the other person is the reason these things are bad.
No Hope – Theirs is a world of doom and gloom. They are convinced things are hopeless. In their minds, blue skies are really just a funny shade of gray.
Sadly, I have run into these kinds of co-workers and professionals most of my career. Thank goodness they are not everywhere, nor are they in leadership very often. But when they are, look out.
The biggest problem I see with catastrophizing is the waste of energy and resources. Whether the energy is emotional or physical, the expenditure of energy trying to avoid the catastrophe is great.
One of the wisest words I ever heard was the phrase “The problem is not the problem.” Think about that. Whenever you are confronted with what seems like a problem, check first see if what you are being told is a problem is really the problem. Here’s an example.
Missed deadlines are usually a problem anywhere. Unless that deadline is a life or death situation, most missed deadlines are bad, but not the end of the world. Having a missed deadline, though it seems big and real, may not be the problem at all. Rather, the real problem may be with the process, procedure, or people. Are the deadlines even reasonable considering the mix of the above elements? Or has someone failed at their task?
Being able to properly discern the root cause of an issue is preferable to simply catastrophizing and running around like Chicken Little.
The sky is not falling. It’s just an acorn.
[reminder]How do you prevent yourself from catastrophizing your circumstance?[/reminder]
Originally posted on DougThorpe.com
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