Put a plan in place and set your mind at ease
It’s human nature to think of all the things that could go wrong when a bit of trouble comes up.
It could be a protective mechanism or an inherent problem-solving approach that makes some look to worst-case scenarios and think about everything that could go wrong. This can weigh heavily on a person, especially when it becomes the default, dominates all thoughts and daily conversations turn into exchanges about this situation.
Catastrophic thinking is draining. It is not typically just one thought and done, either. It starts to consume the person’s thoughts. A rattle in the car means the whole front end is going to fall off; one carpenter ant shows up on the back deck so the whole house is infested; or one stomach ache means there’s a serious problem that needs investigating immediately. This thought process is depleting. It is fatiguing – mentally, emotionally and physically. For some it can drain their resilience battery quickly, as well as those of the people around them.
Most feel optimism is simply not facing the facts, sugar-coating the situation or not being realistic. In the consulting I do this comes up weekly. Currently I start projects with this statement: “As we work on this project, I want you to envision the people that this will work for, that will be excited by this opportunity and don’t focus on the people who are going to not be supportive.” So much energy on these projects, both in and out of work, can be spent on the people who are going to want to discuss everything that could go wrong, why it will not work – which leads to the conclusion “Forget it,” out of frustration.
Practising optimism doesn’t mean avoiding the potential pitfalls of life or the negative information. In fact, research shows optimists are more, not less vigilant about the risks and threats. Most optimists are aware that good things depend on their efforts and they don’t wait around to see what happens. They envision the success and they go for it.
Some people are optimists by nature. These people give your resilience battery a boost if you let them. Most don’t simply believe that everything is going to work out, they roll up their sleeves and do everything in their power to make sure it is going to work out. It is those who just hope the situation will work out but don’t put in any effort, that cause frustration.
Moving from a pessimist to an optimist takes some work. It is not like flipping a switch and then finding everything is peachy. You need to start working on it and developing the skill. One strategy starts with a pen and paper and thinking of the “what-ifs.” List them all. Then, under each one, write down the action steps to take if that happens. Once this is completed, put it on the fridge or on the bedside stand and be confident that a plan is in place and can be activated. Have your partner or friend look at it and get suggestions to make sure you feel it is robust.
Step two is to do the opposite: write down all the ways this could go right and what it would mean. What if it is just one ant on the deck? What if it is just some ice built up in the wheel of the car? What if it’s just some indigestion and all that is needed is a good burp?
Next, figure out how to confirm your positive outlook. “I am going to watch for two weeks and consciously keep an eye out for ants; I am going to drop by the shop and let them have a quick look; or I am going to my doctor and ask if this is just indigestion.” This is a high hurdle for some and there will be pushback in your head or from the person you are dealing with. This is where the “yeah, but…” typically occurs. “Yeah, but… Jane and John in Saint John had one ant and it turned into a $10,000 problem.” Rarely is there a search to find 10 neighbours, friends or people online who found just one ant and it never turned into anything. The catastrophic story becomes the reality that is going to occur.
It is not about avoiding a bad situation or sticking your head in the sand, it is trying not to burn our whole resilience battery on this one event. Could there be an ant infestation that will cost $10,000? Yes, but you built a plan around it and have it ready to go. The question is how much mental energy do you want to put into it, in worry, after a plan is in place and ready to go? Here is an example. An ant is seen on the deck on Monday, and we can not get a professional evaluation until Friday. The whole week is spent Googling horrific pictures, stories of people from all corners of the world that have had an infestation; you get grouchy when your partner or friend doesn’t want to talk about the what-ifs for the 10th time and frustration sets in with people who are not taking it seriously. Then Friday finally comes. The specialist finishes the check and turns to say, “Checked it all out, looks like it was just the one ant. It is not uncommon that a rogue one can show up. I did a full check and I am confident you are all good.” Think of the energy put into this, the stress, the damaging of relationships, all for naught.
When those thoughts start creeping in, remembering that all the research has been done and a plan is in place if the situation is the worst-case scenario should be the default. Next steps can be to call a friend who is a go-to booster, the one who says, “You know what, I bet it is just one ant and it will all work out.”
Finally, why not Google “found one carpenter ant and it turned out to be nothing,” rather than “one carpenter ant leads to house infestation.”
Be ready and open to change. See the effect this style of thinking has on your health, the people around you and the relationships you are in.
Darren Steeves is the owner of VenduraWellness.com, a company dedicated to improving organizational health one step at a time.