“So, how did it go?”my husband asked me when we caught up after a workshop I recently delivered.
“It was a disaster…” I began, and I proceeded to tell him everything that went wrong without leaving out a thing, concluding with “Workshops are not my thing. I’m never going to do this again.” Which, by the way, is total B.S. I’ve been doing workshops for years, doing them effectively, and will keep doing them
But in that moment, all I could think of was my mistakes (as I saw them). I was overcome with shame and embarrassment completely out of proportion to what actually happened, and I was catastrophizing – and living in a disaster of my own mental creation where I would never do that work again.
Catastrophizing is taking one thing that happened in a specific instance and drawing global, permanent conclusions from that single experience.
Catastrophizing can really interfere with getting us to where we want to be and once we’re there, it can mess with us in ways that keep us from achieving our goals.
I see catastrophizing among my clients all the time – most commonly after an interview. Here’s what that looked like in a recent exchange:
Me: How’d the interview go?
J: I totally screwed up. I better just accept I’m never going to find a new job.
How to Stop Catastrophizing
It was now my job to ask J questions and get to the bottom of what really happened, how to recover and what lessons to take forward for the next time. The good news is that you can do this for yourself, and it’s what I did to drag myself out of the funk I was in after that workshop a few weeks ago.
Step 1 – Recognize that you’re catastrophizing. If you find yourself making global statements like “I’ll never find what I want,” or “I’m not qualified for anything,” or “I have such bad luck,” etc. then you are doing it.
Step 2 – Ask yourself, “Are you sure?” The answer has to be NO because you can’t be sure.
Step 3 – Ask yourself, “What did you do exactly that makes you feel that way.” For example, “I forgot to mention that event marketing project,” or “I tripped over the manager’s name a few times.” Write it down.
Step 4 – Is there a way I could address that now? If you forgot to mention something in the interview, then yes, you can mention it in your thank you note.
Step 5 – If there’s no way to address it or get a “do-over” – like if you messed up someone’s name – then just note what you could do to prevent that next time, and take the lesson with you. For example, it’s always a good idea to review people’s names ahead and check out their LinkedIn profiles so you recognize them when you meet.
Step 6 – If you notice residual catastrophizing after you’ve been through Steps 1-5 (and you may), write down the statement you’re telling yourself, e.g., “I’ll never find a new job.” Ask yourself “Is that really true?” If someone said that about someone you love – like your best friend, or your child – would you let them get away with that? Surely not! So why keep doing it to yourself?
Take Better Care of Yourself
Catastrophizing can also be a sign that it’s time to take better care of ourselves. If you’re drawing grand conclusions about who you are and what you’re capable of from simple mistakes we humans make every day, it may mean something else is off.
We’re especially prone to catastrophizing when we’re not getting enough sleep (that was the case for me), or when we need time alone or with a few select people we trust. Sometimes it can mean you’re not fueling your body properly, or there may be some underlying anxiety or depression to address.
The most important thing is that you not try to go it alone. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If I can help, send me an email. I promise to respond personally.