Catastrophizing. It’s a dramatic word, isn’t it?
When we look ahead, whether it’s to a new year or just an ordinary new day, we can look with a perspective that’s filled with hope for the promise of things to come. Or we can look with an eye to all the terrible things that just might happen.
In Choice Theory, Dr. Glasser promotes the use of active language. For example, rather than, “I’m anxious,” he’d suggest “I’m anxietying.” Or rather than, “I’m angry” it would be, “I’m angering.”
The purpose of these odd-sounding words is to reinforce to us that we are not necessarily passive victims of feelings over which we have no control. If it is within our control to choose “anxietying” for example, then it follows that it is also within our control to choose something else—something that could be more effective for our lives.
As Glasser writes, “When you learn that you are almost always free to make better choices, the concept that you can choose your misery can lead to optimism.” That is, you are free to do something different. You can choose to do something other than suffering.
I thought I’d focus on catastrophizing because I think many of us are exposed to it; however, we may not always recognize it for what it is.
There’s so much information available to us, through news, social media, conversations. How can a news source or a thought-leader get our attention when competing with the noise of so much information? Present it dramatically, perhaps in a frightening way. That is, by catastrophizing.
It’s certainly true that many, many things could go wrong. Diseases could run rampant. We could be clobbered by space junk. Addictions abound. Natural disasters, crime, war, politics, climate, economics—there’s a catastrophic future that can be imagined for pretty much everything.
When you hear all these things, you could feel hopeless. You might start catastrophizing, too.
Glasser writes, “The idea that a situation is hopeless, that you can do nothing about it, is what makes it so uncomfortable.”
So, I’m choosing hope.
We can choose hope by assessing what we can control and, just as importantly, what we can’t. We can consider what issues we can (or are prepared to) do something about, and which ones we’re going to let go.
For example, I can’t do much about whether disease will run rampant. But I can take my own reasonable precautions against disease, and let my example lead others to do the same if they so choose.
Instead of catastrophizing about the awful diseases that could spread, I can consider the tremendous medical advancements that have occurred just over my lifetime. Some diseases are practically eradicated; treatments have saved and improved lives of so many people.
I choose hope—hope for research, for more insights, for advances where they are needed. I can choose to support the causes I believe in, and choose not to support the causes I don’t.
Each of us has some sphere of influence and control. It may be small. However, we can choose to exercise the control that we have. So, I won’t be influencing another country to stop using forced labour to make cheap clothes. But I can decline to buy. I don’t have to be upset by a writer with whom I disagree. But I don’t have to buy their book, either.
I’m choosing hope. The curiosity and skills of innovators could create better lives for people, not worse. The hard-working young adults whom I meet who want to provide for their growing families, build their communities, and develop their skills and understanding, can result in more productive workplaces and more engaged communities. Better; not worse.
Enough with the catastrophizing. I’m choosing hope. What’s your choice?