- Receive bad feedback at work and convinced your career is over?
- Fail an exam and sure you have no future?
- Your partner criticises what you are wearing and convinced that the next step is a breakup?
- Your child has an earache and you rush them to the hospital?
By: State Farm
You likely have a problem with catastrophizing.
- What is catastrophizing?
- Why do you do it?
- Catastrophizing and personality disorders
- Why do you need to stop catastrophising?
- So just how do I stop catastrophizing?
- Acknowledge how busy people are
- Stay busy yourself
- Take a dose of muscle medicine … or meditate!
- Take steps toward a solution
- Phone a friend
- What is catastrophising?
- Why do people catastrophise?
- Catastrophising and perception
- Isn’t catastrophising just pessimism?
- Catastrophising and anxiety
- How can a therapist treat catastrophising?
- How to minimise catastrophic thinking
- Mental health support
- Why do we make assumptions?
- Why assumptions can really bring your moods down
- How to Stop Making Assumptions
- 1. First things first – learn how to recognise you are making them.
- 2. Ask good questions of your assumptions.
- 3. Agree to not have control of everything.
- 4. Look for places you feel stuck.
- 5. Become mindful.
- Mindful Minute: How Do I Stop Assuming the Worst?
- Constantly imagining the worst case scenario is called ‘catastrophising’ — here’s how to stop your mind from doing it
- Logic and a calm support network are the answer
- Assuming The Worst Perpetuates Unhappiness
- Circumstance Versus Character
- How To Save A Relationship: Stop Assuming the Worst
What is catastrophizing?
Catastrophizing is what is known in psychology as a ‘cognitive distortion‘ — a habitual and unconscious way of thinking that is not realistic. In this case it’s a habit of negative exaggeration.
Always assuming the worse case scenario, you will likely also turn little problems into big ones. This means you anticipate issues so much that you actually create them.
Why do you do it?
Negative thinking can be a learned habit. If you grew up with a parent who constantly expected the worse from every situation, you might have just assumed this was the way to see the world.
Catastrophizing can also be connected to a difficult past. If something happened that made you feel the world is dangerous, then your brain can be programmed to keep looking for danger.
It is connected to anxiety and anxiety disorders. Of course then it becomes a question of which came first. Anxiety causes vigilance, but catastrophising causes anxiety.
When it comes to past trauma and anxiety, catastrophizing can be something you unconsciously use to actually try and make yourself feel better. If you assume the worse, you’ll feel less threatened if something bad really does happen, right? Of course assuming the worse all the time means you simply can’t live a happy, balanced life.
Catastrophizing and personality disorders
In some cases a problem with catastrophising all the time is a sign you have a personality disorder. This means you behave and think in ways that are different than the norm.
Borderline personality disorder, for example, sees you having a strong fear of abandonment that makes you always assume the worse about others.
Histrionic personality disorder involves a driving need to be the centre of attention, and exaggerated stories are one of the ways you’ll achieve that.
Why do you need to stop catastrophising?
You could argue that catastrophizing, like everything, has a useful side. It means you are never disappointed when bad things do happen.
But it comes with too many negative consequences to make it worthwhile. These include:
- never reaching goals
- constantly feeling like a failure or that you are ‘stuck’ in life
- wasting time and money trying to deal with so called ’emergencies’
- relationship troubles when you upset or over-rely on those around you
- low self-esteem
- cycles of low moods or even depression
- anxiety and anxiety disorders.
Catastrophic thinking can actually be a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you think negative thoughts, you spike your stress hormones such as cortisol, which affect your ability to think and act clearly. This means it’s more likely things will go wrong.
So just how do I stop catastrophizing?
Here are a few ways you can begin to work at changing this distorted way of thinking that sees you unable to feel good about yourself and life.
1.Learn how to differentiate a thought and reality.
Try writing down your thoughts for a few weeks. It can help to set a timer to go off each hour so you can catch yourself thinking. At the end of each day look at what you have recorded.
- How realistic is each thought?
- Is it a fact?
- What proof do you have this thought is true, and what proof do you have it isn’t?
- Can you find a situation from the past which shows that this sort of situation can work out just fine – for example, a time at work you made a big mistake but it didn’t affect your career?
2. Try mindfulness.
If you find it impossible to catch your thoughts in the first place, mindfulness can be a game changer. A daily practise that sees you bringing your attention to your thoughts and feelings right here and now, it also lowers your stress levels. You can learn all you need to know in our comprehensive Guide to Mindfulness.
3. Feel it out.
Catastrophising can be the mind’s way of hiding from painful emotions. Ask yourself, what is the feeling behind this thought I am having? Am I feeling nervous, rejected, sad? Can I deal with the feeling first?
4. Talk to the page before your friends.
Before you call all your friends and rant about your latest horrible situation, take a moment to pour your thoughts out in a journal. This can de-charge your emotions and help you see more clearly, whereas immediately over-talking can leave you more worried than ever.
5. Consider a round of therapy.
It’s very hard to stop habits by ourselves and sometimes seeking support is the best step we can take. A professional counsellor or psychotherapist can also let you know if your habit of catastrophising is related to other psychological issues that might also need to be dealt with.
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) in particular focuses on helping you recognise and take charge of your negative thinking. If you work with a CBT therapist they will provide you with charts where you can track your thoughts, learning to question each one and replace it with a more balanced and realistic view.
Harley Therapy puts you in touch with some of London’s best counsellors and psychotherapists. Not in the UK? WE can also connect you with a therapist wherever you are with Skype therapy.
Still have a question about catastrophizing? Ask below, we love to hear from you.
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of Hell, a hell of Heaven.”
Have you ever noticed that people tend to expect things to go badly? Often, without any conscious prompting, our minds automatically jump to and fixate on the worst possible scenarios. Consider the following examples and see if either of them sound familiar:
It’s 2 p.m., and your boss still hasn’t responded to the report you sent him this morning. As you check your email obsessively, you conclude that you haven’t received any feedback because the report is terrible and your boss can’t use it. (What really happened: Your boss’s noon call ran unexpectedly long and he hasn’t had a chance to finish reading the report — but he’s pleased so far!)
Your spouse has seemed distant the past few days, is being secretive, and is evading your questions. You’re consumed by the thought that he is involved with someone else and is thinking of leaving you. (What really happened: Your fifteenth anniversary is only a month away, and your spouse is trying to plan a surprise getaway without alerting you.)
We put ourselves through so much stress, anxiety, and mental anguish because we dwell on negative possibilities that aren’t actually happening! It’s a case of an overactive imagination being used for ill, not good. We would save ourselves a lot of suffering if we could stop our minds from dwelling on the most horrible “what ifs” we can come up with.
In my book, “Finding Happiness: One Man’s Quest to Beat Depression and Anxiety and Finally Let the Sunshine In,” I admit that I used to be a master of dwelling on what could go wrong, how I might screw up, and how circumstances would conspire against me. And I paid a high price: a complete lack of mental peace, an inability to enjoy the present moment, high levels of stress and anxiety, difficulty experiencing quality rest, and more. Constantly expecting the worst can also take a toll on your relationships, your ability to trust and collaborate with others, and even your physical health.
Positive thinking is definitely the better, happier, and healthier path. Here, I share twelve strategies to help you conquer the suspicion, fear, and worries that may be driving you to expect the worst:
Acknowledge how busy people are
When you don’t see results or receive a response from someone else in (what you think should be) a timely manner, it’s easy to get upset and jump to the worst possible conclusion. He doesn’t want to work with me. She isn’t interested in going out on another date. I didn’t get the job. And so on and so forth. But wait a second. Maybe the current radio silence doesn’t mean “no” — it might simply mean that the other person is busy.
The next time you’re waiting on a response and find yourself worrying, think through your own schedule and remind yourself how busy you often are. In this day and age, almost everybody is overscheduled and overstressed. Maybe the other person hasn’t had time to decide, your suggestion dropped off their immediate radar, or they haven’t read your email yet. No news doesn’t necessarily mean bad news — it just may mean the other person has a lot to do!
Stay busy yourself
You can’t always control how long you have to wait on an outcome, or even what that outcome is. But you can control how you wait. You can torture yourself by dwelling on negative possibilities…or you can distract yourself by staying focused on and engaged in other things.
Take a dose of muscle medicine … or meditate!
Have you ever heard of “a runner’s high”? It’s a real feeling — and it can help you to stop expecting the worst. That’s because exercise releases endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins also decrease the amount of stress hormones — like cortisol — in your body. In fact, various studies have shown that exercise can be just as effective as taking prescription antidepressant medications … without the potential side effects. In other words, pumping iron or going on a run can literally melt away some of your apprehension.
I also recommend meditating when you’re fixated on a negative possibility. You might be surprised to learn that meditation can actually spark positive changes in your brain’s biochemistry. I can tell you from recent personal experience that meditation can help you deal more effectively with stress, lower your blood pressure, help you to feel content, and make you more mindful in the present moment … all of which are helpful tools when it comes to not worrying so much about the future.
Take steps toward a solution
When you find yourself expecting a particular negative event (however likely or unlikely it might be), ask yourself if there is anything you can do to prepare for or even prevent it. In many cases, you’ll be able to take concrete steps toward a solution. Not only will you be keeping yourself busy, you’ll also be moving from helplessness to empowerment.
Phone a friend
This “lifeline” can really help! The next time you catch yourself ruminating on just how bad things are going to get, pick up the phone and call someone you trust: your spouse or a friend, for example. Specifically, ask this person to help you think of several alternative outcomes (which, by definition, can’t be as bad as the worst-case scenario you were envisioning). A more neutral third party will have more perspective and will probably find it much easier to come up with not-as-bad, and even good, alternatives to help you stop thinking in extremes.
What is catastrophising?
Catastrophising, taking an ordinary scene and imagining the worst-case scenario. And then instead of dismissing your fears as ridiculous, you dwell on them and add to them. You imagine fire engines outside your home, ambulances and neighbours frantically trying to find you – but you’re not there.
Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion which makes an unpleasant situation worse than it actually is.
Catastrophising is a cognitive distortion which makes an unpleasant and undesirable situation worse than it actually is – or need be. In psychological terms, therapists consider a catastrophe as the absolutely worst thing possible – but in my practice I have yet to come across an actual catastrophe.
Why do people catastrophise?
You may be relieved to hear that it could partly be tied in to your personality. Do friends or family ever say, ‘You’re SO dramatic’ or ‘Don’t be so dramatic’. You may have a history of histrionic behaviour and or be blessed/cursed with a vivid imagination, which unwittingly takes an ordinary situation and cranks it up to extreme within seconds.
One patient who walked her dog early in the morning in wooded parkland stopped doing so because she was convinced that she would come across a dead body ‘because dead bodies are always found by people walking their dog.’
Catastrophising and perception
Catastrophising can also be a thinking habit where automatic thoughts of disastrous proportions happen without you summoning them up. This habit can be broken with therapy. You may be depressed or anxious and this will alter your perception of the predicted outcome of a scenario.
It’s not our actual life circumstances that are the determining factor, but how we perceive them.
If you were in an average to joyous mood you might see a pound coin on a pavement, pick it up and feel lucky or give it to the nearest homeless person. If you are depressed or anxious you may feel it has been put there to test if you are a thief so you ignore it, or if you do pick it up you then worry it is covered in germs or someone was watching you take it who now thinks you are greedy.
Remember it’s not our actual life circumstances that are the determining factor in catastrophising, but how we perceive them.
Isn’t catastrophising just pessimism?
Pessimism tends to be an overarching thinking style which again can be linked to personality type. A pessimist tends to ruminate and anticipate a shortfall or failure (I bet I miss this bus/I doubt I’ll get a pay raise/I expect the picnic will be rained off) but it does not come with a sense of drama rather a sense of inevitability.
Catastrophising tends to be an exaggeratedly bad response to a specific event. These scenarios can be fairly minor. So instead of going through a lousy situation and settling for a lousy situation, a catastrophist takes it to the next level – and then to the worst possible outcome. Here are some examples of pessimists versus catastrophists:
My hamster is poorly. My hamster is always poorly.
My hamster is poorly. My hamster is dying!
My bath tap won’t turn off. Typical. I’ll have to call out a plumber. Yet another thing has gone wrong today.
My bath tap won’t turn off. Oh my God, my house is going to flood! I have to call someone! What if a plumber can’t come out for hours? It’s a catastrophe!
Catastrophising and anxiety
When you have depression you will tend to have a negative bias in your thinking. This in turn will influence the way in which you view and interpret events. And when you are depressed the outcome is more likely to be catastrophic.
Patients of mine who are anxious tend to feel that a catastrophe is the obvious and only outcome to a problem.
How can a therapist treat catastrophising?
As a therapist I never make a bad event a good event. I never lead patients to think differently about the event. So failing your driving test? Yes it was terribly disappointing, you felt low but it was not catastrophic. I help patients look at the problem and then help them assess how bad it truly was.
How to minimise catastrophic thinking
There are a few things you can to manage your thought patterns and minimise the drama:
✔️ Try to recognise when you catastrophise. Is it over particular events/people/situations? Write it down.
✔️ Is there a particular time or day involved? If so write it down.
✔️ Identify the specific catastrophic thoughts and as above – write it down.
✔️ Find a vocabulary of words to give you access to realistic descriptions: awful, terrible, horrendous, disastrous can easily become default language.
Ask yourself if you can differentiate between:
- A hassle and a horror
- An unpleasant event and a truly awful event
- Undesirable and life-changing
A therapist’s goal is to lead you to healthy thinking and appropriate appraisal of events and situations. Your goal is to see the situation as bad as it is, but no better and no worse.
Mental health support
If catastrophising is making your life unmanageable, your GP should be your first port of call. For additional support, try one of the following resources:
- Anxiety UK: a charity which specifies in helping those suffering from anxiety.
- The Samaritans: a charity providing support to anyone in emotional distress.
- Mind: a charity that makes sure no one has to face a mental health problem alone.
- CALM: helping to reduce stigma and reduce rates of male suicide.
Last updated: 03-12-19
Dr Juliet McGrattan (MBChB) Dr Juliet McGrattan Dr Juliet McGrattan spent 16 years as a GP, two years as a Clinical Champion for Physical Activity for Public Health England and is the Women’s Health Lead for the 261 Fearless global running network. Her award winning book, Sorted: The Active Woman’s Guide to Health was published by Bloomsbury in 2017.
By: JD Hancock
When you make an assumption, you tell yourself that something is true without actually having any evidence that it is.
It’s all to easy to lead your life never questioning that you are assuming things to be facts.
Examples of assumptions at work are:
- You don’t get the promotion at work, so you assume you aren’t good at your job
- You assume most people are bad at heart, so don’t trust anyone you meet
- Your partner isn’t very talkative of late, so you assume they are angry with you
- You assume big cities are dangerous so decline a great job offer in a city
- Your mother has never understood your choices, so you assume she does not love you
- A friend with two tickets to a musical asks someone else, so you assume the friendship is faltering
Why do we make assumptions?
In some ways the brain is designed to make assumptions. It searches for patterns, or what cognitive scientists call ‘mental models’, to make it a more efficient machine. For example, you can walk to the station and take the train to the office without paying attention, but assuming it will be the same walk and platform as ever, leaving your mind free to efficiently organise tomorrow’s dinner.
But many assumptions are actually learned behaviour. They come from our culture and our families, and from what we were taught to think as a child. We tend to take on our parents’ assumptions, such as assuming that we do or don’t deserve certain things (a good life, money, love) or we should or shouldn’t do other things (get married, be atheist, wear bright clothes).
Even if we grow up and learn to question the ways our parents think, we might still unwittingly be making assumptions like them because we approach relationships with others using patterning we were taught as a child. For example, you might assume a good relationship means two people must always agree with each other – but does it? And how much would this colour and control your choices of partner if this was your assumption?
By: Harrison Cohen Photography
Why assumptions can really bring your moods down
Assumptions damage our capacity to relate to others. If you are always assuming you know how others think and feel, you stop listening and communicatingand leave them feeling trapped or misunderstood. And relationship difficulties, whether at work or home, can lead to low self-esteem and depression.
Assumptions also block possibilities. They impede your ability to think creatively and get ahead. If you assume the only way to do a presentation is with a powerpoint and the day comes but there is a technological meltdown at the office and you back out, it’s the employee who makes no assumptions and thinks to act out scenarios the powerpoints describe with the clients and has them all laughing that not only will win the promotion you wanted.
But most importantly when it comes to your moods, assumptions also create spirals of negative thinking.
Assumptions tend to involve such forms of negative thought as doubts and black and white thinking. And given that, as cognitive behavioural therapists teach, our thoughts create our feelings create our actions, if your head is full of negative assumptions it’s highly more likely that you are triggering yourself into repeat cycles of feeling awful.
How to Stop Making Assumptions
By: brett jordan
1. First things first – learn how to recognise you are making them.
Spend a week really watching for when you are assuming things, even writing them down. The act of writing can often lead to additional clarity, where you might see the other assumptions surrounding the one you’ve recognised.
Look for assumptions of all shapes and sizes. Something small like ‘my spouse didn’t do the dishes just to annoy me’ is just as much a possibly damaging assumption as something big like ‘my partner doesn’t really love me anymore’.
2. Ask good questions of your assumptions.
To break down assumptions you need to ask good, forward moving questions. Try to avoid ‘why’ questions and go for ‘what’ and ‘how’ questions (for more on this, read our article on Asking Good Questions).
Try the following questions:
- What facts do I have to prove this thought is true?
- What facts do I have to prove this thought isn’t true?
- What is a more realistic, in the middle way of seeing this?
- Is this really my own opinion, or did someone else teach it me and I didn’t question it?
- Is this even really what I think or want to think in the future?
- What would life be like if the opposite of this assumption were true?
- What if this assumption didn’t exist at all in my life – who would I then be?
3. Agree to not have control of everything.
A lot of assumptions are about wanting to control life out of a false idea this will make you ‘safe’ (which of course is based around an assumption and core belief that the world isn’t safe in the first place!). For example, because you can’t control what others think, and this might feel scary, you assume that you know what they think. You assume that the neighbours find you lazy, and assume that your teenage daughter hates you.
But what if instead you embraced uncertainty? It’s in fact a great method to drop a ton of assumptions all at once.
Do it by trying this powerful question – what if I don’t need to know the answer about this person/situation? How much stress could I relieve myself of by just agreeing, in this moment, to not know what I can’t know?
4. Look for places you feel stuck.
If you aren’t sure where you are making assumptions, (or are assuming you are to smart to make them!), then look at places you feel stuck. Inevitably there will be an assumption hiding out and holding things up.
For example, if you find it really hard to make friendships that last, what are you assuming about the sorts of people you like? What are you assuming about the kinds of places you want to meet these friends? And what are you assuming friendship involves in the first place?
5. Become mindful.
Assumptions can be tricky, because they are thoughts we are so used to making they can go by without us even noticing. Mindfulness, the act of continuously drawing your attention to the present and how you are thinking and feeling right now, can over time train you to catch more of your thoughts, and thus your assumptions.
The more you know what you are assuming, the more power you have to change what you are assuming into perspectives that open, rather than close, possibilities for you and your life.
Have you changed an assumption and seen real results? Share below, we love hearing from you.
“Inner guidance is heard like soft music in the night by those who have learned to listen.”
― Vernon Howard
What is one habit we all have but rarely think of it as a habit?
It is the subject of the third personal agreement spoken about in the book, The 4 Agreements by author Don Miguel Ruiz.
Answer: Making assumptions.
Assumptions, what a funny word. What does it mean to assume other than the fact that it truly does make an ass of you and me when we do it?
Think of a time when you needed to hear back from someone and it took a long time to receive that call or note or email. Don’t lie, you jumped to an assumption or conclusion that the person you needed to hear from was blowing you off or not making your request important or just too busy for you. Were you right? In most cases there really is a good reason for not hearing back from someone you typically trust to be diligent with correspondence but as a species we tend to self-protect and so we assume the worst without evidence. Once we start down the road of thinking the worst of people it becomes a habit we can’t easily break.
Now think about a time when you needed to solve a problem or get through a difficult situation. If you are like me then you ask yourself, “What is the worst that could happen here?” and try to prepare for that awful conclusion or work backwards toward a more pleasant outcome.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you are a negative person although to jump to that question first can make you feel negative. There is actually evidence now that shows that using this question when trying to solve a difficult problem is actually healthy and helpful. In their book, The Upside of Your Dark Side, authors Robert Biswas-Diener and Todd Kashdan, Ph.D. write:
“We believe—and new research supports—the idea that every emotion is useful. Even the ones we think of as negative, including the painful ones. We don’t suggest an extra helping of happiness or a dash of negativity; we suggest both. It is by appropriately flipping back and forth between these two states that you can achieve a balanced, stabilizing sense of wholeness. Simply put, people who are able to use the whole range of their natural psychological gifts—those folks who are comfortable with being both positive and negative, and can therefore draw from the full range of human emotions—are the healthiest and, often, the most successful.”
Even on the subject of happiness itself these authors have a lot to say when it comes to predicting or assuming what will make us happy or leave us feeling happy after an event or purchase:
“To put it succinctly, we humans are horrible at guessing how happy we will feel in the future, and yet we base important life decisions on these flawed predictions (assumptions). We purchase TVs, plan retirement, and say yes to dinner dates all because of an imperfect guess about how happy they will make us.”
In other words even if it can be proven that making assumptions could work in our favor it is fundamentally not to our advantage, yet we are practically raised to make it a part of who we are and how we function in the world.
The dictionary defines the word assume to mean:
- To think something is true or probably true without knowing that it is true
- To begin as a job or responsibility
- To take or begin to have power or control in a job or situation. Someone assuming the role of a leader or care taker, etc.
It is this first definition that we all have as a habit. The question then becomes why do we assume anything without first knowing or understanding the facts? When do we stop fact finding and decide that what we know is enough to believe we now know is truth?
The simple answer comes from the author himself of this third personal agreement that we all need to make within ourselves.
“Even if we hear something and we don’t understand we make assumptions about what it means and then believe the assumptions. We make all sorts of assumptions because we don’t have the courage to ask questions.” ― Miguel Ruiz, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom
Courage. That really sticks in my gut. I never really paid too much attention to how much courage it takes to ask questions, to be vulnerable with courage in order to get clarity on something. When I think about it specifically now I can relate it to my children and their performance in school throughout the years. There seems to be an aspect of pride involved with asking questions and assuming to know something without facts or truth.
I asked my son, “What stops you from having the courage to ask questions when you don’t understand something?” His answer, “Sometimes it is not that I don’t want to ask a question, I just either might not want to know the answer or don’t want to hear what someone has to say or I might just want to figure it out for myself.” In any of these answers courage and pride seem to be at its heart.
Why is there such a stigma to asking questions?
In his book, A More Beautiful Question, author, journalist and innovation expert Warren Berger finds that “even though children start out asking hundreds of questions a day, questioning falls off a cliff as kids enter formal school. In an education and business culture devised to reward rote answers over challenging inquiry, questioning isn’t encouraged and is in fact sometimes barely tolerated.”
Mr. Berger talks at length about how teachers are discouraged from promoting questions because the curriculum each teacher has to teach does not allow for free questioning and time to explore the minds of the curious child. Teaching to the test is all there is time for. In an environment like that, Mr. Berger says that children learn very quickly that if a “right” question is not asked and a “right” answer not given then it is best to just sit and listen and not get too involved in the education.
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” ― Isaac Asimov
Author Warren Berger says,
“The Nobel laureate scientist Isidor Isaac Rabi came from a home where at least one parent encouraged the children to ask questions.” ”’ While other mothers asked their kids ‘did you learn anything today?’ my mother would say, ‘Izzy, did you ask a good question today?’”
“Scientist Hal Gregersen thinks parents can help their kids be more inquisitive by posing what if questions that help invite children to think deeply about the world around them. Encourage kids to solve problems in a hands-on way through household tasks and chores. Most students have to do some work to resuscitate their childlike curiosity. The best way to do that is to start asking questions again, lots of them.”
In his book, The Four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz writes:
“We have millions of questions that need answers because there are so many things that the reasoning mind cannot explain. It is not important if the answer is correct; just the answer itself makes us feel safe. This is why we make assumptions. These assumptions are made so fast and unconsciously most of the time because we have agreements within ourselves to communicate this way.”
So if questioning falls of a cliff at a time of life when it should be greatly and primarily encouraged as a natural human virtue and right, and if our society has accepted that we are raised to be rote, mechanical bodies that are supposed to just do as we are told, no questions asked then how can we ever break the cycle of a bad habit like assumption?
“Ask a question” says Don Miguel Ruiz. “Make sure your communication is clear. When you don’t understand something, ask a question, don’t assume an answer or a rejection of your question.”
In other words take action and create the habit of asking questions in every situation about everything.
“As far as you can, get into the habit of asking yourself in relation to any action taken by another: “What is his point of reference here?” But begin with yourself: examine yourself first.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
To break this down even further author, speaker Byron Katie asks us:
“Can you absolutely know that what you are believing is true?” For me the answer is no most of the time. Once I get to a no then pride steps aside and I have no choice but to keep questioning and seeking more truth.
Here are some other ideas to help break the habit of assuming:
Increase curiosity: Every situation that comes along in our lives has 2 sides to it. To increase inquisitiveness and curiosity ask the opposite question of the situation you are facing. We automatically go to what our habits have become. If you always think the worst of a situation then train your mind to start thinking the best of a situation and as crazy as it sounds, vice versa. Training your mind to see all sides increases curiosity and expands the brain waves of problem solving.
Stop the gossip: Most people gossip in the negative. They talk trash about other people in order to be the one “in the know” and get the spotlight. It is not a good spotlight to have shine on you if you are building a reputation of being someone that gossips. Talking about other people when the person is not around is just bad form. When a group is gathering for a meeting and there is that free time before everything gets underway don’t fall prey to the gossiping. Try to steer the conversation away from gossip by talking about something neutral like a new song or TV show or asking the opinion of the people gathered around you about a book you read or a trip you are hoping to take.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes: This is empathy. What would you want someone to do for you if they saw you were in trouble or sad or lost? Our moods can change as quick as a wink. Knowing that, we also know that we are not in the presence of one particular person 24/7 and that alone means that we don’t have all the facts. Don’t assume you know what the issue is. Be available to just listen if that person chooses to share with you or just offer your support whenever that person is able to talk more about the issue.
Get Pro-Active: Don’t continue to dwell on all the reasons why you think someone is in a bad mood or having a hard day. Offer to help by listening, brainstorming ways to solve the problem toward a more positive outcome, or being a trusted friend. If you are the one assuming something about your own situation then journaling about it might help. Getting all the feelings out on paper instead of out at a particular person will lessen the intensity of the initial feelings. Lesser hostility leads to greater resolution. Another idea is to distract yourself away from the assumption by listening to your favorite music, exercising, cooking or reading a favorite book.
Be clear: We very often assume that certain key people in our lives should just know what we mean or what we are saying without us having to go into too much detail. STOP. Most people have the attention span and listening capability of a 4th grader. Be clear, speak at a normal tone of voice and not too fast, be specific about your needs or wants or directions, remember that your thoughts and ideas are not the only thoughts and ideas that are swirling around at that moment, allow room for participation in problem solving and approach the situation the way you would want someone to approach it with you.
Be the tourist: When my son was living in Florida I used to encourage him to be the tourist. Look at your everyday as if you are new to the area or to the situation you are in. What would a tourist do? How would a tourist solve this problem? Tourists have a ton of positive juices flowing through them because they see things through new eyes. Their open-minded point of view allows for so many possibilities to open up.
Don’t jump to conclusions: Conclusions without support of truth is another way of assuming. If someone you work with or a friend has a sour look on his/her face, don’t jump to the conclusion that it is because of something you did or work related. Step back, be kind, use compassion and ask that person what is wrong. Even if you know for sure what the problem could be you don’t know for sure all the aspects of why something is wrong.
“You have to start with the truth. The truth is the only way that we can get anywhere. Because any decision-making that is based upon lies or ignorance can’t lead to a good conclusion.” ― Julian Assange
Call to Action
Where can you start breaking the habit of assuming?
In what ways can you make an internal agreement with yourself to always seek curiosity?
How can you encourage others around you to embrace and welcome curiosity?
Mindful Minute: How Do I Stop Assuming the Worst?
Unlike Pharrell, you don’t feel like clapping along. In fact, his level of happiness may irritate you. You just aren’t that happy-go-lucky type-often you may be downright pessimistic. Sound familiar? Negative thinking happens to all of us, but when it becomes a pattern, it becomes problematic. Maybe you figure if expect the worst, you’ll never be surprised when disaster happens. But, do you really want to live that way?
There’s a difference between being a healthy skeptic and curbing your reaction to always think the worst-and the line is a fine one. So how do you know if your pessimism needs to be reined in? A few red flags:
1. Your initial reaction is to see the downside. What could go wrong? What is lacking? What is dubious?
2. You find you are the one who points out what is potentially wrong and dangerous with every situation. You feel an odd pride that you are cynical and your friends are a bit Pollyannaish.
3. You consider yourself a devil’s advocate, but your friends have dubbed you Debbie Downer, or depressing variations thereof.
4. Even if the situation/gift/day is perfect, you still are wary and never get too excited about it.
5. You’ve always been “the grumpy” one, the party pooper, the skeptic. Even as a kid, the glass never looked never half full to you.
So the moment has come where you realize your quality of life is suffering-you admit you are jealous you can’t laugh as easily as everyone else, and that your attitude feels more like a ball and chain than a gift. Here, five ways to start experiencing life as a little brighter.
RELATED: Your 7-Step Guide to Happiness
1. Dance…with kids (or grownups who act like kids). Don’t know any available kids to dance with? Lock the doors blast some music and bounce around for five minutes. Research shows rhythmic, pogo-like dancing actually helps your mood. Don’t worry about how you look, even the spazziest funky chicken will do.
2. Dig deep to see where you “learned” to be negative. Chances are you had a parent who modeled some similar behavior or was outspoken about everything that could go wrong in every situation. Recognizing where you picked this up can help you dismantle it.
3. Laugh more. Start a playlist of Youtube vids that crack you up. Silly babies, uncoordinated cats, pranks or comedy-do this like homework and practice (yes, practice) laughing. I recommend A Smile, a Grin, A Laugh, That’s Life by Victoria and John Galasso.
4. Ask yourself, “Might I be dysthymic?” Folks with mild chronic depression often go undiagnosed, they get labeled as “the grumpy ones,” rather than the ones who might be low on neurotransmitters that help them feel balanced and hopeful.
5. Extend happy moments. Then start stringing them together to make happy seconds turn into happy minutes and then hours!
- By Belisa Vranich
Constantly imagining the worst case scenario is called ‘catastrophising’ — here’s how to stop your mind from doing it
- Some people always let their minds jump to the worst possible conclusions.
- This is known as catastrophic thinking, or “catastrophising.”
- It’s a habit people get into for various reasons, and it can be difficult to break.
- But it can be done, by learning to be logical and calm, and having a support network of sensible people you can call when you feel out of control.
If your friend is about to board a plane, and your first instinct is to worry about it crashing down in flames, you may be prone to catastrophic thinking.
It’s also known as “catastrophising,” and it happens to many people at some point in their lives. It might be a result of your previous bad experiences that you can’t shake, or it could be linked to mental health issues like anxiety or chronic depression.
According to Linda Blair, a clinical psychologist and columnist at the Telegraph, catastrophising is an unhelpful habit people fall into in some way.
“Nobody is born a catastrophiser,” she told Business Insider. “Babies and not born catastrophising… it’s a protective mechanism, because we think ‘if I think the worst, then when the worst doesn’t happen I’ll feel relieved.'”
Unfortunately, life doesn’t work this way. By thinking catastrophically, we are actually making things worse, because our unconscious mind doesn’t distinguish emotionally between what we imagine and what really happens.
“You’re living through an experience twice, and one of them is guaranteed to be bad, because you’re thinking the worst,” Blair said. “So in the end it really isn’t very protective. It causes great anxiety, because the emotional side, the amygdala, it thinking that this is really happening, and it’s terrible.”
People may learn the habit of catastrophising because they’ve had a bad experience before that they didn’t see coming. To protect themselves in the future, they start imagining the worst possible scenarios in every situation, because they don’t want to be caught off-guard again.
They may think to themselves that going through the worst situation in their mind will mean they get it over and done with — but in reality, this isn’t logical at all. Nobody can predict or prevent the future.
Other people catastrophise because it is what their parents did, and they copy the patterns of behaviour they saw growing up.
“You don’t always have to have an experience that causes psychological problems,” Blair said. “We tend to get a little hung up on that… but it could simply be because that’s what you saw and that’s what you copy.”
Logic and a calm support network are the answer
Like any habit, catastrophising is hard to break. Habits are stubborn, and in many cases, people have behaved the same way for years, perhaps decades.
Blair said a bad habit is always ready to jump back into your life, especially when you get highly emotional. But the solution is to learn to be rational and calm.
For example, in the case of imagining a plane crash, Blair asks her clients to look at the statistics for airline crashes on their phone. Then, she tells them to look at the statistics for crashes with that particular airline.
“And I say ok, a minute ago you said you were 100% certain that this terrible thing was going to happen, what percent would you give it now? And it’s always lower,” she said.
People then tend to see how rewarding it is to focus on the logical answers, rather than letting their imaginations get carried away. The more impulsive you are, the more likely to are to slip back into old habits, Blair said, but it just takes practise and persistence to learn to slow down and go to logic first.
Another solution she recommended is making a list of your most calm and sensible friends, and telling them you may phone them once in a while, as you sometimes feel out of control.
“The best way to gain perspective is to talk with someone else and put it outside you,” Blair said. “You don’t have to rush to a therapist… but it’s hard work. It takes a good season, a good three months, sometimes six months, to start to change a habit.”
So the next time you sense yourself spiraling over the fact your parents are late and could have been in an accident, or even something smaller like the fact someone isn’t texting you back, take a breath and try to think objectively. Also, be aware of the fact you’re trying to change, because it’s not easy to adjust our behaviour.
“You must be kind to yourself and patient, and recognise the more emotional you are the more likely you are to not remember to do it right,” Blair said. “Then, when we’re still and we’re calm, and things are under regulation, we get a chance to be logical.”
Do you constantly think that someone is out to get you? Do you think women are conspiring to make your life a living hell? Do you think that people do things just to piss you off and make your life miserable? If you do, then you are assuming the worst in others, and it is a dangerous game to play for your happiness in life and in relationships.
Assuming The Worst Perpetuates Unhappiness
“The worst mistake .. made throughout history by individuals on both sides of every new encounter, has been .. making #assumptions” D Brin
— Chelsham (@ChelshamConsult) July 21, 2015
When you assume the worst in people, you create a continuous circle of misery. You are suspicious of everyone’s motive behind what they do, and you believe that people are out to get you and make your life unhappy. (Of course, just the thought of that makes you unhappy!)
In reality, you are making yourself unhappy by labeling events and circumstances as negative.
Moreover, assuming the worst when it comes to other’s intentions, opens the door to conflict. You can never expect to have satisfying relationships or a sense of peace when you always feel like others are not treating you well. It’s impossible!
Circumstance Versus Character
There is a very simple way to stop assuming the worst in others. It involves gaining a new perspective on how you view people who make you upset.
All you need to do is see their circumstance over their character.
For instance, when a woman ignores you, do you assume that she is a bitch? There is a possibility that she is. But, the chances are good that you instantly attack her character over an incident and assume the worst, labeling her a bitch without a lot of backstory.
Now think of this…If you ignore someone, is it because you are an asshole? There is a possibility of that. But, the chances are better that you are just having a bad day, reacting poorly to something else, or maybe – you are being misread by that person and you are just deep in thought and didn’t notice them the way they felt they should be noticed.
In other words, when someone else does something you don’t like, you assume it is their character and that they are being the jerk that they always are. But when YOU do something that someone else doesn’t like, you know that it is usually the circumstance, and you are not a bad person with evil intent to make other people’s lives miserable.
When you understand that, and flip it around knowing that other people (including women) are likely reacting from circumstances rather than their character, you will see less of the worst in other people.
Those judgments that you make based on (what you think is) their character, creates false realities about them, and will cause you to see the worst. But when you admit that some bad shit has probably happened to them, then you can see more of the positive in them.
In the end, one of the biggest happiness hacks out there is to stop assuming the worst in others. Letting go of assumptions helps you feel better about all of your interactions and relationships in life. It also helps you stop living in a negative state where others are the enemy and you are being attacked. Lastly, it helps you see the world in a much more positive light!
How To Save A Relationship: Stop Assuming the Worst
One of the biggest challenges in communication in relationships is that it is easy to misinterpret or be misinterpreted. People often assume the worst possible interpretation instead of asking for clarification. This behavior makes mountains out of molehills and causes friction in marriages. It also leads to unwarranted over reactions, which can destroy a happy marriage.
If you want to save your marriage, you have to stop assuming that you spouse is out to hurt you. There is no hidden meaning or motive in everything your spouse says or does. You may be used to reading between the lines so as to protect yourself from getting hurt, but being cynical about your spouse can ruin your relationship. You should assume your spouse has your back unless you have good reason to believe otherwise.
How to Stop Assuming the Worst of Your Spouse
You can’t just flip a switch and quit being skeptical of your spouse or automatically get better at communication in relationships. Learning to assume the best of your spouse is a process so here are some tips to get you started.
- Stop and think before you react – If your spouse says something that annoys you, stop and ask yourself if a stranger would react the same way. This ensures that you are not “reading between the lines” and misperceiving things through the filter of your critical inner voice.
- Ask for clarification – Before jumping to conclusions about something your spouse has said, ask for clarification. Do this as soon as you can before you have a chance to concoct unfavorable scenarios in your head. When you ask for clarification, don’t do it in an accusatory manner. Start you question with “Did you mean . . .” This will keep your spouse from getting defensive explaining what he or she meant.
- Show gratitude – Make a point of complimenting and thanking your spouse regularly when he or she does something right. When you pay attention to the good things, occasional slip ups won’t seem like a big deal. Also, by reinforcing your spouse’s positive behavior, you are encouraging him or her to keep it up.
May people think they are hard wired to read between the lines and assume the worst of other people. However, this isn’t the case. Human brains are extremely adaptable and can be rewired to accommodate changes in behavior. Start thinking before you react, asking for clarification and showing gratitude and sooner or later, you’ll stop assuming the worst of your spouse and get better at communication in relationships.