The Impact of Catastrophising

March 19, 2019 3:46 pm Published by Leave your thoughts

A blog by David Tomkinson, Director at andpartnership

In our work with large and small organisations, we are noticing an increasing propensity of people to ‘Catastrophise’ – that is, seeing the worst case scenario, worrying about things that may never happen, believing that something bad is just waiting round the corner. Some of this is the natural human defence mechanism, to prepare us for shocks and potentially harmful events. But it is developing into something more and, in some cases, catastrophising is proving damaging to individuals and the people they are interacting with.

” … in some cases, catastrophising is proving damaging to individuals and the people they are interacting with”.

What we are interested in is the effect of this on performance – does it help to be focussed on the ‘what if..’ scenarios? Sometimes it is sensible contingency planning, when approached from a calculated, logical place. However we often cross the line into emotional energy, and spend time worrying about the future without planning what we will do if the unlikely does happen. In the leadership work we do, we call it ‘Playing to Win’ versus ‘Playing to Avoid Losing’. It is a state of mind and anyone can find themselves in either state.

“In the leadership work we do, we call it ‘Playing to Win’ versus ‘Playing to Avoid Losing’.

What we are seeing is that ‘Playing to Avoid Losing’ saps energy, causes more stress and has a potentially negative impact on individual performance by limiting potential. People who spend most of their time in this place have a higher likelihood of mental health problems over time, as they are spending more time in a stressed state and are likely to find more difficulty switching off and recovering due to their cautious and pessimistic brain activity. There is also a school of research that believes that what you believe and focus on is more likely to happen – the power of positive and negative thinking and self-fulfilling prophecies.

“Playing to Avoid Losing saps energy, causes more stress and has a potentially negative impact on individual performance by limiting potential”.

We have seen this frequently in the news over the past two and a half years, with Brexit. Sometimes called Project Fear (on both sides) the politicians try to convince us what will happen if we remain in the EU, leave with a deal or leave without a deal. Whilst some is based on sensible contingency planning and economic forecasting, much is based on possibles, ‘could be’ and ‘might happen’. Even the language being used (‘crashing out of the EU on March 29th’) fuels this sense of doom, when, in reality, no-one knows exactly what will happen as it has never happened before.

Adopting a more positive state of mind is one of the aims of our leadership approach. If we develop our ability to identify those things we can control and influence and those we have no control over, it helps us to sort out the things we can take positive action on, and the things that we should let others focus on. It has a more positive impact on those around us, making it easier to engage and motivate them to achieve, and generally helps us to stay in a healthy and productive mindset.

“Adopting a more positive state of mind is one of the aims of our leadership approach”.

Some tips to help you get into this Playing to Win place more often:

  • Write down a list of worries and concerns about an issue – categorise them as a Given, something you could Influence and things within your Control. Focus on the things you can  Influence and Control to make things different
  • Question yourself when you start hypothesising about consequences – ‘if I don’t do this piece of work by Friday I will be fired’. Do you know this to be true or is it just possible? How can you check out the facts? How likely is it really? What action can you take to minimise possible consequences?
  • Get clear about what matters to you, what your values are, what you are prepared to accept and what you aren’t. If what you are doing isn’t helping you with what you care about, think about what you could do that is different
  • Challenge yourself to think of two possible positive outcomes for every potential negative outcome of a situation.

There are many others – if you are interested in exploring this further, we are launching our new product Achieving Peak Performance on 4th April at London’s Olympic Park. Find out more or book a free place by clicking here.

Give us a call on 01623 883910 or drop me an e-mail to david@andpartnership.com.

David Tomkinson, Director at andpartnership

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This post was written by David Tomkinson

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