Catastrophic Thinking v Clarity
Catastrophic Thinking – by Stu Newberry
Hands up if your mind heads off into a tailspin of ‘thinking the worst’ about your future. Yes? Well that looks to be quite a few of us!
In my work as a transformational coach it seems to be a common way of being, so I was interested to read this article on the Guardian News website by Chitra Ramaswamy
She calls herself a ‘committed catastrophist’. She seems laden with responsibilities to challenge anyone. Chitra gave examples of, ‘letting the worst case scenario in like an old friend,’ involving her partner, her ill mother and a complicated pregnancy, resulting in frightening predictions of doom and calamity.
I’m sure many of us (if not all of us) can relate to a personal experience where we allow our internal drama departments to run riot. In these scenarios our imagination can render ourselves homeless and penniless in just a few moments of terrifying thought.
In the article, Chitra certainly has a lot on her plate; an autistic son, her mother with incurable breast cancer, her partner with meningitis and the impending complex delivery of her new baby. Each of them tormented her in extremis and yet she highlights something remarkable. What’s remarkable is that when she gets past the point of no return, it was never as bad as she imagined.
The bit that she misses in this article, but which fascinates me most, is that whilst she can paralyse herself with thought-mares, she’s brilliant at dealing with whatever is in front of her. For example, she reflects that it is not as ‘catastrophe’ living with her 4 year old autistic son, and in fact notices that ‘ … we’re all coping brilliantly.”
So it’s not the present that’s the problem – it’s the thought-generated, fear-filled future that can be crippling! It’s that imagined place of the ‘unknowable (and) uncontrollable’ that has us weave terrifying scenarios. We all (and I include myself here) can wile away many a moment with tragedy and disaster unless we interrupt these fears by falling asleep, or being jolted from our daydream. I agree with Chitra when she notices that, ‘Catastrophising‘is dependent on you never being in the moment’.
The most significant shift for me as a coach in the way I work with clients is to explain how the mind works – from inside to out. It’s the best way to help a client deal with whatever they bring to a session. So, whether it’s a problem at work or a health issue or concerns about a relationship – in fact, anything – understanding that it’s not external circumstances that are the cause of their worries is crucial. Instead, I point to the role of personal thought.
So how does this relate to catastrophising? Well, if I had been coaching Chitra, I would first have listened to examples of her imagined future – tales of the terrifying twists and turns that are taking place in her mind. Then I would explain how the human experience takes place via mind, thought and consciousness. Put simply, there is nothing ‘out there’ that can make us feel anything.
We can’t feel things ‘out there’. We can only feel thought in the moment. When we are thinking insecure thoughts, then we feel insecure, when we think about worrying futures then we feel worried. Our feelings let us know about our thinking, they can’t let us know about the future.
Thought is the link between the event ‘out there’ and the feeling we experience. Feelings of anxiety about the future are telling us that we’re doing some anxious thinking. That’s all. And when we start to see this for what it is – thought in the moment – then we can allow it to pass and fresh thoughts will come along.
The most beautiful part of the article is when Chitra acknowledges her ‘brilliantly singular, loving and brave (autistic) son’, as she stands in her own powerful, innate wellbeing. As a coach I see that everyone has wellbeing, it is like a diamond within. This diamond knows that everything will be OK, that we have resilience beyond measure when it is uncovered and allowed to shine.
And when we stand in our own wellbeing, we recognise it in others around us, seeing beauty and opportunity in everywhere. It’s like a magnet. When we see it in others, they start to see it in themselves.
As a coach, sharing this ‘Inside Out’ understanding, I’ve seen the transformation of leaders (often from education) who realise that they spend much of their thinking-time creating worse case scenarios of an underperforming school.
When they see for themselves that they are the creators of their imagined future, then this realisation (that they are the creators) can calm their internal troubled minds. The realisation of the Inside-out nature of life shifts clients away from their self-created storms of catastrophic thinking into the present moment and a place of clarity.
Also check out:
- Events – we run high quality, affordable events in the South West
- Courses – learn about coaching via our Education Apprentice course
- Subtractive Psychology – what is it?
About Stuart Newberry and Liz Scott
Liz Scott & Stu Newberry are Coaching Skills trainers and 3P practitioners. They help develop coaching cultures within schools and organisations. Liz & Stu use their understanding of the 3Ps within their training and are experiencing great successes and results in the organisations they are working in. Download an Introduction to the Three Principles here.
Want to de-stress in just 28 days? Recharge on the Run is a FREE audio series (delivered to your inbox daily) that will help you discover your inner peace of mind. Find out more about Liz & Stu at Liz Scott Coaching and Training