The Dangers of Catastrophizing


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Fear rules most of the modern world. It is manifested in many forms, whether it be anger, sadness, or a range of other emotions. I have, for quite some time, come under the strict belief that fear prevents people from achieving happiness. That it prevents them from achieving success. And while I could write a book on the importance of overcoming fear, I wanted in this post to focus on one very specific detail of fear; that of catastrophizing.

For those unfamiliar, catastrophizing is a form of slippery slope bias which is exactly as it sounds. Essentially, it prevents a person from going down a path due to the fact that the person insists that the absolute worst possible events have the greatest chance of occurring. To give a more concrete example, I’ll focus on the classic case of entrepreneurship: “I can’t become an entrepreneur, because my startup will fail, and I’ll have to file for bankruptcy, and then I’ll become homeless and won’t be able to get a new job”. This is a (depressingly) common outlook on why people refuse to start their own company, and just by looking at it you can begin to see the faults in the logic. While it is true that most startups do fail, there is no reason to assume from the get-go that yours will fail as well. And from there, we dive into… bankruptcy? What? Most startup failures won’t result in a bankruptcy unless you’re highly leveraged, which most conservative founders refuse to do. And now, all of a sudden, we’re permanently homeless. How does this work?

The truth is that while its hard to believe when it’s all laid out, catastrophizing works in waves. First, a person learns to believe in the first phase. Then, they learn to believe the second. And it continues in such a way that when we finally reach the bottom, each step in the process seems perfectly reasonable.

The one way to really get out of this method of thinking is to step back and look at why you won’t do something with new eyes. Try readdressing the scenario under different circumstances. Would this fall apply then? Also, try to understand the logic behind each one of your beliefs. Why do you really think you’re going to fail this hard? Finally, try to do some more, active research on the topic. Get opinions and data from people from both sides of the aisle – not just stories that try to confirm your apocalyptic assumptions.

Hopefully, this helps if you have been feeling similar to this about something. As always, give this blog a like if you enjoyed it, and remember to follow both the blog and my Twitter for updates on posts.

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