The Dangers of Catastrophizing

 

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Photo by asoggetti on Unsplash

 

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.

How Important are Principles?

 

 

Our world consists of various sets of laws. There are laws of nature, laws of government, laws of chess, etcetera. Therefore, one might think there is also, more abstractly, laws of life itself. Of course, we are all unique beings, and so the best way to go about finding these laws of life is not by looking at others but instead looking at oneself.

This, I believe, is the fundamental idea behind having a set of principles. Over the past few months, I’ve experimented by writing down all the things I believe to be “right” about the world and setting them into a single document which I’ve entitled Principles. Each principle is a simple statement of what I believe to be a fact on how to operate in life; making it out to be sort of a manual of sorts. Right now, there is approximately 40 of them, and it is a work that is in constant progress.

Whenever I hit a hard problem or decision I need to solve, I’ve developed the habit of consorting to the principles I’ve written down and thinking: “What is the best next action to take, given these principles?”. And I’ve found that it works. It works really well. Surprisingly well.

The principles aren’t all uniquely my own either; a lot of them have been inspired by things others have said. The entire start of the project was, of course, inspired by the work of Ray Dalio, who I shared quite a few principles in common with. Even more of my principles, however, have come from simply reading what other people have made, or listening to others, and finding nice tidbits from them as well. In total, I get my own unique set of principles by listening to the wisdom of hundreds of other people.

So, now we come to the question of this post: “How important are principles?”. Well, based on my own experience, I certainly think that they help. I would say that principles work best with removing cognitive dissonance and other mental clutter that might result in preventing you from becoming your ideal self. I will certainly be continuing my own experiment with principles because of this, and I do insist that you start to design your own.

I’d also be interested in anyone else’s opinion on principles – do you have your own that you find to be helpful? Feel free to post them in the comments below. You can also (as always) follow my Twitter for more miscellaneous musings.

P.S.: Some astute readers might notice that this post was uploaded on a Tuesday as opposed to the typical Monday release. This is purposeful; I’m changing the release schedule for a few of my projects in order to ensure that they always come out on time. The new permanent (at least, into the foreseeable future) release date for all new blog posts will be Tuesdays instead of Mondays.