Part 8: Catastrophic Thinking

Henry David Thoreau Slide

Catastrophic Thinking

When things go wrong we tend to create this narrative, this chain of consequences.  Each link in this chain becomes more dire than the one that preceded it and by the end of the chain we have imagined a scenario where everything has collapsed all around us and life as we know it has become the epitome of rock-bottom.

Nothing destroys our motivation faster than giving in to the seduction of fear, worry, and doubt.

Awareness can go a long way in helping break the chain of catastrophic thinking.  Being able to realize that our thinking is only taking us further and further into worry and despair is the first and most important step.

The next step is to do something about it.  We can do this a couple of ways, both require us to evaluate the thoughts we’re having.  The first method is to weigh the pros and cons of the event or situation that we’re facing.  Our minds tend to gravitate towards the negative, the worst-case scenario.

We can’t hope to build motivation if all we think about is how things might go wrong or all the negative consequences of a setback.  Shifting the focus to the pros and cons of every situation we face can help us alleviate some of the stress and anxiety that obstacles and setbacks may bring.

The second method is to rank the outcomes we’re imagining from one to ten, ten being the most likely to occur.  Then look at the top three and develop a plan of action for each of those scenarios.  Having a plan can also help alleviate the stress and anxiety that we’re feeling and give us back some sense of confidence and control over the situation.  Either of these methods can offer us the motivation to persevere and remain resilient and steadfast when facing obstacles and setbacks.

Social Psychologist Alison Ledgerwood gave a TEDx Talk on the subject of getting stuck in our negative thoughts.

Positive Mental Attitude (PMA) Activity

PMA is one’s ability to maintain the belief that he or she can transform or change a tough situation into something better.  The following activity will help you take difficult situations and find ways to empower yourself to turn negative thinking into positive thinking.

A positive attitude starts from learning to believe in one’s self.  In order to believe in ourselves, we must first understand our personal strengths.  A negative attitude is when we choose to only focus on the things that go wrong or that bring us down.

Roll a single die, each number on the die corresponds with one of these incomplete statements that you should complete:

  1. I am thankful for…
  2. Other people compliment me on my ability to…
  3. Something I would like other people to know about me is…
  4. I feel really good about myself when…
  5. I am proud of my ability to…
  6. Something nice I recently did for someone else was…

This awareness of our attitude can continue beyond the classroom.  Practice this technique for one week by keeping a log of every positive experience you have, no matter how small or large the experience.  At the end of that week ask yourself if you feel better about life, more optimistic at home and at the office.

The goal of this is to train our minds to focus on the positive, rather than the negative.  Internal feelings have the ability to impact those around us.  When we feel good about ourselves, we often demonstrate a positive attitude that can be seen by others.  So, by creating a positive attitude for ourselves, we can instill those around us with the same positivity.

AABHA Black


This series is available free for download in PDF format and includes activities for more engaged learning: Motivation

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