Why Catastrophize?

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Shipwrecks often exist in our minds.

Our minds have an unfortunate tendency to seek out the worst case scenario. When we’re contemplating doing something or making a decision, we’re often guilty of thinking about worst cases. The inane, internal discussion goes something like this:

“Should I speak up in this meeting? Well, I could but nobody likes a show off. I could express my opinion but what difference is it going to make anyway? Besides, if I do speak up and people think negatively about what I say, I’ll be perceived negatively. Then, I may not get included on future projects that matter. Then, I’ll be an outcast at work. Then, I’ll get demoted. Then, I’ll eventually be on the chopping block. Then, I’ll be super anxious and my wife won’t want to be around me. And then, I’ll maybe get divorced. All from me speaking up in the meeting.”

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Our minds can be flooded with negativity if we allow it.

“I’ve known many a great trouble in my life. Most of which never happened.”

— Mark Twain

It is worthwhile to note that this thinking is disastrous for you and for the people around you. Catastrophizing minor things into major things is incredibly counterproductive. It is also quite natural. It is natural for our thinking to go south, to seek out the worst case scenario, to warn us of disaster lurking right around the corner. Nearly all psychology experts point out that this thinking was invaluable back in the early days when we had to be careful of what we ate, where we were, how far we ventured from the tribe. Now, this sort of default, primal thinking is rather silly, dumb and not productive. Yet it happens to the best of us.

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Warren Buffett discusses his worries in his annual letter to shareholders.

In his annual letters to shareholders, Warren Buffett discusses many things that he and Charlie have worried about that never came to fruition. They worried about interest rates hiking. They worried about megacatastropies. They worried about the weather. They worried about claims. They worried about finding management. They worried about keeping management. They worried about acquisitions. They worried about the press. They worried about the Berkshire stock price. Most intriguing? Warren says that nearly all of the things he and Charlie worried about never happened. They did all this worrying, had all the anxiety, and experienced the sleepless nights for naught. Yes, even Warren Buffett has sleepless nights. While it is a good thing nearly none of the things they worried about happened, Warren writes in his letters that they wasted an incredible amount of emotional energy and effort worrying about things that never came to pass. How much of this worrying can you relate to? How much of what you worry about came to pass? What percentage of your worries never materialize?

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Much of what we worry about isn’t worth worrying about.

Similar to Warren and Charlie, so much of what we worry about is not worth worrying about. We cannot control interest rates. We cannot control the stock market. While we have control over our careers, we may feel we’re not steering the ship. Yet control is one of the biggest factors relating to our happiness: the ability to choose, to be autonomous in thought and action.

Essential Viktor Frankl tells us “Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

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Choosing what we think and do — Autonomy

Frankl had every reason to worry and be anxious and yet he gifted us incredible teachings about the human condition. These learnings are so essential, in fact, that we still quote his work decades later. And we have to quote it again and again because of our tendency to forget, especially when we’re emotional. Frankl taught the opposite of catastrophizing through his truly catastrophic experiences. He taught that the last of the human freedoms is the ability to choose and own one’s attitude. What impeccable lessons. And we have to re-up and re-enroll again and again because we encounter these choices so often, multiple times per day. Things are almost never as bad as we thought.

Complementing autonomy in thought is autonomy in behavior. Do we feel that we are free to choose our actions? Or, do we feel that our actions are largely guided by someone else and we’re mere puppets in their show? Those who choose to own their thoughts should additionally feel they own their behaviors. This is a big factor in regards to one’s personal level of happiness and freedom: how in control of my own life do I feel? And if it isn’t much, then we’re unlikely to experience much happiness in our lives.

We go to the gym forever.

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We go to the gym forever.

Next, Mastery complements autonomy. We desire to be good at what we do. So, we practice our craft. Mastery comes through dedication to practice. Training over and over and over again. Navy SEALs offer a great case study in practice and training because they train every day. There is always something they’re trying to improve, some wrinkle they’re attempting to iron out. There is always another mission. There is always another op. When we think of SEALs, we think of highly disciplined, well-trained, wildly fit, mentally tough, sharp and dedicated people. SEALs achieve mastery in what they do by continuous training and through disciplined thoughts and actions. The training never stops. They know the gym is forever, and they like it.

This Op is another one of those.

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Teams that train together have tighter cohesion.

Embrace the suck and forge ahead.

When Navy SEALs train, they train for the worst case. They train with chaos. They train in catastrophe. This way, when they’re called into the real mission, it is just another day. Their training is so real life, they’re prepared. They are rarely blindsided. They’ve already seen this before. It is another one of those. For what most people would describe as tremendous danger and difficulty, they’ve already embraced the suck and forge ahead.

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