Box of Crayons Blog


Courageous Leadership Skills: Embrace Catastrophe

“Worry is as useless as
a handle on a snowball.”
~ Mitzi Chandler

Sometimes our imagination does us no service at all, and a perfect example of this is what’s known as ‘catastrophization.’ It’s our ability in a nanosecond to project disaster from any situation.

Imagine my boss has made a mistake, and I want to point it out. Here’s my catastrophic thinking on what would happen if I did:

I  could  never  challenge  my  boss  …
because she might get angry with me …
and then she’d put me on nothing but bad projects …
and then I’d fail at those projects …
and then I’d lose my job …
and then I wouldn’t be able to find another job ..
and then my wife would leave me …
and then I’d have to sell the house …
and then I’d start drinking…
and then I’d end up on the streets, homeless …
and then I’d be dead before I’m 45…
and no one will even notice.

No wonder I’ve lost my nerve.

Put it to the test: Embrace catastrophe

Pick a situation you’re facing now, one which requires courage and where you can feel anxiety lapping around your feet, cold and wet.

Now, and in a deliberate way, catastrophize.

And have some fun with this. What’s the bad thing that could happen? And what would that lead to? And then what? And what happens after that? Keeping going until you’re done. ( Just so you know, the ending is that you’re alone, destitute … and quite likely dead.)

Now review your catastrophic list. Go through each of the steps and ask yourself these questions:

  1. “Would that really happen?
  2. “How likely is that really?”
  3. “Is that true?”

The problem is not that we catastrophize. That’s just human.

The problem is that it happens in such a way that it sounds like it’s the truth, and we don’t stop long enough to check out whether that’s true or not.

Be mindful of how you catastrophize – notice what’s going on.

And  from that place, be mindful about what’s likely and what’s less likely to happen.

3 Responses to Courageous Leadership Skills: Embrace Catastrophe

  • Christopher Frawley

    Great post.

    This is a great technique to keep your mind off the slippery slope of inevitable disaster.

    After you’ve taken “what’s the worst thing that could happen?” as far as you can – and laugh at yourself, you can then then ask “what’s the best thing that could happen?” so you can end on a positive note.

    Thanks !!

  • Barry Owen

    Right on Target . . . and THANK YOU for the new word “catastrophization” . . . so much better (and slightly shorter) than my “conspiracytheorization”
    FUN stuff!


  • Janice Russell

    I really enjoyed this post. As an organizing professional, a lot of my clients are paralyzed with decisions involving possessions to “delete.” Each item has numerous possibilities. Although I’ve used your suggested technique at the most basic level with some success. Now I’ll try continuing to drill down. Thanks!

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