Yesterday, I brought my car in for the usual oil change and rotation of my tires. The dealership that provides these services has a comfortable lounge where waiting customers can sit in a comfortable chair, watch the television news and sip coffee. When I entered the lounge I immediately became aware of two things that were happening. First, there was a news story on CNN about the Gulf oil spill. I live in Florida and this is a matter of concern. Second, there was a man, a fellow customer, who was lecturing the other customers about the lack of integrity and honesty of oil company officials, politicians, and just about anyone in an official capacity. He then went on to predict that this spill would be a disaster for home owners all across the east coast of the U.S. because the spill will foul the beaches resulting in a disaster decline in property values for home owners. My reaction was shock, anxiety and worry about my home and its value. Then,...
Then, I caught myself by using all of my training in psychotherapy to stop a depressing and panic provoking way of thinking. I said to myself, "Wait, homes are homes and the Gulf is the Gulf and what has one to do with the other? Most people do not go to the beaches, they use their pools." Quickly, my emotions settled down. Yes, this is a tragedy for the environment but we are not in this alone and there are many of us who can do things to help, such as saving wild life.
John Kabbat-Zinn, the master of meditation and its application to all types of situations wrote an excellent book titled "Full Catastrophe Living." I highly recommend the book. Well, I thought to myself, this man at the dealership was engaging in "full catastrophe thinking and speaking." This type of thinking is hazardous to our health and can also infect the social environment at work and at home.
There is a concept called the "self fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself that the results of your efforts will be failure, you will enact behaviors to bring about the predicted end. In other words, if I tell myself that "I will fail that exam," I will probably not study and fail.
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Let me give an example of the opposite of catastrophic thinking. I walked into MD's office for a follow up visit after my recent shoulder surgery. The office secretary, a pleasant young woman, greeted me with, "How are you?" I thought I was being funny when I quipped, "I'm fine...well, if I were fine I wouldn't be here." She responded, "Yeah, but you be soon be all better." She was correct. She and I caught me in a moment of catastrophic thinking and acting.
This is somewhat like the people at work in some places who spend their entire day complaining how awful there job is and how unfair the boss is. As the day goes on they feel worse and worse until some of them feel depressed.
All of us have to clear ourselves of this "poor me" way of thinking. It is not helpful and not realistic. Negative thinking is contagious because it leads to negative talk and the self fulfilling prophecy. If you convince yourself that your life is awful then you go about making your life awful.
Meditation, Yoga and Psychotherapy along with the use of self help cognitive behavioral books, are all helpful in putting a stop to the "woe is me" way of thinking.
Your comments and questions are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD.