Ep. 159
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Catastrophizing is when you assume the worst will always happen. 

Listen, it’s normal. Your brain is trying to keep you alive. And if it can anticipate all the things that could go wrong, it can keep you safe.

Your brain loves to replace the uncertain with the awful.  

But, in our modern world, you’re not at risk of dying all the time. It just ain’t that serious. 

So you need to learn how to get a handle on that doomsday brain of yours if you’re ever going to do anything worthwhile. 

In this episode, I give you simple steps to overcome your catastrophizing so you can get out and experience this world!

Show Transcript
As soon as you're going to put yourself out there, as soon as you're going to do anything outside of your comfort zone, your brain is going to like it it's just immediate alarm bells. Uh oh, we don't know what's going to happen here so let's just think about the worst thing and let's not do it.

Hey, welcome to Lessons From a Quitter where we believe that it is never too late to start over. No matter how much time or energy you spent getting to where you are, if ultimately you are unfulfilled, then it is time to get out. Join me each week for both inspiration and actionable tips so that we can get you on the road to your dreams.

Hello everybody, welcome to another episode of Lessons From a Quitter. I am so excited to have you here. I haven't mentioned this, I guess in a couple of episodes, so if you're new around here, I do a free coaching call once a month. It's usually the last week of the month and it's amazing. You show up, you can get coached on anything and you can just show up and listen to other people which is really powerful. And I would suggest you do it if you've never done it because it's amazing how we all have the same fears and doubts and mindset problems. So if you're interested in joining one and checking it out and hearing what other people need help with it's career, mindset, all the stuff you can go to Also, I got a new website that I love. It's so beautiful and can I just tell you what an amazing customer experience it was? I really pay attention to this now because I want to make sure people have a good experience with me but it was fantastic. I had mentioned on my Instagram stories that my website was trash, um were my exact words and I was talking in reference to the fact that like I bought a logo off of Fiverr when I first started my podcast. And had someone to create a website, didn't really know what I wanted it to look like. It was really just around the podcast, I wasn't doing coaching and then I never changed it. And so there really wasn't much about what I offer or what I do. And I would constantly get emails from people asking me like do you do coaching? Which is not the best thing to happen when you're in business but I just didn't have the time, money and energy to redo it. And so for three years I've just been operating with that. And I've been really selling through the podcast and through my Instagram and and social media. So anyways, I was talking about that on my Insta stories and this wonderful, amazing web designer, Katie, reached out to me and said like I can help you uh fix your website. And what's funny, is I was, I was just going into the launch of the challenge and my group program and I had so much on my plate and I was like I don't have the time to like rewrite all of the website copy and figure out what pictures go where and all the design stuff. But I looked at her portfolio and it was really beautiful and so I told her like yeah, let's do it, I don't have a ton of time right now. You guys, this girl came back like two days later with an entire website already set up. I didn't tell her anything. I gave her my brand colors, my new brand colors and logo and I said like these are the colors, this is kind of the style I like. And she went and took copy from my old website, from my new landing pages, from my challenge and my program site and Iike came back to me and was like here it is, what do you think of this? I nearly fell over. I was like wait what? You already built the website? What are you talking about? How is this possible? How did you do this without direction? It was really just a dream come true. And it took me a while to kind of finalize and do some edits. And now we're up and running. So go check it out at I love it. It's very more a reflection of me and you can actually find things on there and figure out what you need. So that's about the website. That's that's the update on me. Next week actually, I will be doing an episode more about kind of an update on the last three years. Cause it's almost the three year anniversary of this podcast which is mind blowing. So we'll talk more next week. But this week I want to talk about an important topic that affects every one of you and me because our brains are wired this way. And it's called catastrophizing, right? Where when your brain encounters uncertainty, it replaces it with the worst case scenario. We love to go there, right? Our brain replaces the uncertain with the awful, right? It’s just like automatic, like we can't ever imagine that like the good thing is going to happen. We're going to always go to the worst thing that could possibly happen and then freak out about it. And then use that as like the reason why we should definitely not take that step. And I want to talk about how you need to get a handle on that and how you can so that you can actually start taking steps towards your dreams, towards just a more relaxed and peaceful life. So let's talk about this. Now here's the thing: our brain does this obviously on purpose for a number of reasons. First, is that we have a negativity bias, right? We are evolutionarily wired to look for things that can go wrong because we're trying not to die. Like that was what our main focus was for about 90% of human history. And so our brain has evolved to constantly scan our environment for things that can happen that might lead to our death. And obviously our society has evolved in a way very rapidly where we aren't at risk of imminent death on a daily basis but our brains haven't caught up. And so that is why it feels viscerally as if you're going to die when you want to like reach out to that person on LinkedIn, or, you know, you want to post something on Instagram. It's like your your body literally goes into fight or flight, right? You, your heart rate starts beating, like you become sweaty or clammy, you you you have like shortness of breath. I mean, your body literally thinks like there is danger here if I pressed post. And it's ridiculous intellectually when you think about it cause like nothing can actually happen but our brain doesn't understand that, right. Our primitive brain and that's why it's so important to understand it yourself so that you have this, you know, very evolved prefrontal cortex that can rationalize and intellectualize and understand that that primitive brain that's acting up is not the truth. I don't have to listen to it. I can acknowledge it. I can see what it's doing. And I can know that it's overreacting. That nothing bad is going to happen here, right? So the first step is just understanding what that permanent brain is doing. And the second reason because of that, like the negativity bias also is like just our deep-seated fear and hatred of anything uncertain, right? And that that ties into the negativity bias because when something is uncertain, we don't know what's going to happen, that might lead to death, right. And so as soon as you're going to put yourself out there, as soon as you're going to do anything outside of your comfort zone, your brain is going to like, it's just immediate alarm bells. Like, uh oh we don't know what's going to happen here so let's just think about the worst thing and let's not do it. And the funny thing is, is that again, intellectually, when you think about it, everything is uncertain, right? Basically the only guarantee in life is that there's uncertainty and there's death, that’s it, right. Like you have no idea how the future is going to pan out and you're going to die one day. It's a wonderful way of looking at life but it's the truth.

And so what's amazing is how we haven't been able to adapt to that, like really understanding that like we don't control over anything. We have the illusion of control. We think on a day to day we're kind of controlling our environment and we have, you know, the ability to prepare for some things, which is great. But at the end of the day, there's always uncertainty. And we, so we fool ourselves into like this hyper drive of trying to control everything, thinking that we can prevent negative things from happening in our life, but we can't. And so we spend all of our time being agitated, overwhelmed, anxious, worrying, trying to, you know, prepare for every possible outcome. Even though we know we're still gonna experience negative emotion, we're still going to have negative outcomes, right. And so part of it is like just really surrendering to that a little bit about the fact that of course it's going to be 50 50, of course there's going to be ups and downs, of course I can't predict everything that's going to happen. And I know that I can handle it, right. I know I'll figure it out. I know I can feel a feeling and be okay, but we don't do that. It's like oh my God there's the possibility that something might go wrong and so I'm just going to freeze. I’m not going to do anything, right. To like really it’s that negativity bias combined with like our fear of uncertainty. And the last reason is that like, we really have trained our brains, a lot of us, to continue in this cycle, right. A lot of us feel very safe when we catastrophize, when we're constantly thinking about the worst case scenario because again, it gives us that illusion of control. And for a lot of us, we're the planners, the to-do lists. It gives you a semblance of like oh, I'm in power here and so let me think about all of the worst ways that things can go so I can try to plan for it. And for, especially those of us in professions that have trained us to think this way, it's on hyperdrive, right? So I'm talking to you, my lawyers, but really, even other professions, I think in a lot of professions where you are trained to look for the problems, right? It can be it as a consultant. It can be as an accountant. It can be, it doesn't matter, right? There's a lot of a lot of businesses obviously are in the business of solving problems. And if you're in that business, you have to find the problems. And if you're constantly looking for the problems, you're retraining your brain over and over again to constantly look for the fact that things can go wrong. And like that's, you know, a catastrophe and we have to prevent that in every way what possible. I think lawyers specifically, I mean, it's all we're trained on, right. Is to really go into the most insane possible situation, like really predict things that never actually happen, but maybe could, and then try to prevent that. And it's so vital to understand that that is that you have to be able to manage when you use that for work and what you're doing in your personal life. Because once you have spent so many years creating these neural pathways, once you've told your brain constantly like yeah, we should always be afraid of something going wrong and that's the worst thing that could ever happen and we're going to die if that happens, like you have to understand that like your brain is just going to go down that neural pathway every time. It's like uh oh, uncertainty, we don't know what's going to happen, let's just stop.

And again, it's tricky because we think we're protecting ourselves, right. It feels like it's so productive like I'm planning, look at me, I'm trying to get ahead of it. And I'm not saying like this isn't like to say you should never plan, obviously not, right. But I think that it's more of really realizing how much we're increasing our stress that we feel on a day-to-day basis, just quote unquote planning for the future. It's just worry, right, dressed up in like this productive costume. And we spend so much of our lives worrying about things that just never come to pass, like never actually happened. And so we're creating all of this negative emotion, feeling terrible, you know, in a weird way kind of thinking we're being productive but we're just basically doubling the feeling of negative emotions. And what I mean by that is that if that negative thing comes to pass, you're already going to feel terrible, right? Like let's say whatever goes south the way you don't want it to go, you're going to feel disappointed. You're going to feel stressed. You're going to feel overwhelmed. You're going to feel regretful whatever the the emotion that you're afraid of feeling, but you're doubling it by spending all of this time, worrying about it, right? Like that doesn't normally change what happens. I mean, sometimes you can plan for some contingencies but so many of us spend all of our time just in this place of worry, in this place of negative emotion, thinking that we're preventing negative emotion. It's so ridiculous. It's ironic, right? Like it's like I I'm so scared to feel that negative emotion when this bad things happens so I'm just going to create a bunch of negative emotion all the time for myself. That sounds like fun. And just as a side note here, I always love this because when I talk to people, whenever I get students in my programs, in the beginning, I always get people asking me questions or bringing up the statement when I try to explain how to create intentional thoughts and how to have these, you know, thoughts that serve us and have these positive kind of happy thoughts, thoughts that are going to get you to actually act. And I always inevitably get people say like but I don't want to be delusional if I think that, if I just think that it's going to turn out well or that I'm going to be good at this or whatever, then I'm being delusional. And it's such an interesting thought because most of us are delusional every single day, right? Like what do you think worry is? Most of us worry about all of these scenarios that never happen and yet we don't think we're being delusional. That's being, you know, productive and responsible. Even though I'm going to sit down and have anxiety about something that never actually comes to pass. I'm gonna ruin my day and everybody else's day and whatever, like that's normal. If it's a negative thought, then it's totally fine to think, even if it's not true. But if it's a positive thought, then I'm just crazy, right. And it's just good to be on to yourself. It's good to be on to your brain and realize that like you get to choose thoughts that serve you. So if you're constantly choosing to think thoughts like how many times have you worried about something? Like worried someone was mad at you or worried that like you were gonna get fired and then it didn't come. It never happened. And you don't go back and think like oh my God, I'm such a delusional person, I need to change my thinking. You just like, you know, you might laugh at yourself, but it's totally normal for us in our society. And I just think like you need to start thinking about like what are the thoughts you want to think on purpose? Even if you assume you're being quote unquote delusional. So that's just a side note about thought work. But anyways, so here's the thing that your brain is doing though, is that when you are worried, when you're in this type of worry, you're staying stuck, right? Like you're not taking the action. And if you're stuck, then you're safe. You're not leaving that comfort zone. If you're constantly going back and forth, should I do it? Should I not? Should I make a pro and con list? Should I keep going over everything that could possibly go wrong? I'm not done planning. I still don't, you know, I get so many people who tell me like they pick the date they're going to quit and then they don't quit. Like a date keeps coming in, they keep pushing it back, right. Cause they're worried about all these other things they might've missed. And the thing is like that's the point ,your brain is trying to do that. We don't realize that we indulge in worry. It feels comfortable for us to sit in worry and sit in planning because then we're not actually taking action. Then we get to just stop. And we're still safe. We think we're safe, right? It like lowers the anxiety a little bit. Cause once you have to take that action, that anxiety is going to kind of like spike through the roof. And so the point of it is like wait, did you think about this? Let's just like stop for a minute and keep worrying about it. Wait, did you think about that? What if this goes wrong? So I'm just gonna keep staying here year after year and I'm gonna keep worrying. I'm gonna keep thinking about the worst case scenario that can happen. I'm gonna keep thinking I don't have enough planned, I don't have enough saved, I don't have enough to go after it. And then I'm not going to do anything. I want you to think about what, fear always is just yelling stop, that's it. Like that's what your brain on autopilot, without you managing it, that's all it's telling you. It's so boring when you start really cluing it into this, everything is just stop. Like don't do this, don't reach out, don't raise your hand, don't be seen. Hide, right? Like stop, just stop stop stop stop. And that's the life you're gonna end up having. And you have to kind of understand that, understand that this is what's happening with this catastrophizing brain that we all have, is that all it wants us to do is stop. With an unmanaged mind, we feel like well, there's nothing I can do. Like these worries are real or I really do need to plan. But when you start to realize that you don't have to listen to that noise all the time and there are ways to manage that, it doesn't mean that it goes away. Trust me, my brain is screaming on a daily basis. It's constantly telling me to stop. Every frickin post on Instagram, my brain is telling me like don't post this. This is gonna ruin you. People are going to hate this whatever. I just have learned to turn down the volume on that or ignore it altogether, right? To realize like is this really a situation that I'm in danger? Or is it just this my brain being scared? And I have to remind myself like I get it, we're afraid we're still doing it. Okay, so this is how I want you to start dealing in managing that part of your brain that loves to catastrophize. Okay, that loves to go to the worst case scenario. The first step honestly is like observing it, noticing that you're doing that, right? Noticing like oh wait, hey we’re really spinning out over here of like a hundred steps from now, what could possibly go wrong? Okay, so like this is my brain trying to really get to like the worst thing. Like let me notice that so I can see that there's a way to circumvent this, to stop this. And once you become conscious of that thinking and once you realize like this is what I'm doing, I want you to really go there. I want you to write down what is the worst thing that can happen. There is a wonderful Ted Talk about this by Tim Ferriss and it's called Fear Setting. Okay, so the concept is instead of goal setting where, you know, you'd like sit down and you put out your goals or your dreams, you are going to sit out and play out your fears til the very end. Actually write it out. Like the worst thing that happens in our brain is like we just let our brain run wild with these rhetorical questions and we don't answer them. Okay, like the brain's like what if I fail? And you're like yeah, oh my God, what if we fail? We're going to end up homeless. And you know, like really like these like insane situations that aren't going to happen. So I want you to get used to answering your brain. Like what if I fail? Yeah, what if I fail? What am I going to do? What would happen? And so let's say like the example is, I don't know, your boss gives you a project, gives you a new assignment and you've never done this task before. And your brain starts going insane, right? And your immediate thought is this is over my head, I have no idea what I'm doing, I'm going to mess this up, right. And it's like instant stress, instant anxiety. And for so many of us in our brain, when we don't really realize it, your brain has already gone to like I'm going to mess this whole thing up and I'm going to end up becoming homeless. I'm going to get fired, right? Like I want you to really like stop and just ask yourself, okay, what is the worst possible thing that could happen if I mess this whole thing up? And write it down. Is it really possible that you're going to get fired over this? If it is, you can write that down, right. What would you do if you got fired? Could you get another job? But most of the time, I'm willing to bet that most of the things that we catastrophize are not even that dramatic. You wouldn't get fired. You would maybe be embarrassed. That's pretty much it. Or like you'd have to redo it or your boss would be upset, like, that's it. And so a lot of times it actually just ends there. Like just the step when you write it out and you're like okay, if the worst case scenario is that I feel a negative emotion, like I get embarrassed that I had to put this presentation together and I didn't perform it, like I didn't present it well. Can you handle a negative emotion? Yeah, right? Like then it becomes easier to manage your mind around it. Like when your brain is trying to scream like this is going to end horribly. You can keep redirecting to yeah, if I completely fall flat on my face, I will feel embarrassed and I can handle that feeling. It's okay. Like you have to learn to calm that part of your brain down so that you can actually get to work on the thing that you need to be doing, right. So it's like if that's the worst case scenarios, you're going to feel sad or disappointed or embarrassed or whatever, self-conscious, okay, you'll deal with that then. Like you don't have to start feeling terrible now. Or if it's something where it's like there's a slight inconvenience. Like if you mess it up, you'll probably have to redo it. Okay, maybe you have to work a little bit more. You can start again, like gently just reminding yourself that like you can handle the worst case scenario. Adding stress right now is not going to help you. In fact, what happens is that it actually tends to make that worst case scenario more possible, right? When you're constantly stressed and anxious about how you're going to mess up that presentation or that project, guess what? You're not fully present when you're doing the project, you're constantly second guessing yourself. You're spending more time worrying about it than actually like doing the project. You end up making silly mistakes. You end up doing a worse job. That additional stress doesn't help you. And so when you realize like okay I will, you know, cross that bridge when I get there. If everything goes south, I will handle it. But we don't even know if that's going to happen. So why don't I focus on the fact that like I figured out a lot of things before I can figure out this project and if it doesn't end there, let's say you go to the worst case scenario and it's not just a slight inconvenience. Okay let's say the reality is you might get fired. Your job is on the line or, you know, it’s some serious, um, there's a lot of like repercussions, a lot of obstacles. Step two of this or step three, I guess at this point, is first is awareness. Second is asking yourself what is the worst case scenario? And writing it down. Step three is coming up with strategies to overcome that like actually planning in a way that's going to be helpful instead of just ruminating and spinning out over the fact that everything is going to hell in a handbasket. I don't really understand what that saying means but we'll go with it, right? If you want to prevent the worst case scenario like let's look at what interventions we can take along the way to prevent it because it's not as though you're going to do a terrible job on this project. You're going to get fired. You're going to become homeless in a day, right? Like let's say you want to quit your job and then your brain is also going to like you're going to become homeless. That's like a really I feel like common one in our brain is like we're going to lose everything. Everything's going to change. My whole life is going to fall apart, right? Whether that means I'm going to lose my house or my marriage or whatever. Like we don't consciously think it but like that's what the stakes are in our brain. It’s like oh my God, everything is going to crumble around me. I'm going to end up living under a bridge somewhere. It's like so ridiculous. So the question becomes like let's say you want to quit your job and you want to start a business or you want to take some time off or you want to look for another job. I don't know whatever. Your brain is going to start panicking. I'm not bringing any income in or we're going to lose everything, right? And then you start asking yourself, look, what are some strategies? Let's say I give myself six months to build this business or whatever. And it's not working in that time. Can I look for a part-time job? Do I have any skills where I could freelance maybe for some money on the side? Going UpWork or on Fiverr and offered some services? Can I live with my friends or my family for a little bit so I can save on rent? Maybe if you're single or even with family, maybe you can move in with your parents or whatnot. Now, again, most of us don't want to do this because how it would feel. But it doesn't mean we can't do it, right? Like a lot of times it's like I'm going to feel shame if I have to move in with my parents. And that's the mindset work that you have to work on. That doesn't mean you can't do it, right. Are there other ways to reduce your expenses so you don't have as much pressure on you? Can you just decide like I'm going to quit my job and if worse comes to worse, I'll just find another job. I probably could get a job through my network. So many people when I ask them that, like when they want to quit, and they're like if this doesn't work out? I'm like yeah, what would you do? It's like well I guess I'd just get another job. Yeah, that's really as high stakes as it is. We're so terrified of how we're going to feel in the future. Like when we have to do that, am I going to feel embarrassed? Am I going to feel ashamed that I have to go back to get another job? Am I going to feel regret? And so we don't take any steps or we create more regret. We create more anxiety and we create more stress. Just sitting exactly in the place that we're at.

So when you start thinking of every obstacle that you're going to face, you can start coming up with a strategy of how you're going to overcome it. And once you do that, you start realizing how much power you actually have. So often it becomes so much easier. It's like oh, of course I can write this wrong, right? Most things that we do, there's a way to mitigate it, there's a way to like straighten out that ship. Like you're not going to veer completely off course and go off a cliff. Like it's just not going to happen. Like you can figure out 10 different things that you can do to stop whatever massive like disaster you think is going to happen. And so when you're like with the unmanaged mind, with this unchecked brain, when you're catastrophizing, the only solution is to start figuring out what you would do and create strategies and show your brain that you can handle whatever comes up. And here's the real truth: the vast majority of things that you are afraid of happening, the vast majority of things that you are terrified of, you know, having to face all come down to feeling a negative emotion. It's not the fact that you have to move in with your parents or the fact that you have to get a new job. It's how you feel about that. It's not the fact that like, you know, you don't want to mess up that project. It's the feelings that are going to come with that and how much you're going to beat yourself up. And when you learn to manage that, when you learn to realize you can feel that feeling and you don't have to beat yourself up, then it's things be stop being as scary, they're not as high risk, right? Like when I say like my brain is screaming all the time but if I know I can feel embarrassed and be okay, then it doesn't matter. Then I can post, right. I can show up on Tik Tok. I can do the things I want to do because at the end of the day, even if it all goes south, like I know I'll be fine. I'll feel those negative emotions, I'll feel the stress, I'll try to mitigate. And then I'll take the next step. This is the secret to taking steps. I think so many of you guys keep coming to me and ask me like how do you get over your fear as if it's just going to go away. But your brain has been trained to think like this. And so you have to like understand that that's completely normal. Your brain is gonna want to catastrophize. And you're going to have to figure out a way to redirect it. You're going to have to figure out a way to show your brain you are in control, as much as you can be, that you have a plan, that you can take steps and you will figure it out. So go forth, answer your brain, come up with strategies and stop catastrophizing everything in your life. I hope this helped and I will be back next week for our three-year anniversary. Bye you guys.

Thank you so much for listening. I can't tell you how much it means to me. If you liked the podcast, please rate and review us on iTunes, it'll help other people find the show. If you want to connect or reach out, follow along on Instagram and Facebook at Lessons From a Quitter and on Twitter at QuitterPodcast, I would love to hear from you guys and I'll see you on the next episode.