A Coaching Power Tool Created by Juliane Corman
(Executive Coach, UNITED STATES)
While it took some time to come up with the words for this power tool, I knew the theme of my power tool from very early in my peer coaching. A client of mine was talking about the paralyzing anxiety she feels around Christmas or when going to a dinner party. To take the Christmas example, she spoke about how she becomes highly anxious and would lose sleep by imagining the all of the “what if” and “worst case” scenarios. Such as, what if the food didn’t cook, or the family has a fight, or I forget something, or the kids don’t like the gift. She talked about the toll her anxiety takes on her family and herself.
I immediately knew that this theme would be my power tool. This type of anxiety is something that resonated with me immediately in my own life. The “what if” scenarios, or catastrophic thinking, have caused me many nights of sleep and strain in many of my own relationships. Even now, I am just weeks away from having my first child. The “what ifs” (what if I’m not a good mother, what if I can’t deliver the way I want, etc.) are costing me emotionally and taking away from this precious last few pre-baby weeks with my husband.
This is something I recognize in my clients, family, friends and self. For this reason my power tool is Catastrophic Thinking vs. Presence.
Thinking Catastrophic Thinking could also be thought of as the “what if” hypotheses, projections, or anticipations that may not be serving you. While the word “Catastrophic” may feel like an exaggeration, it is meant to convey the negatives associated with an upcoming event or situation. In other words, when something is planned or anticipated, from finding a parking spot to attending a party to having a baby, where does your head go? Many of us go to a place of imagining the worst-case scenarios, no matter how large the scale of the problem. We can begin to hypothesize all of the things that may go wrong.
While some of us may justify imagining these scenarios as trying to prepare for the worst, the question will continuously arise of “at what cost”. We tend to ruminate in these worst-case scenarios, imagining them over and over again in our heads. For many, this can cause great (even crippling) anxiety and paralysis, which can impact our individual health and well-being. This, in turn, can impact our relationships with those around us. Depending on the situation, it can also lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, I’m concerned that the people at a dinner party may not like me, the anxiety builds up in me and creates a level of discomfort within me that leads my husband to feel uncomfortable and me to act not as myself during the event, leading others to pick up on that energy.
What catastrophic thinking boils down to is that you are not worried about a mishap that has happened, but are getting upset and worked up about the idea of this happening.
In contrast to the Catastrophic Thinking is Presence. Presence is the idea of staying in the moment and focusing on what is actually in your control. Being present can keep you away from catastrophic thinking and avoid going down the path of anxiety and overwhelm. The benefits of being present can help the client to continue to do what is in their best interest, stay away from paralysis, maintain better relationships with family and friends. The quest for presence involves looking for the evidence or proof behind the paralyzing assumptions. It can help to break down the assumptions, versus the facts, that are leading them to a place of catastrophic thinking.
True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
When a coach is aware of Catastrophic Thinking, the following questions can be helpful:
- What evidence do you have that this will occur?
- How is this serving you?
- What is the cost of this thinking?
- If this does happen, what will actually be the outcome (it’s usually not so bad)? And how important is that outcome?
- What can you do for yourself to stay more present when you are in catastrophic thinking?
- What can you control in this situation?