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The Sky is Falling! The Sky is Falling on My Business!
by C.S. Clarke, Ph.D.

Some people don't just worry. They catastrophize.

If worry is carried to an extreme of imagination -- where the very worst is the only logical outcome -- it's called catastrophizing. And it can become a self-fulfilling prophesy. In the children's story, Chicken Little interpreted an acorn hitting her on the head to mean the sky was falling. That led her to create a panic and take actions that killed her and all her friends. So, too, the significance you attach to the various events in life can lead you to baseless concerns and even real misfortune.

It is troubling that so many people tend to catastrophize, but it's not just an unusual personal problem. The press, politicians, propagandists and advocates for various causes are constantly haranguing us about extreme possibilities just to get our attention and influence our actions. Even our parents and teachers often made extreme predictions about our probable futures if we didn't heed their words and mend our ways. It's no wonder we do the same thing to ourselves.

In addition, it is bad enough that we've learned to catastrophize our personal problems, but it's worse when we do it for businesses large and small. ("Oh-my-gosh! The country is going into a recession! That means I'll have to lay off most of my employees, do most of the work myself, make a lot less money, eventually fail anyway, lose my business and become a homeless person.)

We've always done it for the stock market. Sometimes it seems that dips in the market are caused by such silly things that you could blame a sudden lack of confidence on something like polar bears having shorter hibernations! At least don't let such momentary folly affect your business.

If you are experiencing difficulties in your own solo or micro business, make sure you don't turn your worry into catastrophizing and then into actual disaster. Here are some suggestions for avoiding the catastrophe trap:

1. First realize that your imagination and emotions are out of control and calm down. Ask yourself the simple question, "How often has the worst actually happened?" The answer generally is, "almost never."

2. Next learn and consider all the facts so you can deal with reality. If you are catastrophizing, you are probably dealing with imaginary outcomes rather than concrete and persuasive evidence that the feared result is inevitable. Research and get real evidence that shows actual probabilities. Analyze your current situation in the light of what you've learned and assess what probabilities apply to you. Instead of imagining calamity, try imagining solutions and successes.

3. Get advice and work out a plan. If you have a tendency to expect the worst, work with someone you trust or someone who is an expert solving the problems that cause you worry. Having an objective partner in problem resolution can quell your fears and give you greater confidence that you can create positive results.

Once you are working from knowledge and reason, especially if you get some support, you'll be able to stop the catastrophizing and get back to business.



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