5 “Frightful” Foes

Frightful Tendencies that interfere with success

Life can be challenging. In spite of hard work and conscientious preparation, any given day can usher in unexpected challenges, difficult responsibilities and disappointing developments. For example:

  • a child wakes up with a fever on a day you had something important to accomplish
  • a critical meeting attendee cancels at the last minute and can’t easily reschedule
  • a school project is assigned that you don’t know how to approach or that requires working with others with whom you do not get along
  • a friend or coworker is critical, perhaps behind your back
  • an event or project gets derailed by interference from a third party
  • an injury or illness thwarts your plans
  • your identity is stolen
  • you are involved in a car accident
  • weather interferes with a planned activity or causes damage to your home or vehicle
  • you make a mistake at work or in school
  • you say something you regret, damaging a relationship
  • technical glitches interrupt your productivity
  • you forget an important appointment
  • traffic, a canceled flight, a late train, etc. puts you behind schedule
  • a major appliance (washing machine, air conditioner, dishwasher, hot water tank…) breaks

When tough times strike, it is easy to respond in ways that make the situation worse. While providing a short-term emotional payoff, these behavioral tendencies ultimately hinder our inclination to constructively respond and cope. Over time, they can morph into crippling habits that undermine our productivity and perpetuate a negative mindset.

Here is my list of 5 Frightful Foes that might be sabotaging your success…

Something goes wrong, and suddenly you see your whole world falling apart. You can’t think beyond the moment, and project gloom and doom ahead. The problem with catastrophizing (or seeing everything as a “catastrophe”) is that it is paralyzing. We make the problem so large that we feel incapable of addressing it.

If you do this… practice using fact-based self talk to get the issue in perspective. Yes, having your computer stolen might be extremely inconvenient and expensive, but it doesn’t mean your life has fallen apart. Break the problem down into the nuts and bolts of the situation, and then make a plan to deal with each one. For example, immediately file a police report, call your insurance carrier, identify intermediate computing options until you can get a new computer, and research replacement options. You may also need to contact customers or professors to come up with a plan for recreating anything that was lost. Finally, you need to see if there are any new practices you need to undertake (e.g. backing up data, locking your computer…) to minimize chance of this event recurring.

Everyone is familiar with this one, but many of us still let it rage in our lives. Postponing tasks – particularly difficult/unpleasant ones – only makes the situation worse.

If you do this… proactively stifle this tendency with a plan. Write down 1 or 2 steps you can take toward completing the task (no matter how small they may seem), and move these steps to the very top of your to do list. Even one step will release a lot of pressure and you will feel empowered to continue on further. Do not allow delaying tactics to get a foothold. Procrastination is a fixable habit.

When stuck in a bad situation, complaining is a common way to vent. In the moment, it makes us feel better, especially if we get some others to join in. However, in the long run, complaining focuses on everything that is wrong while subtly feeding a narrative of helplessness. It keeps us stuck in  negative thinking. In addition, complainers are rarely popular as no one wants to repeatedly listen to someone else’s gripes.

 If you do this… delineate between opportunities for change and undesirable situations which simply need to be accepted. If a situation is bad enough to make you miserable, consider what options you have to rectify it. There will always be parts of our jobs and lives that are not perfect, and that’s ok. We learn and grow through adversity. Most coworkers, employees and friends will respond positively to a person who respectfully works toward change.

When things go awry, it is instinctual to try and place the blame on someone else. We may be embarrassed or don’t want to admit to a failure which could jeopardize our position. However, people who consistently lay blame on others are perceived as self-centered and hence rarely entrusted with anything of consequence.

If you do this… take a hard look in the mirror. Admitting fault or failure actually connotes strength. Most people are willing to forgive missteps, especially to those who choose humility. Confessing a downfall or weakness, particularly in conjunction with a plan to behave differently in the future, builds trust and respect.

We’ve all been there. We lose steam and want to give up. We tell ourselves it isn’t worth the energy and walk away from a difficult situation, often leaving someone else to pick up the pieces. Quitting mid-stream connotes a lack of dependability, and robs us of the growth we might have experienced had we chosen to persevere.

If you do this… remember that most success in life results from simply consistently showing up. Even if you don’t have the answers, have made mistakes, or are weary, the commitment you display by continuing to try will impress both yourself and others. Furthermore, there are likely to be some natural “endpoints” (e.g. the end of a season, a job transition, a move) where you may be able to exit a situation without putting undue stress on anyone else.

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Have you overcome any of the “Frightful Five”? What tips do you have for conquering these pernicious tendencies?

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