Leaders who create doomsday scenarios out of everyday setbacks—what behavioral scientists call catastrophizing—risk spreading their stress to their teams. If your catastrophizing is trickling down and getting in the way of your leadership, here are some ways to begin addressing it.
First, catastrophizing is a learned behavior, so be curious about how and when you learned it. Think about the formative seasons of your life when you started to foresee impending disasters. These stories may be painful to recall, but identifying the root of your habit is the first step toward interrupting it.
Then, interrogate the data you’re collecting. Ask yourself: What cues are telling you that the worst will happen? Are there circumstances, people, or challenges that regularly trigger your doomsday thinking? Are you fabricating fears based on past experiences? What positive data might you be ignoring?
To regulate your emotional state when you’re anxious about an outcome, first turn your attention to your physical experience. Simple changes to your breathing and environment can calm down your system in the moment.
Finally, acknowledge the consequences your catastrophic thinking has on others. As a leader, your mood sets the tone for your team. To maintain a healthy environment, acknowledge how your tendency to catastrophize might affect them. And, if necessary, apologize for your past behavior and talk about what steps you’re taking to grow.