Landing the Plane

The bottom line is, you've been flying for a while now, and your only job is to get the plane on the ground.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Futuristic Catastrophizing

Like "land the plane," another useful phrase that has helped me get through the last five years is my favorite cognitive distortion, vividly termed "futuristic catastrophizing."

Here's an example of futuristic catastrophizing from recent personal experience:

A few weeks ago I presented some material to a group of fellow graduate students seeking feedback for making the piece better before shopping it around at conferences and, if I'm lucky, someday as a job talk. I knew going in to the presentation that it wasn't my best work, was rough, and needed revision. I gave the talk, and unsurprisingly got hung out to dry by my fellow cranky graduate students because, well, like I said, it wasn't my best work. And I go to school with some cranky people.

A rational person would say to themselves, "I just gave a bad talk, I should go back to work and make it better." or, "I should just move on to some other project for now."

A lame, neurotic, anxious graduate student says, "Woe is me, I just gave a bad talk, all of the ideas I've ever had are bad, I'm never going to publish anything or get a job anywhere and I'm going to die an octogenarian graduate student with no friends and no love left in my life." This pathetic specimen then proceeds to eat four bowls of cereal, drink a bottle of $3 red wine, and pass out on the couch.

This second response is called "futuristic catastrophizing." It's like that muppet from Sesame Street, the composer one who bangs his head on the piano screaming, "I'll never get it! never!"

Learning this term a few years ago has helped me recognize the behavior, even if it's often too late to do anything about it.

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