Life is littered with things that do not go as well as we would like them. This is a fact. The only variable is how we deal with them. One of the issues that makes it harder to deal with these things are the stories we tell ourselves about these events that can turn disappointment into despair. People often believe that when things go wrong they are to blame or that it means that there is something wrong with them and then make generalisations about their overall abilities. For example, Zac presents at a meeting and forgets what to say. Afterwards he berates himself thinking how badly he did, that this would have a terrible impact on his job and that everyone will think he is useless.
Here are some of the ways we create damaging stories around the things that do not go well:
- Generalise and judge our behaviour: I did badly in this, I always do badly. I am a bad person.
- Catastrophise: This is awful and is the worse thing that could happen.
- Overly exaggerate others perception of ourselves: Everyone would have noticed and thought I did the worse job.
- Make it all our own fault or someone else's fault: It was my entire fault and I did really badly.
- All or nothing thinking: I cannot be good at my job or a competent person if I can do something like this.
This may sound extreme but if we were not thinking the above then we would not feel so upset when things go wrong or we make mistakes; we get hijacked by our emotional brain and this can be highly damaging and distressing.
How to manage our emotions better when things go wrong
When things go wrong and our emotional brain goes into action we need to re-engage our rational brain to help us deal with things better. Imagine we did not get an interview and we called up a friend who said "I cannot believe you did not get it, you never prepare for things that are important, you will never get a job and this is now going to be dire, you are useless". If they said this we would think that they were not a very good friend, but the awful part of it is that often this is what we tell ourselves.
What to do
- Catch and become observant of your inner critical voice: Once you can start to catch your internal voice that is critical and severe you can begin to minimise its negative impact. We know that people do not respond well when they are verbally beaten up so why do we do it to ourselves; often because we are not even aware it is happening.
- Label and name how you are feeling in the moment: At the moment I am very upset about what happened. Naming the emotion has been proven to reduce the feeling or our response.
- Catch the judgements and generalisations: You can start to question the generalisations and judgements your internal voice makes e.g. Do I never prepare? Is it likely that I will never get a job? This does not mean I am useless overall.
- Use data and rationale facts to decontaminate your inner voice: I did prepare for the interview and I could have got some more examples. I am not useless as have all these skills... I was not able to answer 2 of the 10 questions as well as I would have liked to. However, I was pleased with my responses to 8 of the questions.
- De catastrophise: This was not ideal but I am okay and will get over this. It does not mean I will never get a job as this is one job and I can go for more using this experience.