Last week, I blogged about how to Build Your Confidence, a necessary trait for leaders. Once of the biggest barriers to building confidence is catastrophizing. We all fall prey to that negative mindset and the fear that goes with it.

Many years ago, I read Dune by Frank Herbert. One line stayed with me through the years, “Fear is the little death.” It will always come to you, but in that book, Herbert said to let it wash through you. There are two pieces of wisdom to be gleaned from that. First, if you let it, fear is paralyzing. It will stop you dead in your tracks. Second, accept that it’s fear and, rather than succumb, nod at it as you allow to pass through. Not easy, but very helpful.

In How to Stop Catastrophizing–Managing Our Minds, Greg Vanourek defines catastrophizing as being when “we assume the worst and blow things out of proportion.” Most of us do this in and out of work. The pain in our chest is a heart attack. Or the car making a strange sound means it needs an expensive repair. In our professional life, it sounds like: “If I try to give a workshop for teachers, they will ignore me.” How can you deal with these moments of paralyzing fear? Vanourek offers 12 ways to combat catastrophizing.

Acknowledge that bad things happen to all of us – We know this to be true. We can point to examples and those who have managed through the bad things. It’s life. When we acknowledge it, the grip of fear lessons and it’s easier to take action.

Recognize when we’re engaging in catastrophizing—When you are aware you are doing it, you are more likely to notice you are stretching the situation out of proportion to reality.

Place our experiences into perspective—Perspective can make us calmer. Ask – on a scale of 1-10, how big a problem is this? Or—do I really not know how to do this or is there an aspect that is new to me?

Consider a range of possible outcomes – What is the worst that can happen? (And how likely is that?) What are some other possibilities? What are the best outcomes? Focusing on those can get you moving.

Reframe thoughts from negative to positive ones—Chances are there are at least as many positive possibilities. What will you gain from taking the risk? What could you learn from a new program?

Recall situations in which we’ve coped with and overcome negative events—You have been successful before. There is no reason to assume you can’t handle this one. Stumbles are part of the road to success and you’ve gotten through them in the past.

Lean on trusted relationships—Use your PLNs, and others who have been through similar situations. Remembering that you’re not alone and have the wisdom of others to support you can be very helpful.

Focus more on helping and serving others—Think of how this relates to your Mission and Vision. What can you achieve by doing this? The bigger picture can move us out of fear.

Think about the things we can control — It is a waste of effort to spend time on what you can’t control. Use your energy to work on what you can control.

Command ourselves to stop catastrophizing—As strange as this sounds, it works. Noticing when we’ve blown something out of proportion allows us to shift to the next step.

Use positive affirmations — Positive self-talk can change your outlook. Give yourself some good advice and encouragement. “You can do it.” “You have done it before.” “One step at a time.” “Keep going.” Use your favorites.

Engage in regular self-care practices—This comes often as an important leadership practice.  It’s nothing new—except we keep ignoring it. When you are exhausted, it is very easy to slip into catastrophizing. You already feel bad. Don’t treat yourself badly, too.

Vanourek closes with a passage commonly called the Serenity Prayer. It’s worthwhile to remember: Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Catastrophizing drains your confidence. Learn to recognize when the fear comes, and you overreact. Your students and teachers need you to be the great librarian you are.

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