I was recently told that I have a tendency to go into “doomsday mode” at stressful times. After some reflection, I admit that is often true. I will see evidence of something I don’t like or experience unmet expectations, and then extrapolate my current reality way out into the future. At these moments, instead of taking things one step at a time and dealing with the present situation, I fixate on the bleak future of my imagination. Along with that comes anxiety and fear, and suddenly I’m desperate to protect myself from this dragon in my imagination that I totally invented myself. Do you think at these times I’m very pleasant to be around? Not one bit. This is one of my many self-destructive patterns that I need to reduce and hopefully eliminate. Is anyone else in the same boat with me on this?
I recently heard of the term “awfulize” in a class. It means to imagine something to be as bad as it can possibly be. This seems to fit what I just described about my doomsday mode. This verb has been made into the noun “awfulizer” to describe a person who does this often, but I don’t care for that usage because I don’t think self-destructive patterns should define a person. But many of us have an “awfulizer” in our brains that can hijack our rational thinking and send us into a downward spiral of horror and woe.
The first step to avoiding spiraling to doomsday is simply to recognize the awfulizer when it kicks in. Parents, especially moms, are likely to be victims of thought patterns like this one:
- My child lies and keeps lying.
- He will grow up to be a sociopath.
- He will end up in prison!
- And I will be a failure as a parent,
- And everyone will know!
As soon as you catch yourself obsessing over an imagined negative future, trace your thoughts back until you identify what the problem is in the present moment. In this example, it’s that the child has just told yet another lie. As frustrating as that can be, it doesn’t necessarily mean that he will continue lying until he is inevitably led into a life of crime. Instead of throwing your hands up in dread and fear, think about what you can do now to encourage your child to live more honestly, and take whatever steps are in your power.
The Awfulizer likes to hide its existence from us because its nefarious operations can only continue as long as we remain unconscious of it. But there are ways to bring it into the light. In Huffpost, Penny Love suggests that we ask ourselves the following questions the moment we recognize we are spiraling into a negative thought pattern:
- Is this thought helping me?
- Is it really true?
- Am I overemphasizing the negative?
- What’s the worse that will happen?
- Am I jumping to conclusions?
Just being aware will open our eyes to the broad range of alternatives in front of us, allowing us to make a better choice than we would have, had we remained unaware of the Awfulizer operating so sneakily in our minds. Living mindfully in the present is the only place where we can have peace. The past is a place of guilt; the future is a place of anxiety. Both past and future are illusory. Only in the present do we experience reality; only over the present moment do we have any real power. I like how Eckhart Tolle expresses this:
“The power for creating a better future is contained in the present moment: You create a good future by creating a good present.”
How exactly can we create a more positive future through the present moment? First, make a plan and take action. Say you’ve already done that, though, or the situation is no longer under your control, and the future still looks bleak. There is something you can yet do. Visualize what you want to have happen! When in doomsday mode, I visualize a negative future outcome, and usually what follows is that circumstances conspire to move me closer to that. Instead, do the opposite. Fear dissipates immediately the moment we replace negative thoughts with hopeful and positive intentions and visions of our future. Author and healer Carol Tuttle has written, “The greatest power you have to avoid the worst is to intend for the best to happen.”
Everything that now exists started out as something merely imagined. Our imagination is truly an instrument of creation. It is powerful, so instead of allowing it to produce anxiety and stress, put it to work to add value to your life!