Catastrophic Thinking™ Made Easy

Do you sleep soundly, free of drugs or meditation apps, and wonder what everyone else is so stressed about? Do you feel like you’re missing out? 

Welcome to our webinar on Catastrophic Thinking™.

Before we dive in, it’s important to address and dispel the common misconceptions about Catastrophic Thinking™:

Misconception #1: Catastrophic Thinking™ is “bad” for you or “unhealthy.” In fact, right now, as Covid continues to spread and more states open up restaurants, bars, beauty salons, and tattoo parlors, there’s never been a better time to Think Catastrophically. It might even save your life. 

Misconception #2: Only elites and so-called “experts” can Catastrophize™. That’s ridiculous. The beauty of Catastrophic Thinking™ is that anyone can do it, literally anywhere, anytime. It’s completely free and completely safe, and once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to stop.

To get started, simply follow these four basic steps: 

Step #1: Break up with Denial. Denial is that so-called “defense mechanism” that tells you not to worry your pretty little head about that worst-case scenario you keep hearing about, because what are the odds it could actually happen to you? Some people are such Denial junkies that they don’t even hear the drumbeat of danger as it marches directly toward them. While people in Denial often appear blissfully ignorant and statistically have lower rates of high blood pressure and heart disease, deep down they’re in the highest risk group of all. Denial is a silent killer.

PRACTICE: To ensure that you don’t fall into the Denial trap again, greet each day with what we call a Daily Consternation: 

[insert worst fear] will happen to me. I will not survive it. It’s only a matter of time.

Step #2: Quit Optimism. Another wolf-in-sheep’s clothing, Optimism plays a role in every world disaster, but always manages to sneak off unscathed. Think of your most feared worst-case scenario. Got it? Now. Think of the person who, upon hearing your worst-case scenario, would respond with a dismissive, “Ehh, maybe it won’t be that bad.” Or: “Sure, all signs point to this person’s unfitness for their new very powerful position, but maybe he [or she, but definitely he] will surprise everyone by rising to the occasion?”

If more people were adept at Catastrophic Thinking™, the world would be a safer place. 

Step #3: Embrace Alarmism. Alarmism gets a bad rap because so many people aren’t doing it right. But Alarmism is like cholesterol: There’s the good kind of cholesterol, and the bad kind. The bad kind of Alarmism is built on weird conspiracy theories found on the internet, or stuff you just cook up on your own to freak yourself out. The good kind of Alarmism, on the other hand, is the natural result of exposure to actual facts delivered by actual experts. Scientists, for instance. Legit experts in fields that affect like, everyone on the entire planet. 

Now, I know you’re thinking, this sounds like a lot of work.

But you can be a hotshot Alarmist and still be pretty lazy.

All you have to do is sit back and listen to what the scientists say, and you’ll be appropriately Alarmed!*  

*It’s crucial that before attempting this step, you’ve mastered the previous two steps, otherwise you’ll fuck it up.

Step #4: Find the right level of Catastrophic Thinking™ for you:

We know we have people attending at all different levels. It’s what makes Catastrophic Thinking™ so inclusive and diverse. Find the level that best fits your needs:

Exercise  #1: Meditation for Beginners

You’re new at this. Be patient. Let’s start with a simple idea, something most people do every day, such as: I’m going for a walk down the block.

Now comes the fun part. Think about that idea again, but this time really let your mind wander… think outside the box, open it up to ALL the horrible things that could happen. Don’t let things like reason or probability or statistics get in your way. Have fun with the myriad disasters that could occur!

Sample Catastrophic™ Meditation: Even though I’m wearing a mask, someone else who isn’t wearing a mask could cough at exactly the moment we’re passing each other, the wind could blow in exactly the wrong direction, I could get a lung full of virus droplets, then bring it home to my spouse and kids, killing the old lady next door and my favorite doorman. 

Feel free to get even more specific in your fears. And remember, this is an area in which there’s no such thing as “going too far.”

A well-intentioned friend will inevitably say, “But what are the odds of that happening?” Remember, that’s code for: It could happen. So just keep banging that drum about the possibility of that scenario, the scientists who agree with you, and the scariness. Whether or not you convince your friend, you’ll know you’re Thinking Catastrophically™ when you start to feel truly hopeless. 

Exercise #2: For Advanced Catastrophic Thinkers

Are you already a pretty experienced Catastrophic Thinker™? Were you raised by parents who didn’t let you go barefoot because you might step on a shard of glass or get a plantars wart? Great, you’re ahead of the game! But now try stretching yourself—go even farther with your worst-case scenarios, into territory that feels batshit, even to you. Only when you push past your own discomfort can you discover the deeper, truer terror. 

In Conclusion: The only thing we have to fear is not having enough fear. So strive always to embrace the nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror that paralyzes us all in these dark times. Then, and only then, can we be truly free. ❑

Julie Rottenberg and Elisa Zuritsky have been thinking catastrophically™ together since they were nine.

Graphic by Ben Rubin

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