Diffusing Problems and Anxiety with Possibility


When a problem arises do you tend to assign one negative outcome to it?

Assigning a negative outcome to a situation - and dwelling on it - can keep us paralyzed with fear, though experience teaches us these imagined outcomes rarely come true.

To change this negative thought-habit we can challenge our self to think differently about difficulties.

The Challenge

The challenge is to come up with several possible outcomes for each problem, and at least half of them must be constructive. Better yet, allow a problem no more than two negative possibilities and five to eight positive ones. Doing this disrupts the habit of assigning single negative outcomes to events.

Coming up with palatable possibilities not only short-circuits the fearful thought-habit it makes obvious some avenues of action that can help bring about a favorable solution. We can still prepare for worst case scenarios, such as saving money in case of job loss, but our mental and emotional energies will have more optimistic options to consider.

Looking At A Problem

For example, imagine that you are in your second year of college and find out that one of your parents is hearing rumors of layoffs at work. You know with one parent out of work, your family will not be able to support your college education—something you have always wanted to accomplish.

So, you lay in bed that night and imagine yourself packing your belongings into your parent’s SUV—they have come to take you home. Mom lost her job and tuition is no longer affordable—your college dream is over. For the next few weeks a cloud of anxiety and dread follows you around campus.

Looking At The Problem Differently

Or, you can lay in bed and brainstorm outcomes other than the most dreaded one. Your mom could lose her job, or both parents could, or mom could lose her job but find another one quickly. It’s also possible both parents will keep their employment. You can always return to college if you have to leave, there is financial aid and part time work to look into, or, if necessary, you could find full time employment near campus and go to school part time.

Thinking in constructive possibilities is a mind game, but so is assigning one negative outcome to a problem. By entertaining positive solutions we invite our mind to cooperate with us in feeling and functioning at our best, and keep anxiety to a minimum.

Inspired by: Managing Moods
Photo credit: Creative Ignition - flickr


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