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Pre-traumatic stress disorder is a term I invented once on a coaching call. I was working with a client who was in absolute anguish over something she had convinced herself was going to happen. Even though my term is about as pop-psychology as it gets, in the years since that call, I’ve seen many clients consumed with pre-living disastrous scenarios that they misperceive as being real.
Now, the cognitive term of this kind of thinking is catastrophizing. Exaggerating the importance of a minor event, practically to the point of being obsessed with it. As a coach, one of the things I do is support clients in labeling unhelpful mental models and engaging them in adopting beneficial models that are congruent with their values, goals and well-being.
It seems the obvious choice to go for the path with the least suffering when it’s immediately available. And I got really curious when some of my clients knowingly resisted doing so.
I started asking people why they create and cling to worst case scenarios that cause them fear and stress. One executive told me that envisioning failure motivated him to do a better job. Another told me she liked the intensity of the feeling – the rush of adrenaline. And these answers make perfect sense. Our human physical response to fear is designed to create urgency and engage our focus. Of course, the danger is that too much fear can create deer-in-headlights paralysis, and living in a constantly stressed state is damaging on a long-term basis.
So, the good news is that if you are using fear to motivate yourself, you are in good company. I’d go further to say that if your fear comes from stretching out of your comfort zone – great! Congratulations on showing up courageously.
And if fear is a constant companion or getting in your way, it may be time to look for other forms of motivation. Call me and we can look at mental models that have you be in charge of fear and not the other way around.
Copyright 2010 Michelle Randall. All rights reserved.