How to Challenge Your Negative Predictions: Eight Techniques to Rescue Yourself from Fortune-Telling

02/28/2017 04:07 pm ET

Many of us get caught up with stress and anxiety because of our predictions about the future. If this is something that you find yourself doing then you are engaging in Fortune telling. This means that you predict the future in negative terms involving failure or danger—for example, “I’ll fail that exam” or “I won’t get the job.” If you have an appointment for your annual checkup you predict that the doctor will tell you that you have cancer. You predict that you will get rejected, you will fail the test, you will get killed in a plane crash, and that you will lose all your money. Or your fortune telling can focus on other people--- your kids will get killed, your partner will leave you, or your parents will get a dreaded fatal disease. Now the reality is that really terrible things do happen, but if you are a victim of Fortune Telling then you have been living one disaster after another--- but only in your terrifying imagination.

Fortunately, there are a number of tools that you can use today--- and every day—to challenge and take the power out of these frightening predictions. Let’s take a look at the top eight.

1. Identify exactly what your prediction is—exactly what will happen and when and where it will happen. For example, are you predicting that you will fail the exam? Exactly what will your grade be? What is the prediction that you are making? How likely do you think it is that this will actually happen? Rate this from 0 to 100%.

2. What is the evidence for and against your fortune telling? For example, the evidence you will Fail (get an “F”) might be that you didn’t attend all the classes, you didn’t do all the reading, and that you feel anxious. The evidence that you won’t fail is that you passed all the other exams, you do know a lot of the material and you can still study. Is the evidence 50-50 or does the evidence favor passing the exam?

3. What cognitive distortions are you using to support your belief? For example, you might be using your emotions to support your prediction—“I am anxious, I know I’ll fail”. This is emotional reasoning which is not a great way to predict the future. Or you might be discounting any positive information—for example, “Yeah, I did study, I did Ok in the past, but this time it’s different”. This negative bias can doom you to escalating your anxiety. See things in a more balanced way.

4. How many times have you made incorrect predictions? Have you been making these predictions over and over and been wrong almost every time? Is this just a negative bias and habit that you have? If you have been wrong before, maybe you are wrong again.

5. What if your thought were true—why would it bother you? For example, one young woman said, “If I fail the exam, I could fail out of college and if that happened I would never get a job and if that happened I would get so depressed my life would not be worth living”. Are these string of fears probable or improbable?

6. What is your worst feared outcome—your feared fantasy? This might be something catastrophic like finding out that you will end up homeless and suicidal. Look at that worst fear and then examine the following: “What is the worst, best, and most likely outcome?” For the exam it might be that the worst outcome is getting an “F” on the test, the best outcome might be getting an “A” and the most likely outcome might be getting a “B”.

7. Write down a detailed description of your worst feared outcome and then list all the things that would have to go wrong for this outcome to happen. For example, the idea that you would fail and never get a job and end up suicidal requires a lot of bad things happening one-after-another. Aren’t there people who fail exams and eventually graduate, aren’t there people who don’t have college degrees but do have jobs, and did all the homeless people fail an exam at one time?

8. List all the things that might prevent this outcome from happening. This might include the fact that you can study for the exam, you have other grades, you have other courses, you can do extra credit, you can get a tutor or work harder next time, and you can take other courses. If you are like a lot of people who graduated from college a long time ago the day will come when you can’t recall half the courses that you ever took.

You don’t have to get hijacked by your negative thoughts about the future. Keep in mind that thoughts are not facts and your degree of confidence in something happening may not be a good predictor of what actually will happen. Try these techniques daily for a month and see if it helps.

To learn more about the many techniques that you can use please see my popular audience book, The Worry Cure, or my new book for clinicians, Cognitive Therapy Techniques. Second Edition.

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