Stress rehearsals are like a mental dress rehearsal for a future event, where you go through your lines with other actors – but in a silent mental way and all by yourself.

We all do it, usually in a subconscious sort of way, especially if we feel stressed about something or someone.

It’s about something in the future. We may be feeling especially negative about it, so we ruminate over past events which may or may not be true or connected with this future event.

For example, you are going to meet someone about something. You don’t feel positive about this future meeting and so you mentally prepare for this meeting in a most negative and pessimistic way.

You imagine what they may be like (you may have never met them before!). You imagine they are not very nice. You imagine a negative scenario, and you imagine yourself saying negative things in order to win an argument, put yourself in the best position, or just because you feel lousy and can’t think of anything else to think.

It’s all about your imagination. And about your current mood, and about your pervasive outlook on life which may be very pessimistic.

Just imagine if you went into the meeting in a negative mood and being very pessimistic.

The outcome of the meeting would likely be negative unless the other person was extremely perceptive, with some EQ and understanding about your pervasive pessimism.

Why would you be pessimistic?

  • You could have learned pessimism from your parents
  • You could have a pessimistic personality (blame your parents!)
  • You could have had a number of unfortunate experiences and believed that these experiences would be a permanent part of your life.
  • You think in a black and white way (blame your parents!)

Check out your explanatory style

We all have what is called an “explanatory style”, in other words, our usual way of explaining things to ourselves.

Pessimistic people tend to have an unfortunate explanatory style which includes the following concepts:

  • Whatever is the problem – it’s permanent – it’s going to be forever!
  • Whatever is the problem – it’s pervasive – it pervades your whole life!
  • Whatever is the problem – it’s personal – it’s your fault and your problem!

It’s easy to see if you think this way about a problem or situation it becomes pretty grim and depressing, and that sort of thinking will cause you to be miserable and anxious or perhaps even aggressive.

If you have this explanatory style – challenge it!

If you are feeling down in the dumps and feeling pessimistic about a certain situation ask yourself “Is this going to last forever?” No, it’s temporary! This can take a load off your shoulders and help you to feel a lot better.

The situation may in fact be going to last for a while, especially if you accept it and don’t do anything about it, but it won’t last forever. You can then see that the cause is transient, and can be changed.

The second thing to challenge is the perceived pervasiveness of a situation.

Question: Is this situation going to affect all other situations in your life?

Answer: No, it may only affect a few situations or even only one situation. For example a friend being untrustworthy in one situation usually doesn’t mean that he or she will be untrustworthy in all situations. Just because the bus is late on this occasion doesn’t mean that it will be late on all occasions.

If you do however, find the bus to be unreliable, do something about it! You can complain to the bus company, catch an earlier bus, accept the situation or take a different form of transport. You can also speak to your friend about their behaviour. You do have some power in the situation.

Taking things personally – a favourite for many people

When something goes wrong you blame yourself for it and feel bad, usually without looking for any evidence for your supposed wrongdoing.

People with low self-esteem may do this, or if they have been blamed many times for times when they were a child, (parents again) they continued to take the blame as an adult, and the behaviour somehow seems reasonable to them.

When you are tempted to personalise, or blame yourself –

Take a step back and look at the situation. It may be very complex with many people or factors involved. You think in black and white terms and without checking, blame yourself. “I must have upset her (or him)” and that’s why he (or she) doesn’t like me.”

Two things to check on here. Is it true that you upset the other person? Is it true that the other person doesn’t like you?

Then you could add a bit of permanence to the mix “He (or she) will never like me now, I’m a bad person.” And a spot of pervasiveness “When others hear about this no-one will like me, and I will get a reputation for being a bad person.”

Challenging your situations will help you build up a thick skin for when you don’t need to blame yourself.

Challenge your situations

When you are feeling overly pessimistic, step back and look for evidence for whether a situation is:

  • Permanent
  • Pervasive
  • Personal

Challenge your explanatory style which can cause you no end of trouble as well as making you very miserable.

Take the time to weed pessimism out of your life, maybe not totally, but mostly. You can keep a tinsy bit of pessimism to protect you against the possibility of things going wrong. For example “That bus has been late the last three times, and this looks like a pattern, and I don’t think this is going to work for me”.   You may then take aversive action, but you don’t want to be pessimistic all of your life or think that all buses will be late, all the time.

So do a Dress Rehearsal instead of a Stress Rehearsal. Look closely at what’s going on, challenge any lack of evidence for and against any negative thoughts you have, and know your role thoroughly without taking on another less positive one such as blaming yourself, or being a scapegoat.


© Kathleen Crawford September 2018

For other strategies for a better life see Not Good Enough, To Great!

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