Monday, April 26, 2010

Word Power: Always and Never

Although they are opposites, these two words form a powerful dynamic duo. They are actually two sides of the same extreme coin. Let me make my point.

“I always mess up.”
“I never get a lucky break.”
“I’ll never make what I’m worth.”
“I am always broke.”

There is nothing like a big dose of always and never to take a bad situation and make it worse. If you look a little closer at all of those statements, you will see that they are not true. There are times when you didn’t mess up. While you might not have won the lottery, you have gotten a lucky break or two if you really think about it. Unless you have a great psychic friend or an amazing crystal ball, you can’t look into the future to determine how much you will make in the future. Finally, there has been a time or two that you were flat broke (and if you have ever splurged on an outfit, a dinner or a movie, the cash came from somewhere).

Chronic use of always and never is often associated with something called catastrophizing. It’s when we take a bad situation and take it to its most extreme (and often ridiculous) conclusion. The boss didn’t like your presentation which means she must not like you. If she doesn’t like you, she’s going to find a reason to fire you. If you get fired, you won’t’ be able to get unemployment which will send your finances into a tailspin. Your spouse can’t support you by himself. You will lose the house. The stress will ruin your marriage. Now you are divorced with no home and have been forced to move, with the kids, back in with your parents. And all because your boss wasn’t crazy about your presentation!

Catastrophizing is like a snowball rolling down a hill, it starts off small but keeps getting bigger and bigger. It’s easy to see how always and never can figure into that kind of self-talk. “My boss is always criticizing me. She never has anything good to say to me,” you grumble to yourself. “Hubby is never going to make the kind of money he needs to make. We are always going to be living from paycheck-to-paycheck,” you think as he comes through the front door.

When you hear yourself speaking in the absolutes of always and never, ask yourself a few questions. Challenge your assumptions. “Wait, aren’t there things that I do that are right? Did she really hate the presentation or did she just have some suggestions?”

Don’t give into the power of such absolute words. We don’t live in a black and white world, so we shouldn’t be using such harsh black and white terms.

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